The University of Maryland will start its football season with a new quarterback, two new running backs, a new receiver, several new defensive linemen and a new defensive back. All those mostly inexperienced Terrapins will face Syracuse at noon today in Byrd Stadium (WJLA-TV-7).
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross has said all week he doesn't know how his defense will perform against Syracuse, which returns 17 starters from last year's 6-5 team.
The linemen are particularly inexperienced and that has been magnified by preseason injuries and illnesses. The offense, however, has few if any uncertainties. "I'm expecting us to be as good offensively as we have been," Ross said. "In fact, in time I'm expecting us to be better."
Much of the reason for Ross' confidence in the offense comes from the preseason showing of quarterback Frank Reich, the first-year graduate student/fifth-year quarterback who is succeeding Boomer Esiason. However, Syracuse Coach Dick MacPherson refuses to call Reich Maryland's "new quarterback."
"You can call him new if you want to," MacPherson said, "but didn't Reich beat Pitt last year, and didn't he come off the bench to almost win the Citrus Bowl after that? I met Reich this summer; he's a sharp young man. He's been around for a while, too. He's been there long enough to have his doctorate."
Ross said he "really doesn't see any dropoff (at quarterback). Frank Reich has always had the head to execute our offense. You might see us go deep a little bit more. Frank has been on target. His accuracy with the long ball and his overall accuracy have been very, very good."
The entire offense could be equally good. Two new halfbacks -- sophomores Tommy Neal, who will start, and Alvin Blount, who will play a lot -- replace Willie Joyner, and they are faster (4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash) than any other Terrapin backs in years. At fullback, junior Rick Badanjek, who has scored 18 touchdowns in two years, will start and be backed up by sophomore Stephon Scriber. The backfield is fast, strong, versatile and deep.
The passing game should be more effective with the addition of red-shirt freshman Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'oof, probably the fastest Maryland athlete since Renaldo Nehemiah. He will alternate at one receiver spot with Eric Holder, while senior Greg Hill (seven touchdowns last year) starts on the other side.
"I'm not in the dark about the offense," Ross said. "Defensively, I'm in the dark."
Greg Thompson, a starting guard, is the only senior on the line. The Maryland coaches believe several linemen have the talent to be outstanding, but how well they can play against a veteran Syracuse offense, with 11 players who started last year, is in question. The Orangemen, with quality backs in Jamie Covington, Roland Grimes (Bishop McNamara High) and Harold Gayden, will undoubtedly test those linemen early.
The second and third layers of the Maryland defense should be very strong. The starting linebackers, Eric Wilson and Chuck Faucette, will be backed up by Bobby DePaul, who played well as a starter last year.
Donald Brown, a running back three years ago at Oklahoma, starts at one corner. He has been clocked at under 4.5 seconds in the 40 and may need every bit of that speed today trying to cover any of three Syracuse receivers: Mike Morris, Scott Schwedes, and Tommy Kane.
In Charlottesville, Virginia faces a difficult task in its season opener as it tries to end third-ranked Clemson's nine-game winning streak. The Tigers have defeated the Cavaliers in all 23 of their meetings and opened the season with a 40-7 victory over Appalachian State.
The Tigers get plenty of offense from quarterback Mike Eppley. He led Clemson to touchdowns the first three times it had the ball in last year's 42-21 victory over Virginia.
Virginia Coach George Welsh decided earlier this week to start sophomore Kevin Ferguson at quarterback. Antonio Rice returns as the Cavaliers' top rusher.
Clemson is on NCAA probation this year so the game will not count in the Atlantic Coast Conference standings.
Howard hopes to end a nine-game losing streak, four of which have been at home, when it hosts Hampton Institute.
The Bison (0-1) will have to start without quarterback Brian Sloan, who suffered bruised ribs early in last week's loss to Rhode Island.
Three freshmen from South Ridge High School in Miami hold the key to Howard's offense. Leon Brown starts at quarterback, Curtis Chappell is his top receiver and Harvey Reed is the tailback.