Maryland senior tackle Stephon Heyer said this week he hoped the ACC media would slot the Terrapins at the bottom of the newly created Atlantic Division during the conference's kickoff gathering. Monday, he nearly got his wish: The Terrapins were predicted to finish fifth in the six-team division, ahead of only Wake Forest.
By the time the results were released, Heyer and teammate D'Qwell Jackson had already left southwestern Virginia and were on their way back to College Park. But after a 5-6 campaign in which Maryland's offense ranked among the worst in the nation, they were prepared for a touch of preseason skepticism.
"It's sad that the media writes us off after having a bad season, because we've had three great ones, you know what I mean? It's terrible, but that's the media's job," Heyer said. "You can't be number one all the time. I mean, you would like to be -- I would love to be in the national championship game every year -- but it's not going to happen."
Like his players, Coach Ralph Friedgen welcomed the poll results, pointing to his ACC championship team of 2001 that was similarly dismissed during the preseason.
For the Terps to surpass the media's modest expectations, they must first answer the offensive questions that will dominate preseason camp, which will open Aug. 8.
Maryland has yet to settle on a quarterback; little-used junior Sam Hollenbach is the clear favorite, with Friedgen saying Monday it's "his job to lose."
Last year's much-maligned starter, Joel Statham, is listed second on the preseason depth chart. Sophomore Jordan Steffy, who had cartilage removed from his right knee and calcium removed from his throwing arm during the offseason and lost more than 20 pounds to get down to his playing weight of 210, threw the ball four straight days last week and could compete for the job, Friedgen said.
In Friedgen's first three years at his alma mater, his team toppled offensive records, twice setting school marks for scoring in a season while averaging 415 yards of total offense. Last year, that figure plummeted below 300, with Maryland averaging eight points in its final seven games.
That led to an offseason of introspection, and some things have changed around College Park. The team's coaches made themselves more visible, players said, engaging in non-football conversations while also soliciting feedback and advice. One tactical switch, which Heyer enthusiastically endorsed, will be a return to a blocking fullback, meant to reestablish a running game and a stout offensive identity.
The team's already hefty playbook was also expanded, although whoever winds up behind center will be charged first and foremost with eliminating the turnovers that consistently deflated the offense last season.
Before that year turned sour, the Terrapins' preseason chatter had included talk of competing for an ACC championship and a berth in a BCS bowl. And now?
"It's the same -- same motivation around there, same mind-set," said senior linebacker Jackson, who said his health is at 95 percent after offseason wrist surgery. "Guys are more excited right now to get that past out of our heads, to start off with a fresh slate."