Even without any off-field drama, the game promised to be shrouded in some mystery anyway because it is the season opener between two schools with new head coaches.Then add in the fact that Maryland is trying to preserve the element of surprise as much as possible with a tightly controlled preseason camp in which information about schemes, position battles and depth chart moves is limited. To be clear, I am not criticizing that approach; the Terrapins are wise to look for any advantage possible, particularly with an early-season schedule as tough as theirs. I am merely noting the approach. The Terrapins have a stable quarterback in Danny O’Brien. But the defense has been inconsistent throughout preseason camp, and in the eyes of some, the jury remains out on the wide receiving corps.
And then there is the ultimate wild card: The fact that no one knows if many of Miami’s best players will play because of their alleged involvement with a rogue booster who claims to have given 12 current players (and another 60 former players) cash and a variety of gifts. Eight of the 12 players, including quarterback Jacory Harris and standout linebacker Sean Spence, have been declared ineligible by the university. This was an expected move to trigger the start of the reinstatement process. If the Hurricanes have any chance to play those eight players against Maryland, they needed to declare each ineligible and await the NCAA’s review of each player’s specific situation. In my view, the absence of Spence, safety Ray-Ray Armstrong and some other defensive standouts would be more of a blow than the absence of Harris, who has been nothing if not inconsistent during his tenure. Quarterback Stephen Morris, as Maryland can attest, is capable.
The lead-up to this game sort of resembles the buildup to last season’s game between Louisiana State and North Carolina, in which 13 Tar Heels players sat out amid an NCAA investigation. And still somehow the game was tight: LSU managed to hold off the Tar Heels in a 30-24 victory.
What to expect in the Miami-Maryland game? I’m keeping the same prediction I had made before Charles Robinson’s Yahoo! Sports bombshell. And for the record: I feel as confident about it as I do that we’ll get a sun-dappled weekend the next few days.
Meantime, Maryland will stage its final preseason scrimmage Friday evening, and we await depth charts out of College Park and Coral Gables, Fla.
How do you feel about the unique circumstances surrounding this season opener?