COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Maryland football program has a very important item of business to address before moving from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten in 2014.
"One thing we're focused on," junior nose tackle Darius Kilgo said, "is showing everybody in the ACC what a good team we are."
The 2013 season will serve as the Terrapins' final chance to make some noise in the conference. Although Maryland hasn't won an ACC title since 2001 and hasn't had a winning record in the league over the past six years, that hasn't frayed the confidence of coach Randy Edsall or his players.
"I feel very comfortable going into the season with this group of guys," Edsall said. "If we prepare and do the things we're supposed to do, we can be very successful."
Maryland lost its final six games and finished 4-8 last year. Edsall will field a young squad in his third season at College Park, but at least the Terrapins have experience — and depth — at quarterback. Maryland lost four quarterbacks in 2013 because of injuries, leaving them no choice but to use converted linebacker Shawn Petty as a last resort.
C.J. Brown returns after missing the entire season with a torn ACL. In 2011, he threw for seven touchdowns and ran for 574 yards and five scores despite starting only five games.
The Terrapins open with a home game against Florida International on Aug. 31.
Five things to watch as keys to Maryland's season:
1. DIGGS THIS: Wide receiver and kick returner Stephon Diggs was one of most dangerous playmakers in the ACC as a freshman, and there's no reason to believe he will be any less effective this season. Diggs ranked second in the ACC and eighth nationally with an average of 172.4 all-purpose yards per game in 2012. He led the Terrapins in receptions (54), yards receiving (848) and touchdown catches (six). This year, with the experience he received and with Brown at the helm, those numbers should improve. "The sky's the limit for him," Brown said. "It's exciting to see what he can do. He can take a 6-yard hitch and take it 80. He makes me look good, he makes everyone look good."
2. GETTING DEFENSIVE: In Brian Stewart's debut as Maryland's defensive coordinator last year, the Terrapins ranked second in the ACC and 21st in the nation in fewest yards (336.8) allowed per game. That sounds pretty good, except Maryland yielded an average of 40.25 points over its last four games. Six starters from that unit are gone, most notably tackle Joe Vellano. But the returnees include Kilgo, who started 11 games, and cornerback Dexter McDougle, who's gotten 24 straight starts. Fortunately, there is a feeling of continuity with Stewart back for a second season. "Seeing a new system every year is kind of hard," McDougle said. "When you're under one system for a year, you learn and understand what's going on more. We're all on the same page."
3. BROWN OUT: The Terrapins will play the entire season without running back Wes Brown, who has been suspended for the year. The sophomore was charged with felony wiretapping, second-degree assault and theft of less than $1,000 in early July. Prosecutors dropped all charges against Brown, but the school's judicial system issued the suspension for his violation of the student code of conduct. Brown ranked second on the team in 2012 with 382 yards rushing. His absence means Brandon Ross and Albert Reid will vie for the starting tailback slot. Ross amassed a team-high 390 yards rushing last year in only six games.
4. UNSETTLED O-LINE: Of the 16 offensive linemen listed on the preseason depth chart, only two are seniors : guard De'Onte Arnett and tackle Nick Klemm. "That's a concern," Edsall acknowledged. "That's probably the biggest thing we have on offense to get sorted out and solidified during training camp."
5. WIDE LEFT: The kicking game was spotty last year and must improve if the Terrapins hope to win the close ones. Brad Craddock botched two conversions and went 10 for 16 on field goal tries, most notably hitting the left upright from 33 yards out with two seconds left in a 20-18 loss to North Carolina State. Punter Nathan Renfro averaged 39.7 yards per kick. "We need more consistency out of both of them," Edsall said. "They know they didn't perform at the level we need them to perform at last year."
Predicted finish in the ACC: Fifth in the Atlantic Division.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/