Entering this season, the expectations for Maryland were so low you could trip over them.
Following a 2-10 finish in 2009, the Terps were picked by the media to finish last in the Atlantic Division.
Boy were we wrong.
“Here we are with two games to go in the season and we have a shot to win our division,” coach Ralph Friedgen said, following his team’s 42-23 win over Virginia. “We were picked to finish last by all of the experts and that itself is an accomplishment. We’re not looking to stop there though. We have a huge game this week and we’re coming home, so hopefully we’ll get a lot of people to come out and support us. Who knows what could happen? We have some issues like everybody does at this time of year, but we also have kids that are playing their hearts out right now. As a coach, you can’t ask for more than that. They just laid it on the line.”
It was only a few months ago that Friedgen’s job was on the line. At this point last year, Maryland was 2-8 heading into the Florida State game. With a new starting quarterback and a new athletic director, there was a lot of uncertainty facing the program. Now, the Terps are 7-3 and tied with Florida State and NC State at two losses each. Technically, Maryland is a half-game behind the Seminoles because FSU has played one more conference game, but don’t get caught up in technicalities, Maryland fans -- it’s the best turnaround in the ACC this year.
At the very least, Friedgen’s success this year should buy him another season of security while first-year AD Kevin Anderson decides which direction he wants the program to go.
“I don’t know what my future’s going to be,” Friedgen said. “It’s just a matter of me worrying about this week. I’ve always taken the position to worry about what you can control and not worry about what you can’t. That’s where I’m at on this whole thing, and I don’t really look at it as myself, I look at it as our team and our players.”
His team doesn’t have any flashy statistics -- the Terps are No. 94 in the country in total offense, No. 39 in total defense and No. 120 in kickoff returns. The two biggest reasons they’re in contention to win the division are experience and their turnover margin. Maryland has more than 70 percent of its players back from last year’s final two-deep depth chart. It is third in the country in turnover margin -- partly a product of the defense being in the second system under coordinator Don Brown, who has done a highly underrated job with that group. The Terps are 6-2 when winning the turnover battle, and quarterback Danny O'Brien has done a good job of managing the offense and bouncing back when he does make a mistake.
But there also have to be some intangibles at play when searching for explanations behind this turnaround. Some of it can be attributed to a kind schedule -- three winnable nonconference games, plus no Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech or North Carolina. The players and coaches deserve credit, though, for beating the teams they were expected to beat.
That didn’t happen last year.
As soon as last season ended, those within the program went right back to work. They were embarrassed and determined not to let it happen again.
It worked -- they were bowl eligible before November.
“I have a lot of belief in these kids,” Friedgen said. “Did last year, still do. I think we’re improving each and every week, taking each game at a time. We’re at the point right now where we control our own destiny. If we can win two more games, we’ll be in the championship game, but we’ve got to win the first one before we win the second one.”
Even if they don't, the Terps have already far exceeded expectations.