Contender or pretender: Maryland


If you’re just joining us, this series looks at the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. Florida State and Clemson are not included because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders.

Maryland? The Terps still have a long way to go.

Why they're a contender: If the Terps are going to make some noise this season, they are going to have to rely on their offense out of the gate. Maryland has seven starters returning, including dazzling freshman Stefon Diggs, who finished No. 8 in the nation last season in all-purpose yards. The Terps have what they hope to be a nice complement at receiver as well, with transfer Deon Long, and what looks to be plenty of depth at the position. Their top two rushers are back in Brandon Ross and Wes Brown. And what's more, Maryland is hoping to avoid a repeat of the quarterback nightmare it had to navigate last season, when it ended the year with a linebacker playing the position. C.J. Brown is expected to be back and healthy for the start of the season. It goes without saying that his return is absolutely huge for this program. One more factor to keep an eye on: There is finally some staff stability, as both offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart are back for Year 2. A jump in production should be expected.

Why they're a pretender: There are some pretty major holes to fill on defense, with only five starters returning. Gone are All-ACC stalwart Joe Vellano, along with A.J. Francis, Kenneth Tate, Darin Drakeford, Eric Franklin and leading tackler Demetrius Hartsfield. There are definitely guys returning with playing experience, but how they all mesh and fit into starting roles remains to be seen. Also, who emerges as the leader of this group? The defense was the definite strength of this team last season -- ranking No. 3 in the league in total defense -- so there is work to be done. Then there is the offensive line, which was not very good last season. Coach Randy Edsall knows this is an area that needs some major improvement if some of the talent he has assembled on offense is going to do what it is capable of doing.

Final verdict: Pretender. I think Maryland has the capability of getting back to a bowl game this season after two straight losing campaigns, but I don't think the Terps will be able to contend for an ACC title in their final year in the league. There are too many question marks on defense and along the offensive line to stamp this team as a contender.

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