Our series -- Best case/worst case -- continues with the Maryland Terrapins.
For those not familiar with this series, these are not predictions. Rather, they’re meant to offer a reasonable ceiling and floor for each team. And we try to have a little fun with the narratives, so don’t take the details too seriously.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall couldn’t help but smile after handing Penn State a 26-14 loss. It was the highlight of the season.
“I think we can call it a rivalry now!” Edsall yelled at the crowding cameras. “A one-sided rivalry!”
The hoopla for this game built up over two weeks, thanks to the bye, and reached a crescendo when kicker Brad Craddock inadvertently guaranteed a win. When told about James Franklin’s talk about dominating the region, Craddock shot back that Maryland would dominate Penn State. He stayed true to his word by going 4-of-4 on field goals and hitting a pair beyond 50 yards. (A few days later, Craddock’s headshot would appear on Maryland bumper stickers with the phrase, “Dominate the (Penn) State.”)
There was so much hype leading up to this game that the Maryland fans outnumbered Penn State fans, and the cheapest tickets couldn’t be had for less than $120. Edsall even drew laughs from the sellout crowd when he requested Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” be played right before the coin toss.
Overall, the season was a giant step forward for the Terrapins. At 8-4, they exceeded every expectation – and most message-board chatter centered on a potential 10-win season in 2016.
Running back Brandon Ross fumbled just once all season and more than doubled his numbers from the year before. He finished just shy of 1,000 rushing yards. The Jacobs Bros. made a name for themselves in the B1G, and every national outlet picked up on their unique story. The defense also saw a marked improvement over 2014, and Yannick Ngakoue made second-team all-conference after finishing with 10 sacks. Will Likely earned a spot on virtually every All-America team as both a cornerback and a kick returner.
Life couldn’t be any better for the Terps. Edsall even decided to vacation in Australia after the bowl season – and stumbled upon Craddock’s doppelganger, who committed on the spot.
The future is incredibly bright for Maryland …
Nothing has gone right this season.
Sportswriters have universally panned defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski’s new 4-3 scheme as the “Dud Defense” because players are constantly out of position. The offense doesn’t have any cute nicknames, so most have just settled on “terrible” to describe it. It’s at the bottom of nearly every Big Ten statistical category.
On the plus side, Craddock still won his second Groza Award – because, even in Maryland’s worst-case scenario, Craddock is still amazing.
Of course, that national award doesn’t really soften the 3-9 season for Terps fans. Most knew what they were in for by Week 2, against Bowling Green. The Falcons tore through the Terps’ defense like tissue paper, and the never-ending Caleb Rowe/Daxx Garman carousel just couldn’t keep up. Maryland lost by a touchdown, despite Likely’s 92-yard interception return.
That’s how most of Maryland’s season has gone. There were some amazing flashes of talent – like LB Jermaine Carter’s 15-tackle performance against Michigan or OL Damian Prince allowing no sacks vs. Penn State – but those performances have constantly been overshadowed by mental errors and inexperience. There’s talent here but, in the end, it just wasn’t prepared for the big stage.
That’s what Edsall alludes to, at least, when he’s asked how he feels about the 5,000-signature petition to have him fired. But he preaches patience, and the athletic director backs him partly because the school can save $2.1 million by instead firing him after next season. That is, if 2016 doesn’t go as planned.
And after a 31-3 loss to Penn State and a double-digit loss to Rutgers, 2016 doesn’t look that great on paper …