THE EMERALD BOWL
Maryland (6-6) vs. Oregon St. (8-4), Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
By David Glenn
December 18, 2007
COLLEGE PARK Ralph Friedgen has said many times that he thinks Maryland can capture the national championship. Since taking over as the head coach in 2001, Friedgen has plotted a strategy aimed at achieving that lofty goal.
It started with improving the overall image of the program in order to boost fundraising. Luring more money into the coffers enabled the athletic department to vastly improve the football infrastructure. State-of-the-art facilities allowed Friedgen and his staff to recruit a higher-caliber player to College Park.
Friedgen's gameplan made sense and, for the most part, has been executed successfully. Donations to the athletic department designated specifically for football increased, the football facilities were upgraded across the board, and the Terps' recruiting classes have been ranked higher and higher on a national basis with each passing year.
However, the results on the field have not kept pace with the off-field improvements that raised the expectation level of many fans. Maryland has compiled a mediocre record in three of the last four seasons, and some are wondering if the Friedgen regime is becoming stagnant.
There was every reason to believe that Friedgen's vision of one day hoisting the national championship trophy was realistic, following the Terrapins' dizzying success during his first three seasons at the helm. Maryland went 31-8 and appeared in three major bowl games, an incredible start that led to predictions of even greater things to come.
Needless to say, consecutive 5-6 campaigns in 2004-05 were a disappointment. Those performances prompted much head-scratching among the media and the fan base. In many cases, programs take off in the fourth and fifth seasons of a coaching tenure, as opposed to regressing.
In retrospect, Maryland may have reacted poorly to the unexpected two-year dip. Some in the athletic department gladly accepted the retirement of defensive coordinator Gary Blackney and the pushing out of offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. Neither veteran assistant was doing any recruiting, and some felt that an influx of young blood might do some good.
That may well have been true on some fronts. But in terms of player development, game preparation and on-field strategy, the losses of Blackney and Taaffe added up to a major blow. Friedgen took over as the team's offensive coordinator, then hired Chris Cosh as the defensive coordinator, but the statistics prove that neither has performed as well as his predecessor.
Some signs point toward Friedgen hiring a new offensive coordinator during the offseason, so he can get back to focusing on the big picture of overseeing the whole program. Cosh may have saved his job by pitching a shutout of N.C. State in the regular-season finale, but he remains on the hot seat.
Initially, it seemed that the dual change of coordinators had worked, since Maryland went 9-4 and beat Purdue in the Citrus Bowl in 2006. The Terrapins reeled off five straight victories and narrowly missed making the ACC championship game. Now, though, last season is looking like an aberration, amidst an overall four-year period of decline.
There were myriad reasons for this season's 6-6 record, beginning with the fact that Maryland sustained a devastating series of injuries to key personnel. Bad breaks, conservative coaching and questionable officiating also hurt the Terps, but the end result was that 2007 marked a significant step backward.
On the bright side, the Terps won two of their final three games to salvage a .500 record and earn a berth to the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. Friedgen was thankful for the positive ending and credited the players with keeping the faith in the face of tremendous adversity.
"I'm really proud of our players, the way they hung in there this year and just kept fighting," Friedgen said after Maryland routed N.C. State 37-0 to become bowl-eligible. "I wanted to win this game very badly for them, because I have never been around a bunch of guys that just hung in there no matter what the odds, no matter how bad things looked."
Maryland suffered a setback hours before the season opener, when it was revealed that quarterback Josh Portis had been declared ineligible for the entire season because of a violation of the academic honor code. Portis, an athletic and highly touted transfer from Florida, might have brought an added dimension to an offense that was extremely vanilla for most of the season.
Things got worse in game five against Rutgers, when starting quarterback Jordan Steffy suffered a severe concussion that sidelined him for more than a month. In retrospect, Steffy's injury proved a blessing in disguise for the team, as redshirt sophomore Chris Turner injected new life into a struggling offense.
Turner, who opened the season third on the depth chart and had done little to gain the coaching staff's confidence, proved a revelation with his poise, confidence and ability to throw the ball downfield. He put up solid numbers in seven starts, completing 136 of 212 passes for 1,753 yards and five touchdowns with five interceptions.
As a result, Maryland will enter 2008 with a sudden surplus of veteran quarterbacks. The competition among Turner, Steffy and Portis figures to be fierce.
Injuries also decimated the offensive line, with starting guards Andrew Crummey and Jaimie Thomas being lost for the season. Meanwhile, left tackle Scott Burley was hobbled all fall and missed significant time. Crummey was the clear leader of the unit, an NFL prospect who made second-team All-ACC despite missing four games.
Lack of continuity along the line clearly hampered the offense at times, although former walk-on Phil Costa, seldom-used Jack Griffin and true freshman Bruce Campbell filled the holes admirably.
It was a similar story on defense, where a total of six starters or backups went down with severe injuries. Maryland lost likely starting middle linebacker and future star Alex Wujciak to a knee injury in the preseason. With backup Chase Bullock also banged up, the Terps were forced to use junior Dave Philistin. He blossomed into a standout, ranking second on the team with 121 tackles.
Inside linebacker Erin Henderson was bothered by a shoulder injury all season and played the final four games with a severe back ailment. Yet he still led the Terps with 122 tackles and was named first-team All-ACC.
Backup rush end Mack Frost, who emerged as a playmaker early in the season, missed the final five games with an injury. Linebacker-end Rick Costa, outside linebacker Chris Clinton, backup tackle Travis Ivey, and reserve cornerback and special teams standout Drew Robinson also missed multiple games with various ailments.
The good news for Maryland was that a slew of young defenders gained valuable experience as a result of the rash of injuries. Redshirt freshman Adrian Moten saw significant action at all three linebacker spots and ranked among the team leaders in tackles. Sophomore Jared Harrell stepped up and performed well at rush end, and walk-on transfer tackles Dean Muhtadi (Christopher Newport) and Olegbemi Otulaja (Marist) both contributed.
Secondary play was one constant for the defense. The foursome of corners Isaiah Gardner and Kevin Barnes along with safeties Christian Varner and J.J. Justice started all 12 games, with each performing well at his position.
Friedgen has a long-term contract that is bolstered by an outstanding working relationship with respected athletic director Debbie Yow, so it would be ridiculous to suggest that his job will be in jeopardy any time soon. However, the natives already are growing restless, and another subpar season only would intensify talk that "The Fridge" is failing to capitalize on his early success.
While Friedgen insists that the talent level and depth within the program is better than ever, the truth is that he still has not won as much with his own players as he did with those of his predecessor Ron Vanderlinden.
After his seven years at the helm, with allegedly four straight strong recruiting classes under his belt, Friedgen's program should be deep enough and mature enough to survive even the brutal rash of injuries it sustained this season.
RG Andrew Crummey, DT Carlos Feliciano, CB Isaiah Gardner, FS J.J. Justice, RB Keon Lattimore, DT Dre Moore, SS Christian Varner
RB Lance Ball, HB Jason Goode, TE Joey Haynos, DE Jermaine Lemons, DS Brendan McDermond, PK Chris Roberts
2008 RETURNING STARTERS^
Pos. Name Ht./Wt. 2008 Class
QB Chris Turner 6-3/214 Jr.
FB Cory Jackson 6-1/253 Jr.
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey 6-2/206 Jr.
WR LaQuan Williams 6-1/184 So.
TE Dan Gronkowski 6-6/263 Sr.
LT Scott Burley 6-5/324 Sr.
LG Jaimie Thomas 6-4/339 Sr.
OC Edwin Williams 6-2/326 Sr.
RT Dane Randolph 6-5/312 Sr.
DE Trey Covington 6-3/240 Sr.
DE Jeremy Navarre 6-3/262 Sr.
LB Moise Fokou 6-1/225 Sr.
LB Erin Henderson 6-3/236 Sr.
LB Dave Philistin 6-2/231 Sr.
CB Kevin Barnes 6-1/188 Sr.
Special Teams (2)
PK Obi Egekeze 6-2/224 *Sr.
P Travis Baltz 6-2/200 So.
- has utilized redshirt season
^ - six/more 2007 regular-season starts
- has utilized redshirt season
OTHER TESTED RETURNEES
OT Bruce Campbell, OG Phil Costa, OT Jack Griffin, WR/PR Danny Oquendo, RB/KR Da'Rel Scott, QB Jordan Steffy, WR Isaiah Williams
SS Jeff Allen, LB Chase Bullock, CB Nolan Carroll, LB Rick Costa, DE Mack Frost, LB Adrian Moten, DS Andrew Schmitt, FS Terrell Skinner, CB/PR Anthony Wiseman, LB Alex Wujciak
Year ACC Overall Postseason
1997 1-7 (8) 2-9 None
1998 1-7 (8) 3-8 None
1999 2-6 (8) 5-6 None
2000 3-5 (6) 5-6 None
2001 7-1 (1) 10-2 Orange Bowl (L)
2002 6-2 (2) 11-3 Peach Bowl (W)
2003 6-2 (2) 10-3 Gator Bowl (W)
2004 3-5 (8) 5-6 None
2005 3-5 (4A) 5-6 None
2006 5-3 (2A) 9-4 Champs Bowl (W)
2007 3-5 (5A) 6-6 Emerald Bowl
ACC: 39-41 (.488)
Overall: 69-50 (.580)
Team 2007 Record^
Florida State 7-5 (4-4)
North Carolina 4-8 (3-5)
N.C. State 5-7 (3-5)
Wake Forest 8-4 (5-3)
California 6-6 (3-6)
Delaware 11-4 (5-3)
Eastern Michigan 4-8 (3-4)
Boston College 10-3 (6-2)
Clemson 9-3 (5-3)
Virginia 9-3 (6-2)
Virginia Tech 11-2 (7-1)
Middle Tennessee 5-7 (4-3)
^ - before bowl games (conference)
Note: Finalized times/dates TBA.