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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 12:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Byrd Stadium (51,802) -- College Park, Maryland. Television: RSN, ESPN3.com. Home Record: FIU 0-0, Maryland 0-0. Away Record: FIU 0-0, Maryland 0-0. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, Maryland 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 0-0, Maryland 0-0. Series Record: Maryland leads 3-0.
GAME NOTES: The Maryland Terrapins get set to begin their final season as a member of the ACC when they take on the FIU Panthers in a non-conference season-opener at Byrd Stadium.
A new college football season often means a host of new coaches and FIU can add itself to those ranks. After Mario Cristobal led the Panthers to a bowl win in back-to-back seasons, he was unable to push them to the postseason again in 2012. With just a 3-9 record, Cristobal was fired. Taking his place will be Ron Turner, who was last a head coach at Illinois from 1997-2004 and has since been coaching in the NFL. However, Turner won't be the only thing new this season as FIU is also moving into a new league, going from the Sun Belt to Conference USA.
On the other side Randy Edsall is in his third season as the head coach for the Terrapins. Edsall oversaw a two-win improvement last season as compared to his first, but that fact needs to be taken with a grain of salt as the Terps were just 4-8 in 2012. Much of that had to do with the fact that the Terps were so decimated by injuries that they were forced to start Shawn Petty, a scout team linebacker, at quarterback in several games.
In three prior meetings between these programs, Maryland has come out on top each time. Most recently the Terps earned a 42-28 victory in College Park during the 2010 season.
Turner is an offensive minded coach but he will have a tough time sculpting the Panthers this season. Only three starters are back from last year, but none on the offensive line. For a team that didn't do much on offense last year (383.8 ypg) that isn't a great foundation.
Still, starting quarterback Jake Medlock is one of the few players with experience. Medlock has dealt with some injuries but is a solid signal caller. He completed 57.8 percent of his pass attempts last year and had 13 touchdowns against just two interceptions, while eclipsing the 2,000 yard passing plateau. If he stays healthy he could be poised for bigger things in his junior season.
Kedrick Rhodes would have given Turner another experienced skill player to build around. However, the running back that gained a team-high 699 yards last season was dismissed from the team in July after being arrested. That will force Shane Coleman (34 yards) and Lamarq Caldwell into bigger roles in the running game.
Willis Wright (25 receptions, 633 yards, five TDs) led the team in touchdown receptions, but is the only pass catcher returning to have brought in more than 15 passes a year ago.
Though the Panthers ranked third in the Sun Belt in total defense (402.9 ypg) last season, they were not able to get stops in the red zone and thus allowed 31.7 points per game. That mark was good enough for just ninth in the league and 89th nationally, thanks to a conference worst 73.1 percent success rate by opponents in the red zone.
With only two starters back, this defense may need time to gel.
Both returning starters are on the defensive line with defensive tackle Isame Faciane (5.5 TFL) and defensive end Greg Hickman (9.0 TFL) filling spots in the front seven. They will be tasked with replacing the production of Jonathan Cyprien and Tourek Williams, who each moved on to the NFL.
There is a lot of optimism in College Park and for good reason. After the team started a practice squad linebacker at quarterback and still won four games in 2012, there is no reason to believe this team can't be better this season.
That is especially true when you take into account the talent that returns to surround C.J. Brown. The senior quarterback missed all of last season with a knee injury. The multi-faceted signal caller will now be back to lead the offense with his ability to throw and run. Brown rushed for 575 yards in 2011 and also threw for 842 yards, splitting time under center.
Brown will be tasked with getting the ball to youngster Stefon Diggs early and often. Diggs is considered a dark horse Heisman contender after he erupted last season. Diggs caught 54 passes for 848 yards and scored six touchdowns and also rushed for 114 yards. Perhaps even more important was his ability as a returned as he averaged 28.5 yards per return on kickoffs and scored two touchdowns. Marcus Leak (23 receptions, 393 yards, two TDs) is another returning starting receiver.
Wes Brown (382 yards, two TDs) was suspended for the entire season, thinning out the herd in the Maryland backfield. However, Edsall is high on Brandon Ross (390 yards, TD), who should see an increase in action as a result of Brown's absence.
On defense Maryland was effective in terms of limiting opponent's yardage. In comparison to the rest of the ACC, the Terps ranked third in total defense (336.8 ypg), a number good enough to rank among the 25 best in the country as well.
Four starters return from last year's unit which could indicate a regression of sorts this season.
Nose tackle Darius Kilgo had 40 tackles, five of which came for loss, last season and will be back to anchor the defensive line. Kilgo is tasked with replicating the type of production the Terps got from departed tackle Joe Vellano.
Cole Farrand (78 tackles) is the top returning tackler and leads the linebacking corps. Meanwhile in the secondary cornerbacks Jeremiah Johnson (43 tackles) and Dexter McDougle (71 tackles) each started last season.
Before injuries decimated the offense last season, Maryland was a 4-2 team that looked like it might compete for the postseason. Now that Brown is back under center the Terps will be much improved. Though the Panthers have Medlock healthy, they won't be able to keep up with Diggs and company.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Maryland 40, FIU 17
08/28 10:46:43 ET
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