Ralph Friedgen named Jordan Steffy as the starter at quarterback today in a surprise move that almost certainly guarantees turmoil this fall. The starter from the end of last season, Chris Turner, was widely assumed to be the leader for the starting nod going into this season as neither Josh Portis or Steffy had distinguished themselves in Spring practices. Apparently the coaching staff didn't see it that way as the comments from Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin seem to indicate that Steffy won the competition by a wide margin based on his practices.
This decision reminds me of the 2004 season which saw Friedgen doggedly insisting week after week that Joel Statham was the best practice player of all the quarterbacks even though he was terrible in actual games. That season slipped away by the time Fridge realized that what he was seeing in practice wasn't indicative of what he would see on Saturdays. It was only at the end of the season that Friedgen, when faced with no alternative, turned to Sam Hollenbach who turned into a two year starter. Before that his only option was a freshman in Steffy who didn't have a clue how to run the offense. A stout defense lead by Shawne Merriman and D'Qwell Jackson was wasted by an inept offense that couldn't get out of its own way. With a slightly better offense that team could have easily won seven games and gone to a bowl game. The 2008 Terrapins do not have the luxury of an excellent defense but they do have far more offensive talent than the 2004 group. Unfortunately I don't think Steffy is the quarterback to make use of that depth.
In his brief play last season Steffy averaged only 150 yards passing per game against the likes of Villanova and Florida International, which was partially poor playcalling in addition to poor play by Steffy. He only notched two touchdowns in four games and a partial fifth game at Rutgers before losing his starting job. He came to College Park as a mobile quarterback but has become a statue in the pocket and a deer in the headlights against the blitz. He was sacked 17 times in the first five games of the season in only 100 passing attempts! Even later in the season when Friedgen benched Turner against Florida State in a fit of anger Steffy was plain awful. Inept doesn't begin to describe how hopeless the offense was in the series he played. It was bad enough that Turner was right back in the game and got the team within a score of tying the Seminoles. In short there is nothing that Steffy has accomplished in games that would make anyone think he was a better option than Chris Turner.
The rational of the coaching staff is that the practice statistics show that Steffy has clearly played better than Turner. Yes, that is correct, PRACTICE statistics. When you have to pull out practice statistics to justify yanking a stater that got you to a bowl game last season it would be charitable to call your logic flimsy. Worse still the coaches indicated that they polled the team and they overwhelmingly supported Steffy as the starter. When did this team turn into a county council meeting? Friedgen even tried to claim that he would have lost credibility with his players by not starting the clearly better player at quarterback. If that really is the case, and not just a coaching cop out by Fridge, then Steffy must have convinced all the freshmen who were not around to see him fail to beat a single credible team last year that he really is the right guy for the job. What we do know is that Portis, the current 3rd QB, will play according to Franklin. Steffy in comments to the media indicated that he was told the competition was closed and he was the starter. Given Steffy's proclivity for concussions I don't think the starting job is at all settled and Turner is probably one sack away from being the starter again. Steffy has been commendable in waiting his turn and dealing with high expectations along with great disappointment, but you shouldn't be the starter just because you are a good teammate.
This decision could end up scuttling this season before it even starts unfortunately. It is not the way you'd like to see Franklin's regime as coordinator start and it is another troubling sign that Friedgen's mishandling of the quarterback position is going to continue. My fear is that the cupcake schedule to start the season (with the exception of California) could hide the deficiency at quarterback much like it did in 2004 when the Terps beat Duke, Temple and Northern Illinois on the way to starting 3-1 before crashing to a 2-5 stretch in ACC play. For some reason the gambling and confident Ralph Friedgen of 2001-2003 is gone and a tentative and dreadfully conservative coach has replaced him.