The loss to West Virginia was illuminating. Maryland fans learned a few things about their team in the process not all of which was negative. It is clear Danny O'Brien is still learning. Though the hype was off the charts for the quarterback coming into this season he has looked shaky the first two games. He threw for a bunch of yards against a depleted Miami defense but also had an awful interception in the end zone that could have cost the Terps the game. Against West Virginia he had one of his worst games in a Maryland uniform. O'Brien looked jumpy in the pocket and threw into double and triple coverage often. For a cerebral player like O'Brien the poor judgement was the most surprising aspect of his struggles. It appeared West Virginia studied the tape of Gary Crowton's offense and had an answer of flooding the passing lanes with zone coverage. O'Brien often didn't see the second or third defender in coverage when he made a pass to a receiver. I'm not all that worried about O'Brien but his play showed that he still has a ways to go before he is an elite college passer.
The defense really struggled to contain the passing attack of West Virginia. Geno Smith mostly had his way with Maryland completing 36 passes out of 49 attempts for 388 yards. The Mountaineers didn't run the ball all that well, maybe because they didn't have to, only managing 3.0 yards per carry and 92 total yards. Corner Cam Chism really struggled and will get picked on all season unless he is able to improve his technique and limit his pass interference penalties. He isn't getting much help from the safety position as Franklin and Robinson are massing tackles but very few positive plays. The Kenny Tate at linebacker move has yet to bear any fruit as the senior stalwart seems to be a non-factor with this scheme. Linemen David Mackall and Andre Monroe are youngsters that could form a ferocious pass rushing duo by the end of the season. Tackle Joe Vellano has been rock solid on the interior. At linebacker the Terps are still struggling to find their way. This group struggles in pass coverage and the scheme doesn't seem to fit the strengths of Tate or Demetrius Hartsfield who are both athletic and capable of attacking the line of scrimmage. The defense continues to force turnovers but has been terrible on 3rd down, 46% on the season, and they gave four 1st downs to WVU on penalties. Maryland may have to hope to outscore opponents more often than not.
One bright spot was the running game. The return of D.J. Adams was a boon to the red zone offense and to Davin Meggett. The physical running of Adams is a good complement to Meggett and he finished with 64 yards and two rushing touchdowns. He and Meggett were the driving force behind Maryland's frantic comeback in the 2nd half. Gary Crowton would do well to focus more on establishing them both early in the game.
From a broader perspective this game highlighted the lack of depth on this squad. In some ways Randy Edsall has to retool the football team's roster as basketball coach Mark Turgeon must do with the basketball team. While it may take Turgeon only two recruiting cycles to build up his roster again it may take Edsall much longer. The depth at positions like linebacker, corner, safety and all along the offensive line need to be addressed in the coming recruiting seasons. It didn't help that in the offseason Edsall decided to show a number of 5th year players the door, LB Ben Pooler would have been useful this season, but there were also academic casualties from poor grades that Edsall inherited from Ralph Friedgen. I think this team can be successful this season but Edsall will need time to upgrade the program after he inherited a team that was 11-14 in the two years prior to his arrival.
If At First You Don't Succeed...
The ACC went back to the expansion well with the surprise announcement that Pittsburg and Syracuse were fleeing the Big East to join the what has become a refugee conference in the ACC. The used car salesman of our conference John Swofford admitted expansion went more smoothly this time than the last time. We can add Master of the Bleeding Obvious to his list of titles. For me it was another reminder that the ACC is run by buffoons. His comments about having the ACC tournament in Madison Square Garden were presumptuous and crass. Listen to some radio on WFAN in New York and you'll quickly find out how well received those comments were when the father of the Big East, Dave Gavitt, was barely in the ground after dying from cancer on Friday.
If the reasons given by the ACC during the embarrassing news conference on Sunday or behind the scenes leaks to reporters sound familiar, this was about survival, expanding the conference footprint, insurance against a raid by the SEC, et cetera, et cetera, it is because the same kinds of things were said during the last failed ACC raid. In the years since the first merry go round the clear winners were the schools that fled the Big East: Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech. The rest of the conference has little tangible to show for inviting the new house guests to stay as long as they like with their dirty RV parked in the driveway. ACC basketball has sunk to its lowest level in decades and the football programs are as irrelevant as they have ever been. When national title pretenders like Virginia Tech are the best the ACC can put forth you know the ACC is like the NFC West in the professional football, a punch line and laughingstock. Miami's program might be on the verge of NCAA Armageddon and Boston College is in a vortex of football and basketball decline that is stunning. Adding football programs like Pitt and Syracuse is akin to adding another N.C. State or Wake Forest to the ACC. The league has decided to double down on a losing hand.
It is true that Pitt and Syracuse add strong basketball programs to a weakened ACC product, which is why Coach K was so positive about the move in contrast to the first round of expansion. On the other hand people thought Miami was a sterling addition to football when they came to the ACC. All they have produced since is on and off the field embarrassments. There is no guarantee that Pitt will be able to flourish with its brand of physical basketball in the ACC and once Jim Boeheim retires Syracuse could easily fall off the map as well. The bigger problem is that basketball can only earn a conference so much money. In the arms race of revenue the ACC has already fallen behind the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC and this move will only widen the gap, even if it insures survival.
The more pertinent question for Maryland fans: is this good for Maryland? I think the answer is a resounding no. Perhaps if Maryland was like Wake Forest, Boston College or N.C. State whose athletic programs have little allure to other conferences then preserving the ACC would be of paramount importance. They would have few other attractive options should the ACC implode. Maryland would not be in that boat. With an attractive television market, good academics and solid revenue sports Maryland would be a juicy plum for either the Big Ten or SEC should it be up for grabs. If the ACC did crumble Maryland would be just fine and might be in an even better revenue situation.
As for the competitive implications it makes it that much more difficult to win an ACC title in basketball. In the last 30 years Maryland has three regular season titles and two ACC tournament titles competing against the likes of Duke and North Carolina. How many will Maryland win in the next 30 years with the likes of Pitt, Syracuse and potentially UConn added to the ACC?
The likely result of increasing to 14 members is that a 16 team mega conference with two 8 team divisions is the likely end game. Maryland would almost certainly be placed in a north division with the new arrivals. What will season ticket sales look like when Maryland's home football slate is Rutgers, Uconn, Boston College and Virgina? How will basketball fans react when Duke and North Carolina no longer play in Comcast Center every year but there are yearly games against Rutgers and Boston College? Both those are likely outcomes to this panic move. The idea that the ACC may accept two basketball programs in Syracuse and Connecticut that have had major NCAA violations with their current coaches, in UConn's case while still on probation, is sickening. I don't feel a cobbled together conference that may result from these moves is inherently stable either. My guess is that in 15 years the ACC will look very different than it does now and all of these moves for the sake of stability will not produce a financial windfall nor guarantee the loyalty of any members. College sports has turned into a version of the prisoner's dilemma where the logical choice is betrayal of conference loyalties, fan preference and historical affiliations to chase a few extra millions which amount to a minuscule sum compared with the size of a university budget. The logical choice of "strike first" by the ACC and schools like Pitt and Syracuse leads to an irrational result where few reap any significant benefits and the unknown variables in the future cannot be measured. The odds that the ACC will be able to increase revenue to keep up with the extra mouths to feed are very slim. The Pac-12 signed a television deal that smashed what the ACC was able to negotiate from ESPN and it had little to do with the additions of Colorado and Utah. Many erroneously assume that being "proactive" is the better option but when the future variables are unknowable that is often a mistake. In short I don't see any benefit to Maryland as a school or athletic program by these additions and there is a possibility that we may be locked into a conference that may survive but is a financial weakling at the mercy of the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12. That isn't a rosy scenario by any measure.
I think these words sum up the current situation as well as any I have read:
“What is lost in all of this is that the presidents — the very people tasked with enforcing the N.C.A.A.’s and the Knight Commission’s principle of ‘presidential control’ of college athletics — have proven to all that they are incapable of fulfilling their mandate,” Princeton’s athletic director, Gary Walters, said, referring to a watchdog group for college athletics. “The hypocrisy is almost tangible.”