Friday, January 03, 2014

New Year, New Conference

It has been longer than a while, friends. In truth my long absence has been as much to do with a rising apathy regarding Maryland's revenue sports as it has with life and work getting in the way of my writing on this blog. Where to begin? I have missed so much that perhaps it would be best to just discuss a few things I have been thinking about and perhaps touch more strategic issues in the process.

Randy Edsall's football team finished up a forgettable season against Marshall in the Military bowl. Marshall was a better team. The patchwork defense, which will require a major overhaul to compete in the Big Ten, showed some of the frailties it did earlier in the year against the likes of Clemson and FSU. The play at safety and linebacker was at times dismal but the strategy wasn't putting players like Nixon in the best positions. Linebacker Cole Farrand was missed more than you would have thought. That group will need a significant injection of talent or individual improvement to withstand the more physical conference Maryland is moving to next year. Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and Yannick Ngakoue may both make an impact coming back from injury and maturing to take a more substantive role respectively.

It isn't that the season was horrible with a 7-6 record but there are reasons to be concerned as to whether this program is ready to compete against better competition. Michigan and Penn State may be down historically but Michigan State and Ohio State are as good as any teams in the country. Throw in crossover games against Iowa and Wisconsin next year and that is as tough a schedule as Maryland has played in recent memory, perhaps ever. I doubt anyone needs an anicdote to remind them that the Big Ten is a football conference but consider that the football schedules are out for the rest of the decade, to 2019, including dates. The basketball team doesn't even know who it will play and how many times next season.

Seeing the blank stare on Randy Edsall's face as Marshall scored the final touchdown to wrap up the victory seemed appripose. Edsall is a decent coach, but not much more. At a place like Connecticut he can do well but you get the sense that in a conference like the Big Ten he will be out of his depth. Expecting much more than 6-6 seasons from him in a highly competitive league seems wishful thinking. With the help of Mike Locksley he has improved recruiting but quality depth across the roster is still lacking. The hand wringing over prized recruit Jalen Tabor picking Arizona over Alabama and Maryland seems a little overwrought. He is the kind of player that never even considered Maryland towards the end of Ralph Friedgen's tenure when a parade of local prep players left town every season. Tabor hinted to the Baltimore Sun that there may still be discontent in the locker room towards Edsall. That could be an ominous sign but Edsall has done well for himself in shipping out many of the malcontents from the prior regime.

Still there is a lingering feeling that Edsall is unlikely to change Maryland's fortunes and motivate many local stars to view playing in College Park differently, Stephon Diggs notwithstanding. Edsall doesn't seem to be "transformational" in regards to anything. He is actually the opposite, and one of the more uninteresting coaches in college football today. I view Randy Edsall as a placeholder coach. Until Maryland can fix its broken finances and pay the kind of money they will need to attract a better tier of head coach he will have to do, but it could be worse. Kevin Anderson gave a bizarre vote of confidence to Edsall in the bowl media sessions responding to a Internet fart in the wind report by another blog. Why would he even respond to such a thing? Anderson's incompetence probably should not be underestimated but it indicates that the hot seat has only cooled off slightly with a bowl bid and winning season. There is no money to fire Edsall regardless but with a Big Ten slate that starts with Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State as four of the first five opponents things could get interesting for Edsall by early November.

The state of basketball program under Mark Turgeon is hardly much better these days. A dreadful 9-5 record with ACC play starting in earnest means that the Terps will probably have to finish with a 11-7 conference record to have a serious chance of returning to the postseason for the first time in four years. The surprising weakness of the "greatest basketball conference ever" gives Turgeon a little hope that outside the top four teams no one in the ACC seems particularly good. If his team gets hot at the right time they could come back from a dismal start in the non-conference. I don't see that as probable. Even with Seth Allen's return this is a flawed group that lacks basic fundamentals on defense. It is concerning that with some decent talent Turgeon has been unable to mold his teams of the last two seasons into tournament worthy groups. The horrendous beat down that his team took at Ohio State and the loss to an up and coming Iowa team in the NIT last season should give any fan pause that the Terps will walk into the Big Ten and compete at the upper echelon. The injection of a few recruits can quickly change a basketball program's fortunes in a way that they cannot in football so perhaps the heralded group coming in the fall will cure many of the ills of this current program. Still, it isn't so outlandish to believe that Edsall's group may have a better chance of surprising everyone with their competitiveness in the new Big Ten than Turgeon's bunch. I think the jury still has time to render a verdict on Turgeon whereas Edsall is probably just waiting out his sentence.

Neither man is a "home run" hire at a time when Maryland desperately needed one of them to be that. The hope is that the Big Ten money will begin to flow in and that when the time comes Maryland will have someone with more wisdom than Kevin Anderson to pick the right man should the need arise.

I am excited about the move to the Big Ten and the renewed initiative to fund raising at Maryland. It wasn't just the lack of leadership in the ACC or Debbie Yow's mismanagement that has been holding the Terps back from a bright future, it has been us. Maryland fans have not held up their end of the bargain. Sorry, but it is true. The poor product produced by the basketball and football programs is certainly an excuse not to go to games, attendance had been trending down before either of the current coaches arrived, but is facile to expect the results will improve if everyone thinks this way. If the fortunes are going to improve then the fans will have to be a significant player in the improvement. One cannot rely on benefactors like Kevin Plank to make it all better. If Terp fans take ownership of the athletic programs and Maryland changes the way that they deal with boosters then both sides can work together to build something sustainable and successful.

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