Names on the backs of the jerseys.  Only four potential uniform combinations (as opposed to the 75+ in 2011).  New coordinators on both sides of the ball.  A new turf field minus the Himalayan crown– or evidence of the lacrosse crease.  No Danny O’Brien… or eleven others who transferred away from College Park.  But one thing that hasn’t changed in the Gossett Football Team House is the steely resolve of Maryland football coach Randy Edsall.

Fresh off a 2-10 season that began with promise (a thrilling 32-24 win over Miami on national TV Labor Day) and ended in disaster (the inability to hold a 41-14 second half lead at NC State)… with injury added to insult (2010 ACC ROY Danny O’Brien going from starter to backup to broken arm) and a downhill trajectory resembling that of a ski-jumper (7 straight losses by double digits to finish the season)… Randy Edsall is back for a second season at the helm of the Terrapins.  And while many who have yet to watch his team play at Byrd Stadium are calling for his ouster– the crew-cut determination is armed with a tighter team and a slew of new athletes who already buy into his program before arriving in College Park.

Much has been made about the 12 players transferring during the offseason (along with the dozen who departed the offseason before)… and while it’s never ideal to lose experienced players in college football, it’s probably for the best that the people who are here are those who have bought into the Edsall Way.  Offensive tackle Justin Gilbert told me he was glad “the cancers are gone from the locker room”.  A good football team often resembles a massive rowboat– and when not everybody is rowing the same way things begin to break down.  This roster might not be as experienced as 2011’s, but it’s much more unified.  Thirty freshmen are on the roster who came here to specifically play for coach Edsall;  and the 10 redshirt freshmen/25 sophomores have only played for the new regime.

One key this August:  determining which newcomers can contribute and which ones are best headed down the redshirt route.  Coach Edsall says they’ll actually split the roster up during workouts to get everybody on the field and filmed so the coach staff can better learn what they have and how they can fit the new pieces into place.  (Football office, order extra coffee grounds for the machine– and have snickers bars handy.  There will be more than a few long nights).

Offensively new coordinator Mike Locksley looks to get the ball in the hand of his “playmakers”… and that means dual threat CJ Brown will be asked to emerge as more than just the runner that eclipsed the 100-yard mark 3 times last year.  Passing was a mixed bag for #16… from going 4 of 17 against Georgia Tech one week to throwing 3 touchdown passes against Clemson the following Saturday.  The Terps need a quarterback who won’t beat them with mistakes… but the starter also has to be able to elevate this offense.

Weapons at Brown’s disposal include sophomore runningback Justus Pickett– who showed flashes last year (82 yards against Towson) but gained just 38 yards on 19 carries over the last four games of the season.  Redshirt freshman Brandon Ross showed promise in spring practice.  Wide receivers Kevin Dorsey and Kerry Boykins each posted 100 yard receiving efforts in 2011.  Highly touted recruit Stefon Diggs is expected to make an impact as well… but the real strength of the passing game according to coach Randy Edsall is tight end depth.  Matt Furstenburg and Devonte Campbell provide solid move-the-chains targets… and their backups add size to the equation.

Defensively 2011 was a disaster for the Terps– ranking last in the ACC and 108th in Division I FBS.  The only team not to reach the 21 point mark against Maryland was FCS team Towson… and in November the D coughed up 41 points a game.  Injuries robbed the unit of X factor Kenny Tate– and other bumps, bruises and suspensions didn’t help.  This year’s unit under new coordinator Todd Stewart will be more of an attacking D… and the 3-4 will in theory take advantage of the team’s depth at linebacker (3 returning starters plus Tate).  While preseason All-ACC defensive lineman Joe Vellano garners most of the attention up front– nosetackle AJ Francis tells me his ability to make things happen in the trenches will determine how disruptive or disastrous this defense will be.

Ten years ago this would be a manageable schedule:  William & Mary followed by Temple and UConn.  While the Tribe remains a level down in FCS… the Owls came to College Park last fall and unleashed a 38-7 thrashing that wasn’t that close.  And the Huskies might be motivated in facing a coach that left them two years ago for greener pastures.  West Virginia looks like at top 20 team again this year… and while the ACC isn’t the SEC the Terps aren’t given any breaks in the ACC schedule (aka no Duke).  The pivotal stretch might just be October 6th and 13th– Wake Forest at home and Virgina away– two winnable games for a contender but loseable games for a pretender.

Two years ago this program was coming off a 2-10 disaster with much more inexperience at quarterback… and was able to enjoy a dream season that ended with a bowl victory.  The question in 2012 is– how will a trimmed down nucleus lead an armada of newcomers who are getting used to not only new offensive/defensive systems but dealing with being away from home for the first time?  How quickly can playmakers emerge on both sides of the ball?  Will CJ Brown and AJ Francis be the difference makers each unit needs? And can this inexperienced bunch eliminate mental mistakes that seem to be a byproduct of youth?  The watchful eyes of Randy Edsall intently scan the drills and scrimmages this week and month… as the coach makes notes and observes.  Even in the absence of the necessary answers…the steely resolve remains.

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