If it seems like Maryland quarterback CJ Brown has been on the College Park sidelines forever, it’s because he has.  He was recruited by Ralph Friedgen to play on Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium to compete in the ACC.  Those all have gone the way of “Lost” and “The Office”. Brown redshirted the 2009 season that saw Chris Turner become a sacrificial lamb during a 2-10 campaign, broke his collarbone during the 2010 season that saw Danny O’Brien exceed expectations as ACC Rookie of the Year, came from out of nowhere to win the job away from O’Brien in 2011, tore his ACL in August of 2012 (setting the tone for Perry Riley, Devin Burns and Caleb Rowe going down with season-ending injuries as well), and rebounded in 2013 to lead the Terps back to the postseason.  After being granted a medical waiver for a sixth season, Brown concludes his Terps career by leading the team into a new era–the Big Ten Conference.

Brown was the X factor entering camp last year, and had a season to remember:  passing for 2242 yards and 13 touchdowns while running for 576 yards and 12 more scores.  Even after losing two-plus games to concussion, his top two receivers to season-ending injuries all while teams keyed on him, CJ persevered.  His game-winning touchdown at Virginia Tech was the signature highlight of 2013– and helped send the Terps back to a bowl.  Can he lead the program to consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 2002-03?

He’ll have Stefon Diggs and Deon Long back healthy.  While the junior Diggs is on most preseason watch lists after catching 34 passes for 587 yards and 3 touchdowns, the senior Long was enjoying a breakout campaign of his own (32-489-1) before going down to injury in the same game.  Marcus Leak is also back after missing 2013.  Levern Jacombs and Amba Etta-Tawo showed last fall they can produce if needed.  Brown says he’d like to continue to develop his feel for the deep ball– as this offense has multiple threats that can stretch the field. 

Brown’s roots are in the Big Ten:  his father Clark was a quarterback at Michigan State in the mid-1980’s (post-Kirk Gibson, pre-Lorenzo White) and now the preseason top-10 Spartans come to College Park November 15th.  As CJ prepares for a new league one wonders what sort of “conference play bump” he might experience in 2014:  last year Brown posted a passer rating of 170.62 against non-ACC foes (65% completion rate, 10+ yards per attempt, 9 to 2 TD/INT ratio) while notching a 109.0 rating against league opponents (54%, 6.3, and 4 to 5).  His average gain per carry also declined from 5.0 to 3.4.  Finding a higher ceiling with less dropoff in league play will go a long way to a successful inaugural campaign.

 

Positions of Contention– even though in the first week “every position is potentially up for grabs”…there are three spots on the offensive side of the ball that expect to be contested this month.  There’s a two-way fight at Left Guard, a three-way scramble at Tight End, and a four-way scrum at Tailback

Left Guard:  senior Silvano Altamirano (6-2, 290) played in three games last year after two years at San Diego Mesa…while junior Evan Mulrooney (6-4, 295) saw action in 7 games at center and special teams after starting 5  games at center the previous year.  Whoever emerges will have help…as he’ll be flanked by C Sal Conaboy (named to the Preseason Rimmington Watch list) and LT Michael Dunn (who started 9 games at RG and 4 at RT as a redshirt freshman).

Tight End:  Dave Steinbaugh’s departure leaves the position without any returning receptions from last year.  Sophomores PJ Gallo (6-2, 250) and Andrew Isaacs (6-2, 245) compete with redshirt-freshman Derrick Hayward (6-5, 235).  Last season only 15 of the team’s 230 completions went to the TE (all to Stinebaugh) and the previous year only 20 of the teams 165 catches were made by TE’s (16 to Matt Furstenburg).  Will this be the year that the tight end becomes a major factor in the passing game?

Tailback: Sophomore Wes Brown has potential interrupted by injuries and disciplinary issues, but when healthy he’s the difference-maker a team needs on the ground.  Junior Brandon Ross led the team in rushing (166 carries for 776 yards , a 4.7 AVG and 4TD’s) and the runningbacks in receiving (18 catches for 173 yards).  Junior Albert Reid  (294 yards rushing in 2013) and sophomore Jacquelle Veii (146 yds last year) provide slightly smaller (both are 5-foot-9) options.  The running game was a strength last year (take away the sacks and Maryland averages over 5 yards a carry) and should be again in 2014.

Case for the Defense– NINE starters return from 2014…with Alvin Hill (24 tackles and 2 passes broken up) and William Likely (led the team in punt and kickoff returns) far from green.  They have to replace leading pass rusher Marcus Whitfield (9 of the teams 37 sacks)…will a healthy Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil be the able to improve on his junior season (3 sacks in 6 games)?  After tallying only 21 takeaways in 2013, can the Terps D be just a little luckier this fall?

 

Maryland won more games last fall than they did in coach Randy Edsall’s first two seasons…and while nobody’s expecting a similar jump to 10 wins this fall, there are possibilities.  A non-conference slate features four opponents one can easily imagine the Terps topping (James Madison, South Florida, West Virginia and Syracuse).  They begin Big Ten play with Indiana and end with Rutgers.  Two more wins if this team plays well.  Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin reside in the preseason Coaches’ top 15 and may be too tall a task to sweep, but Penn State, Michigan and Iowa are beatable.  Can the Terps fare just well enough in the “swing games” while taking care of the teams it should beat?

 

Bowl or bust, 2014 will be the final chapter of CJ Brown’s career.  For the first time since setting foot on campus, there are no questions whatsoever the starting job is his.  From redshirt, to injured, to upstart, to cursed, to comeback kid…#16’s time as a Terrapin has been filled with thrills and chills (along with a couple of spills).   While he’s working on trying to make his arm as much of a game-breaking threat as his legs, CJ’s heart will probably wind up making the difference again at least once this fall.  Could there be anybody better fit to lead this program into an unfamiliar and sure to be demanding league?

 

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