As far as coaches go, who are the top two bugaboos in USF's brief football history? Number one is probably Greg Schiano, whose stint with the Buccaneers was the cherry on top of a head coaching career where he basically became a Tampa-haunting phantom with bad teeth. Number two, however, probably handed the Bulls more painful losses than anyone else.
Yes, Randy Edsall, the man responsible for some of USF's worst all-time losses, namely this one, this one, and this thing, will be returning to Tampa for the first time in almost four years on September 6th when the Bulls host his Maryland Terrapins. Chances are you haven't been keeping tabs on Edsall since the Bulls kindly sent him to the Fiesta Bowl on a pair of horrible Bobby Eveld fades, so here's a crash course on the Terps to fill you in.
Edsall's first two seasons at Maryland were filled with injuries and ineffectiveness, and the Terps limped to a combined 6-18 record in 2011 and 2012. But the pieces finally clicked last season, and Maryland rode a hot 4-0 start out of conference to a 7-5 record and a Military Bowl berth. They faded down the stretch a little bit as injuries took their toll once more, knocking out their starting quarterback, two five-star receivers, and a handful of linebackers (seriously, this team has been legendary levels of snakebitten), but all in all it was easily Edsall's best team in College Park, and the fact that they managed to land at 63rd in the F/+ rankings is pretty impressive given all the adversity they faced. Now, our friend Randy faces his biggest challenge yet as Maryland hops from the ACC to the Big Ten.
We've certainly made our share of jokes at the B1G's questionable-at-best decision to invite Rutgers, but unlike their fellow newbies, Maryland actually looks pretty well-equipped to make a splash in their first year in their new conference. If injury luck evens out for the Terps in 2014-- and this is assuming that what's been haunting them is just bad luck and not a Turtle-Hating God--this could be a really good team, and will undoubtedly be a tough test for a young Bulls team in week two.
Leading the Terps will be sixth-year senior C.J. Brown, who had a pretty solid season in 2013, completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,234 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He, like his team, started off hot and faded a bit (seven touchdowns and one pick through the first five games, six touchdowns and six picks the rest of the way), but the Terps' second-half slate was much harder and he was without two talented receivers. Junior backup Caleb Rowe put up decent numbers when Brown was hurt last year, but Edsall has said that there's no summer competition for the QB position. He did say, however, that the senior needs to become a more consistent passer. Brown might be most dangerous when he's running the ball, as he gained an impressive 576 sack-inclusive yards last year and found the end zone 12 times on the ground.
There are several options for the Terps at the running back position, and the battle for the starting job appears to be still raging as we speak. Junior Brandon Ross ran for 779 yards last season, but fellow junior Albert Reid is pushing him in camp. There's also former four-star recruit Wes Brown, who had a strong freshman campaign before being suspended for all of 2013. Add in one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation, and Maryland has a ton of weapons on offense. Blue-chippers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long are the headliners, both of whom were on their way to fantastic seasons before suffering season-ending injuries, but the Terps return five wideouts who caught at least 30 passes last season, which is honestly just unfair. The results weren't quite there last season, mostly because of the aforementioned injuries and an inability to finish drives, and Maryland finished 75th in offensive F/+. But the pieces are here for a really scary offense, and I don't like the idea of Diggs and Long going up against USF's young defensive backs. The Bulls' D is going to have their hands full here.
If the Bulls have any chance at knocking off the Terps, they're probably going to have to put up a decent amount of points, and they're probably going to have to do it through the air. Maryland had a young defense last season that wound up being pretty decent (64th in defensive F/+), but struggled against the pass at times. Of course, the benefit of having a young defense is that you get pretty much everybody back, and the Terps get pretty much everybody back. They run a 3-4, and the front seven looks pretty nasty, boasting a pair of big defensive ends in Andre Monroe and Quinton Jefferson. "Big" might be a misleading description for Monroe, who stands just 5'11" but weighs in at 275 pounds. He had 9.5 sacks last year and 17 TFL, so he's definitely a guy to keep an eye on. He's backed by a group of linebackers that likes to attack the backfield too, with senior Matt Robinson leading the way with 10 TFL.
Even the secondary looks like it'll be a fair amount better this season, returning leading tackler Sean Davis at safety and former superfreshman William Likely at corner. The depth there looks shaky, though, and while depth probably won't be a huge factor in the second game of the season, the best opportunities to move the ball against the Terps will come if the Bulls' offensive line can hold off the rush and give Mike White or Steven Bench time to throw. But with the front seven that Maryland has, that's a pretty sizable "if."
As is typical with Edsall teams, the special teams are pretty outstanding. Diggs and Lively are playmakers in the return game, and kicker Brad Craddock missed only one attempt all season from under 40 yards.
Don't be deceived by the win-loss record over the last few seasons or the B1G jokes-- this is a deep, dangerous team, and the Bulls don't stack up very well against them on paper. The Terps' offensive line might be shaky, but USF is breaking in a new D-line. There might be plays to be had in the secondary, but can we count on White or Bench and a young receiving corps making those plays so early in the season? It's not a great matchup for the Bulls, but at this point in the rebuilding cycle, no one is really a great matchup for the Bulls. There are much worse things than getting to play a talented team at home in the second week of the season-- both to serve as a gauge for how much progress has been made since last year, and to try to pull a upset that could pave the first step back to bowl eligibility.