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ACC preview: Maryland

The SportsXchange

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Somehow the 2013 season at Maryland seems like the kind of "do-over" kids lobby for in backyard football.

The Terrapins appeared primed to take off a year ago in coach Randy Edsall's second season. Then the injuries came -- and didn't stop.

Nimble option-quarterback C.J. Brown, who the new offense was designed around, went down with a season-ending knee injury the first week of summer camp. That was the first of five quarterbacks Maryland would use, until injuries had finally pushed freshman LB Shawn Petty under center the last four games.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg that sunk the Terrapins, as they lost their last six games after a promising 4-2 start.

"Things didn't go like we wanted last year, that's for sure," said junior center Sal Conaboy, one of four returning offensive linemen that got at least three starts last season.

Brown is back, and there's hard-won experience behind him in sophomores Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe both coming off knee injuries as well. Uber-explosive Stefon Diggs is back at wide receiver and in the return game after setting an ACC freshman record with 1,896 all-purpose yards, and there are more similarly speedy and explosive weapons of grass destruction to deploy as well.

"We've got a lot of people coming back and a lot of experience," said sophomore tailback Brandon Ross, the team's leading returning rusher with just 390 yards. "With C.J. back, there's a lot of confidence in us making plays with the things he can do and the experience he brings."

On defense, thanks to last year's injuries on that side of the ball, 11 players return who started at least one game, though that translates to only five returning starters overall. Darius Kilgo is the lone returnee up front in the 3-4, though he was a revelation last year at nose tackle.

Inside linebackers Cole Farrand and L.A. Goree both have experience and seem primed for big years. Ditto for corners Dexter McDougle, one of only two senior starters on defense, and emerging star Jeremiah Johnson.

"Will we be experienced?" asked defensive coordinator Brian Stewart of a unit that lost a lot of star power. "Not early, but with playing games comes experience. We should get better week after week."

Better hurry Terps. It's your last go-round in the ACC, and next year it's on the Big Ten and into a division that includes Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Terrapins again open at home with an Aug. 31 date with Florida International. Former FCS powerhouse Old Dominion, trying to make the move up the ladder to the BCS this year before joining the Sun Belt Conference next season, comes to Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium on Sept. 7, in a dangerous matchup. The Terps take to the road the following week, returning last year's home game with Coach Randy Edsall's former team, Connecticut. On Sept. 21, Maryland hosts West Virginia in Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, a border war that the Mountaineers have won seven straight times since 2004. There would be no better signal that Edsall's Terrapins were turned around than a fast start, including a big win over WVU. The Terrapins have an open date Sept. 28 before traveling to Florida State on Oct. 5 to open their last season of ACC play.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: C.J. Brown needs to stay healthy and lead the offense designed for him. His option skills and a little more experience on the offensive line should improve the running game, and Stefon Diggs and Deon Long can fuel a potentially potent passing game. Offensive success can keep a rebuilding defense off the field. Major improvement from sophomore K Brad Craddock (62.5 percent field-goal accuracy) and P Nathan Renfro (39.7-yard average) couldn't hurt either.

AREAS OF CONCERN: The defensive front seven could be painfully young, and the loss of graduated DEs Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis and LBs Demetrius Hartsfield and Darin Drakeford seems particularly acute. How fast the D-line (led by NT Darius Kilgo) and linebackers like Cole Farrand come along is a key. Most importantly, the Terrapins have to reverse a -0.83 turnover margin that ranked next to last in the ACC. On the other side, the offensive line has to improve on last year's last-in-the-league 39 sacks allowed and get a running game going. Maryland's 2.6 yards per rushing attempt was by far a league-low.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.
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