One year after being named the ACC rookie of the year, O'Brien has endured one heck of a sophomore slump. As a redshirt freshman last season, O'Brien threw 22 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while leading Maryland to a 9-4 record. He already has thrown six interceptions with only four touchdown passes this season as Maryland has stumbled to a 2-3 start that includes only one win over an FBS program.
O'Brien was benched in favor of sophomore C.J. Brown during a 21-16 loss to Georgia Tech. Maryland coach Randy Edsall isn't saying which quarterback will start Saturday against Clemson (6-0 overall, 3-0 in the ACC).
"I think that our team knows we're going to play the best guy," Edsall said. "Whoever is the best guy at their position is going to play, and I think that's been demonstrated since I've gotten here. Again, we don't have the names on the back of the jerseys. It's about Maryland. And I'm going to make those decisions that I think are best for what makes Maryland football the best.
"It's never anything personal. It's about working to get the best guys on the field to give us that opportunity to win. And those are the decisions that I have to make."
This represents quite a reversal of fortune for O'Brien. He started his sophomore season by throwing for 348 yards in a season-opening 32-24 victory over Miami, a nationally televised performance on Labor Day evening that seemingly cemented his status as a rising star. He hasn't been the same since.
O'Brien threw three interceptions in a 37-31 loss to West Virginia. Then he went 17-of-33 for 153 yards and no touchdowns in an embarrassing 38-7 loss to Temple. After throwing two touchdown passes in a 28-3 victory over FCS program Towson, O'Brien went 1-of-6 for 17 yards with an interception against Georgia Tech.
Brown replaced O'Brien in the second quarter with Maryland trailing 14-3. Brown's passing wasn't any better - he went 4-of-17 for 36 yards and an interception - but his running ability provided a spark. He ran nine times for 124 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown.
While Maryland (2-3, 1-1) closed the gap with Brown at quarterback, he didn't play well enough to emerge as the clear-cut choice to take over the job. Brown's running ability provides another dimension to Maryland's offense, but O'Brien has more of a track record.
"It's all based on production in terms of how they do," Edsall said. "The quarterback position is no different than any other. The good thing is we have two really, really good players, I think. Hopefully we can continue to build that kind of depth at each position as we move forward."
The uncertainty surrounding Maryland's quarterback situation at least forces Clemson to prepare for two possibilities. Clemson enters Saturday's game as an eight-point favorite, so Maryland needs any advantage it can get.
"It's definitely a challenge,'' Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "Obviously, we hadn't seen much of [Brown] until Saturday. He's the second-leading rusher on the team after 11 carries, so he's pretty impressive at what he can do. They've actually run the zone read a bunch, I mean a ton, even with O'Brien. But he just hasn't run it as much as far as keeping the ball.
"That's definitely a challenge as far as having to prepare for both styles, but it is what it is. We've got to make sure we're ready."
BEST MATCHUP: Wake Forest WR Chris Givens vs. Virginia Tech CB Jayron Hosley. Givens leads the ACC and ranks eighth nationally with 119.8 receiving yards per game. He has caught 33 passes for 599 yards and five touchdowns. He has had at least 100 receiving yards in four of Wake Forest's five games and has scored in each of the Demon Deacons' past three contests. He should spend much of Saturday being covered by Hosley, one of the nation's best defensive backs. Hosley led the nation with nine interceptions last season and has picked off three passes this season. Wake Forest won't have a chance at winning its fifth consecutive game unless it finds a way to get the ball in Givens' hands.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington. Although Georgia Tech remains unbeaten, Washington hasn't been nearly as accurate the past couple of weeks. Washington went 27-of-42 through the air in Tech's first four games, but he has gone 10-of-31 in the Yellow Jackets' past two contests. Tech obviously depends much more heavily on the running game, but this offense is at its best when it has at least the threat of a passing attack to keep opposing defenses honest. Tech won't remain undefeated for long unless Washington improves his accuracy. He could face quite a challenge Saturday at Virginia, which ranks 17th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Florida State's penalties. Florida State won't start playing up to its potential until it starts reducing penalties. The Seminoles have averaged 9.4 penalties for 81.2 yards per game. FSU has averaged the most penalties per game of any FBS program, and Colorado is the only team with more penalty yards per game. The Seminoles likely will beat Duke no matter how often they get penalized, but they won't have much long-term success until they start showing more composure and avoiding mistakes.
NUMBERS GAME: Miami has produced plenty of outstanding running backs over the years, but Lamar Miller is the first to open a season with five consecutive 100-yard performances. Miller ran for 119 yards against Maryland, 184 against Ohio State, 106 against Kansas State, 102 against Bethune-Cookman and 166 against Virginia Tech. The most recent Miami player to rush for 100 in five games in a row was Clinton Portis in 2001. Miller and Alabama's Trent Richardson are the only FBS players who have rushed for at least 100 yards in each of their first five games this season. Miller, a third-year sophomore, already has seven career 100-yard rushing performances. The school record is owned by Edgerrin James, who played at Miami from 1995-98 and delivered 15 career 100-yard games.
"There's a lot of people sleeping on us right now. We practice just like everyone else practices. We want to show the world that we're not just an academic school, but we also have a great football team and other sports at our school." - Wake Forest CB Merrill Noel, to the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal after the Demon Deacons' 35-30 victory over Florida State
"It came down to that last possession, and [former QB Tyrod Taylor] was like, 'This is where legends are made. This is where you make your legacy. Go ahead and do it.' " - Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas talking to the (Newport News) Daily Press about the pep talk he received from Taylor on the sideline late in last week's 38-35 victory over Miami
"We're not really getting no respect. As you can see, we're 5-1 and we're still not ranked. ... In order to make a statement to the world, we have to show up and eat at the end of the season, right here, right now. ... We talk about it all the time. You see teams like Virginia Tech, they're 5-1 but they're ranked. Obviously, being ranked is not a big deal to me, but it shows a sign of disrespect to me, personally. I feel like we're one of the better teams in the country right now, and we're playing like it." - North Carolina CB Jabari Price, to The (Raleigh) News & Observer
"I think this is the best team we've faced all year." - Miami coach Al Golden, on North Carolina. Miami already has faced Maryland, Ohio State, Kansas State and Virginia Tech.
"That's pretty bizarre. We need to play better football. We just have to play, and things happen for a reason. In 1999, 2000, Alabama and Auburn weren't very good, and now they're winning national titles. It will come. We've all got good players, and we'll all fight through whatever adversities and get better." - Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, on Florida, Florida State and Miami all being unranked for the first time since 1982
POLL WATCH: Clemson remains eighth in both polls. Georgia Tech is 12th in each poll, up one spot from last week. Virginia Tech is ranked 17th in the coaches' poll and 19th by The Associated Press. The Hokies were 17th in the coaches' poll and 21st in the AP poll last week. Florida State fell out of the rankings after its third consecutive loss.
ETC.: Boston College LB Luke Kuechly has 99 tackles at the midway point of the season. That puts him on pace to break the NCAA single-season record held by Lawrence Flugence, who made 193 tackles for Texas Tech in 2002. Kuechly also has 16.5 tackles per game, which would break the record average of 15.6 from West Virginia's Rick Sherrod in 2001. ... Boston College indicated it would seek hardship waivers for RB Montel Harris (knee) and DT Kaleb Ramsey (foot), which means they won't return to action this season. ... Clemson QB Tajh Boyd left last week's win over Boston College early with a strained hip, but the injury shouldn't prevent him from playing Saturday. ... Duke RB Juwan Thompson rushed for two touchdowns against both Tulane and Florida International. He's the first Duke player to run for multiple touchdowns in consecutive games since Laymarr Marshall in 1995. ... Florida State will be shorthanded on the offensive line for its game with Duke. T Andrew Datko is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, and the status of G David Spurlock (knee) and T Garrett Faircloth (concussion) remains uncertain. True freshman Bobby Hart started in place of Datko last week. True freshman Tre Jackson also could be forced into the starting lineup this week if Spurlock can't play. Florida State also probably will be playing without TB Chris Thompson for the rest of the season. Thompson broke two vertebrae in his back against Wake Forest. ... Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson visited Maryland G Andrew Gonnella's Atlanta hospital room the day after the Yellow Jackets' 21-16 victory over the Terrapins. Gonnella suffered a major injury to his left knee that likely knocked him out for the remainder of the season. "We just wanted to go by and make sure that he had what he needed," Johnson said. "I left him my cell number." ... Maryland DT Joe Vellano's 20 tackles against against Georgia Tech last week were the most ever by an FBS defensive lineman since the NCAA began keeping track of single-game tackles in 2005. Only five defensive linemen have recorded more than 15 tackles in a game during that stretch. ... Miami's slow start has overshadowed the dramatic improvement of QB Jacory Harris. After throwing 15 interceptions and 14 touchdown passes last season, Harris has thrown nine touchdown passes and three interceptions so far this year. He ranks 10th in the nation in passing efficiency. ... North Carolina TB Gio Bernard's average of 109.5 rushing yards per game leads all freshmen nationwide. ... North Carolina State CB David Amerson leads the nation with six interceptions. ... Saturday marks the 80th birthday of Virginia's Scott Stadium. Virginia lost 18-3 to VMI when Scott Stadium debuted on Oct. 15, 1931. ... Virginia Tech WR Jarrett Boykin caught seven passes for 120 yards against Miami to give him 2,346 career receiving yards, breaking a school record previously held by Ricky Scales, who compiled 2,272 receiving yards from 1972-74. Boykin also owns the school record for career receptions (143). ... Wake Forest is holding a "blackout" for Saturday's game with Virginia Tech. ... Wake RB Josh Harris said he expects to play Saturday. Harris didn't practice early this week because of a hamstring injury that knocked him out of last week's victory over Florida State in the third quarter. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe has indicated Harris won't play unless he's able to practice at some point.