Top 50 Countdown: No. 39 Maryland

Coach: Ralph Friedgen | Staff
In 2006: 9-4, defeated Purdue 24-7 in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 7. Defense: 7.
Key losses: QB Sam Hollenbach, OG Donnie Woods, LB Wesley Jefferson, DT Conrad Bolston, LB David Holloway, CB Josh Wilson, P Adam Podlesh.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: Maryland is similar to many other Atlantic Coast Conference teams in that it has plenty of talent at running back and uncertainty at quarterback. Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore give the Terps two solid running backs. Darrius Heyward-Bey ranks among the ACC's most dangerous receivers. The question is whether Jordan Steffy can assert himself in his first year as a starting quarterback. Maryland ended the 2006 season with reason to believe it would have one of the conference's top offensive lines before offseason defections decimated the Terps' depth.

MARYLAND TOP 10
Lance Ball could be the Terps' most productive offensive weapon in 2007.

1. DT Dre Moore
2. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
3. OG Andrew Crummey
4. TE Joey Haynos
5. RB Lance Ball
6. LB Erin Henderson
7. RB Keon Lattimore
8. DE Jeremy Navarre
9. WR Danny Oquendo
10. FB Cory Jackson
Best player: Heyward-Bey. This sophomore speedster demonstrated his big-play ability last year by scoring two touchdowns each in victories over Atlantic Coast Conference rivals Florida State and Miami. As good as Heyward-Bey is, don't be surprised if tailback Ball emerges as the Terps' most productive offensive player this year. Maryland's inexperience at quarterback could increase Ball's carries and limit Heyward-Bey's opportunities.

Most overrated: WR Isaiah Williams. This junior has all the physical ability to become an outstanding receiver and showed flashes of greatness at times last season (e.g. a 48-yard touchdown against Wake Forest). However, he still hasn't put it all together. The clock is ticking on Williams' opportunity to live up to his potential.

Most underrated: WR Danny Oquendo. Whether he's lining up in the slot or returning punts, Oquendo always finds a way to get the most out of his ability. Oquendo doesn't have Heyward-Bey's speed or the accompanying headlines, but he just might be the Terps' most sure-handed receiver.

Must step up: OT Scott Burley. The easy call here would be Steffy, and he undoubtedly must avoid mistakes for Maryland to challenge for a conference title. We instead wanted to cite Burley, whose value to the line grew even more important after the offseason departures of Donnie Woods and Brandon Nixon. And the situation could get even worse. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither's status for the 2007 season remains uncertain after he sat out spring practice to concentrate on academics. Burley, a former four-star prospect, has experienced an inconsistent, injury-riddled career. The Terps need Burley to come up big in his senior season.

Shoes to fill: QB Jordan Steffy. Maryland bounced back from back-to-back losing seasons last year in part because Sam Hollenbach stopped making mistakes and enjoyed a breakthrough senior season. The Terps won't go 9-4 again if they have any drop-off in their quarterback production.

Impact newcomer: RB Da'Rel Scott. This redshirt freshman showed plenty of promise in spring practice before hurting his knee in an injury that shouldn't affect him this fall. Although Maryland already has a crowded backfield with Ball and Lattimore, Scott's breakaway ability gives the Terps' running game an added dimension.

Position battle: Running back. We know Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore will both earn plenty of playing time, but which one will receive the majority of the carries. There's an even more intriguing competition below them on the depth chart, as Da'Rel Scott and Morgan Green are both vying for opportunities.

New in 2007: Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen's decision to work as his own offensive coordinator last year worked so well that he's doing it again this season. John Donovan should have an expanded role in his second season as Maryland's quarterbacks coach.

Grade the units:
QB: C-plus: The arrival of Florida transfer Josh Portis gives the Terps lots of depth at this position, but uncertainty and inexperience prevent this grade from being higher.
RB: A-minus: Ball and Lattimore give Maryland two potential 1,000-yard rushers.
WR: B-plus: Heyward-Bey and Williams both have star potential, while Oquendo is as reliable as they come.
OL: B: Andrew Crummey leads a solid group of starters, but the Terps can't afford any injuries because their line has no depth.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: Linebacker Wesley Jefferson's surprising decision to quit football to pursue a career as a state trooper hurt Maryland's depth, but the Terps still have plenty of talent in their front seven. The biggest question is how Maryland's secondary will replace cornerback Josh Wilson, whose talent and leadership played huge roles in the Terps' success last year.

Best player: DT Dre Moore. Linebacker Erin Henderson is the Terrapin getting the preseason All-America attention, but we believe Moore may be even better. Moore collected 37 tackles and matched a team high with 3 sacks as a first-year starter last year. He's the rare defensive tackle who can stop the run and rush the passer effectively.

Maryland Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 Villanova
Sept. 8 at Florida International
Sept. 13 West Virginia
Sept. 22 at Wake Forest
Sept. 29 at Rutgers
Oct. 6 Georgia Tech
Oct. 20 Virginia
Oct. 27 Clemson
Nov. 3 at North Carolina
Nov. 10 Boston College
Nov. 17 at Florida State
Nov. 24 at N.C. State
Most overrated: LB Trey Covington. Although Covington has started each of the last two years and has developed into a solid player for the Terrapins, he hasn't quite lived up to the fanfare that accompanied his arrival as a four-star prospect. Maybe this is the year this defensive end/linebacker delivers a breakthrough season.

Most underrated: DE Jeremy Navarre. He isn't a spectacular player by any means, but Navarre quietly has emerged as one of the Terps' top pass rushers. The junior matched the team lead with 3 sacks last year and has emerged as a solid, blue-collar worker.

Must step up: CB Kevin Barnes: This hard-hitting defensive back needs to have a big season to prevent Maryland's secondary from taking a step backward without Josh Wilson.

Shoes to fill: LBs Alex Wujciak and Chase Bullock. One of these guys has the unenviable task of replacing Jefferson, who collected 110 tackles overall (10 for loss) last year.

Impact newcomer: DT Dion Armstrong. The obvious pick here is Wujciak, but we've already mentioned him in detail. Armstrong probably won't play as much as Wujciak this season, but this three-star prospect could earn immediate playing time as a true freshman.

Position battle: Middle linebacker: The Wujciak-Bullock competition will be the center of attention in camp this summer. Bullock played six games as a sophomore reserve last year, while Wujciak is a promising redshirt freshman.

New in 2007: There aren't any major changes in the scheme or on the coaching staff, but the Terps will have a few new faces replacing 2006 stars such as Jefferson, Wilson and defensive tackle Conrad Bolston.

Grade the units:
DL: B. The Terps don't have an elite pass rusher, but they do have plenty of talented upperclassmen who can control the line of scrimmage.
LB: B-plus: This annually is the strength of Maryland's defense. The Terps have produced future NFL stars E.J. Henderson and D'Qwell Jackson the last few years. Erin Henderson E.J.'s younger brother could be the next in line.
DB: C-plus: The departures of Wilson at cornerback and Marcus Wimbush at safety create plenty of uncertainty here.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: Maryland will have a tough time replacing punter Adam Podlesh, the first player in Maryland history to earn all-ACC honors four years. But that isn't the only question on special teams. The Terps must break in a starting kicker as well as a new punter. Maryland also will miss Wilson, who ranked 11th in the nation in kickoff return average last season.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
Maryland entered the 2007 season on a roll after that Champs Sports Bowl triumph over Purdue, but the unexpected offseason departures by several players took away some of that momentum. Maryland still possesses plenty of talent and has a reasonable chance to contend in the ACC Atlantic Division, but don't expect the Terps to go into the final week of the regular season with a shot at the title again. The Terps won't regress to their 2004 or 2005 levels, but they may take a small step backward and finish 8-5 with an appearance in a second-tier bowl such as the Meineke Car Care or Emerald.
Best player: WR/PR Danny Oquendo. Oquendo returns for a third season as punt returner and is one of the few veterans in a young special-teams unit. Oquendo only ranked eighth in the ACC in punt return average last year, but he at least provides experience.

Grade the units:
K: C. The competition for the starting job involves junior Obi Egekeze and true freshman Travis Baltz. Don't assume Egekeze's age gives him an edge, as neither player has much game experience.
P: C. Podlesh helped Maryland win the field-position battle most weeks, but that could change this year as the Terrapins rely on either Baltz or junior Chris Roberts.
KR: C. Anthony Wiseman, Terrell Skinner and Da'Rel Scott lead the list of contenders to replace Wilson.
PR: B. Oquendo's reliability makes up for his lack of explosiveness.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Ralph Friedgen's decision to serve as his own offensive coordinator last year brought back a return to the successful early years of the Friedgen era. Maryland's mini-slump in 2004 and 2005 made it easy to forget how much Friedgen has brought to the program since his arrival.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: Maryland is a far better program than when Friedgen took over this job.
Offense: B-plus: Hollenbach was a much better player once Friedgen started running the offense again last year. Can he work similar magic with Steffy?
Defense: B-minus: Maryland's defense struggled early in Chris Cosh's first season as defensive coordinator last year, but the Terps improved over the course of the year and shut down Purdue's vaunted offense in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Special teams: B-plus: Maryland ranked among the nation's best special-teams units last year. Having Podlesh and Wilson on your roster certainly helps, but the coaching staff at least deserves part of the credit. Special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski will really earn his money now that Podlesh and Wilson are gone.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 50. Coming tomorrow: No. 38.

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