The College Football Notebook

November 9, 2010 6:50 AM

Is Maryland For Real?

RalphFriedgenLeadsMarylandBack.jpgIt was a warm Labor Day afternoon that the Maryland football season began with a neutral-site game against Navy, in Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. I was at the game, the guest of a relative who's a Terp alum and surrounded by passionate Maryland fans. The general talk in the Baltimore area was that Ralph Friedgen's time had all but run out--that he needed to make a bowl game to save his job and that wasn't likely after a 2-10 year in '09. That September afternoon, Maryland put on a goal-line stand to beat Navy and started what's been a comeback year. They're bowl-eligible and now there's a bigger question--can they win the ACC's Atlantic Division? Are you ready to be watching the Terps on Championship Saturday, December 4, or even in the Orange Bowl against the likes of Alabama or Ohio State? Get ready, because Maryland controls their destiny to do just that.

The key personnel decision Friedgen made early on was to go with freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien in place of Jamar Robinson. O'Brien has vindicated the coach's decision. The Maryland attack won't overwhelm anyone, but O'Brien has succeeded in playing high-percentage football and avoiding mistakes. He's got 14-4 TD-INT ratio and three of those picks came in a single game, a loss at Clemson. Ironically, that game was the one that saw O'Brien throw the ball downfield effectively, but the 31-7 loss shows that this team is better off having the kid play it safe. Running the ball is a problem, as they've only cleared 100 yards in ACC play two times and that was against Duke & Wake Forest. But on the flip side, they have defended the run well, including a shutdown effort against Boston College's Montel Harris, perhaps the top back in the conference. The pass defense has been respectable and the Terps don't beat themselves with penalties.

Maryland's biggest games are still ahead of them. After a road trip to Virginia, they come home to face Florida State & N.C. State, the two teams they're tied with at the top of the Atlantic Division. So you have a team that plays mistake-free, plays reasonable defense, high-percentage offense, and has its biggest games on their homefield. Write the Terps off at your peril.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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