Maryland has to wait a little longer than most teams to kick off its season, as the game against Navy doesn't take place until Labor Day. That's appropriate, since it seems like the start of the 2010 season has taken forever to begin anyway.
The Terrapins are coming off a 2-10 season that saw it lose the most games in school history and nearly cost Ralph Friedgen and the coaching staff their jobs. Though Friedgen and company got a reprieve through this coming season, the summer hasn't been especially kind to the program either, with injuries seeming to occur on a daily basis at practice.
And the season-opening opponent won't do the Terps any favors either. Though Navy is probably the better team anyway, it enters the game with a chip on its shoulder, since it feels it doesn't get the local attention that the state school does. It also has a tested quarterback in dark horse Heisman candidate Ricky Dobbs, and a triple-option offense that is extremely difficult to stop.
It's going to be a great atmosphere, for sure. The game will take place at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, where the NFL's Ravens play, and fans of both schools should be well-represented. There's even some hardware on the line, as the winner will get the much-coveted Crab Bowl Trophy from the Touchdown Club of Annapolis to take back to campus.
But more than that, Friedgen is simply hoping to take home a win. Beating Navy would be a very big victory for the program, particularly as its coaches struggle with their job security and increasing fan apathy. It would bring badly needed optimism to the program, and serve notice that the preseason last-place predictions are overly pessimistic. But a loss, particularly a blowout loss, would start the "Fridge on the hot seat" line of questioning right away, exactly the kind of distraction the program is looking to avoid as it tries to rebound from last season's disastrous results.
--One true freshman likely to see time on Monday is LB David Mackall. The newcomer has impressed all offseason long, and the team has a lack of depth at the position thanks to Ben Pooler's injury and Avery Murray's decision to leave the team for personal reasons. He'll open the year backing up Alex Wujciak in the middle.
--In one of the closely watched position battles in College Park, Dexter McDougle beat out Trenton Hughes to earn the starting job for the season opener. Though Navy won't pass the ball much, the Mids will definitely test his ability to tackle, along with that of fellow starter Cameron Chism.
--Maryland is already down three tight ends for the opener, including the expected top two on the depth chart. Lansford Watson is likely out for the season after undergoing knee surgery, while Devonte Campbell will miss two to four weeks with a knee strain. Backup Will Yeatman is also out, so Dave Stinebaugh and Matt Furstenburg will get chances to shine.
SERIES HISTORY: Navy leads Maryland 14-6 (last meeting, 2005, 23-20 Maryland).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: A lot of the heat will fall on the shoulders of quarterback Jamarr Robinson, but the big question mark remains the offensive line. This was an area of concern all offseason, and its performance in practice hasn't exactly given everyone a growing surge of confidence. If it can't keep opposing defenses out of the backfield, there won't be much Robinson or running backs Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett can do.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Maryland's defense tried an interesting tactic to prepare for the speed of the Navy offense: playing against a scout team that didn't use a ball. Since the Terrapin offense has no experience with the triple option, the lack of a ball allowed the scout team to run the offense quicker and better simulate what the defense will face when it takes on Ricky Dobbs on Labor Day.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is the first time I've ever seen him be a complete back. He made people miss in the open field. When there was a small hole there, he crammed it up in there and drove his legs and turned a 3-yard run into a 6-yard run. To me, that's what the great backs do." -- Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin to the Baltimore Sun about running back Da'Rel Scott.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Maryland vs. Navy, Sept. 6 -- This is one of those games that could become a great local rivalry, except that the schools rarely play. Both coaches have talked about making this an annual event, but the schools haven't met since 2005 and there currently are no future meetings between them scheduled down the road.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Block and tackle. On offense, the line has to give Jamarr Robinson time to pass and the running backs room to run. The defense has to keep Ricky Dobbs and the triple option in check, or the Midshipmen will spend the day running through the Maryland secondary with abandon.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Jamarr Robinson -- Robinson takes over from departed Chris Turner as the full-time starter under center. Though he saw action late in the season a year ago thanks to Turner's injury and the Terrapins' poor record, this is his first time taking the field as the face of the offense. He has the athleticism and the arm strength to make plays on his own, critical skills given the expected weakness of the offensive line.
LB Alex Wujciak -- Wujciak is the leader among returning players in average tackles per game, and if the Terrapins perform well on the field this season the senior could find himself in contention for national awards. His tackling skills will be tested early, as he's a critical line of defense in preventing the triple option from breaking off long gains by getting into the secondary.
RB Da'Rel Scott -- Scott was an All-ACC running back as a sophomore, but struggled with injuries a year ago and never seemed to have that burst of speed that he showed early in his Maryland career. He was one of the stars of the summer, however, and if he can stay healthy and avoid the fumbling that plagued him in 2009, he'll make Maryland's offense much more dangerous.
--K Nick Ferrera has been struggling with a groin injury, which has affected his distance and reliability in practice. If he can't go in the season opener against Navy, P Travis Balz would get the nod.
--LB Ben Pooler is probably out for the season after tearing his MCL in an August practice.
--Maryland got good news on the recruiting front with the transfer of Adrian Coxson. Coxson, a Baltimore native, originally signed with Florida, and should contend for playing time at wide receiver after sitting out the 2010 season.