Saturday, September 5, 2009

Pregame: Maryland at #12 California

A new season of college football has begun, and the Terps take the field for their first game tonight. They head to Berkeley to take on #12 California in a matchup of last year's contest, where the Terps won 35-27.

A new year for the Terps brings new storylines. Chris Turner heads back to his home state as the Maryland starting quarterback for most of the last three years, this time with very little competition getting the role. Also, with the departure of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Turner will have to get used to his young WR corps.

The Terps normally do well in their season openers, but the last three years they were at home against non-BCS opponents, William & Mary in 2006, Villanova in 2007, and Delaware in 2008. This time Maryland is going against a Pac-10 opponent on the road.

Scouting the Competition: #12 California Golden Bears

It is safe to say that California is tired of the University of Maryland. In the 2008-09 school year, the Golden Bears suffered big defeats at the hands of the Terps, including in football, in the men's basketball NCAA Tournament, and in the men's soccer NCAA Tournament. But none of those matches were in Berkeley, so the Golden Bears are looking to exact revenge tonight.

They are led by one of the best running backs in the country, Javhid Best (pictured). Many remember last year the ESPN cameras catching him throwing up after a vicious hit from Maryland, but make no mistake about his talent. Last year he had over 1500 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. Many believe he has a shot to be a Heisman candidate by the season's end.

Cal's offense is not without questions however. A quarterback controversy was going on during the spring through the summer, and last year's primary starter Kevin Riley was given the starting nod against Maryland. Riley has had good days and bad days, but is considered to throw a decent ball. Cal will look to establish a passing threat so that Best will have plenty of room to run.

On defense, the Bears are considered to be strong with eight starters returning. The two starting cornerbacks, Syd'Quan Thompson and Darian Hagan, are considered the best in the Pac-10.

Some things to look for in tonight's game:
1. Can Maryland's passing game handle Cal's secondary?
Needless to say, Turner's young WR corps will have their hands full with a dominant Cal secondary. The Terps will need their young veterans Torrey Smith, Adrian Cannon, and Ronnie Tyler to be effective. The team does not need to dominate in the air, but they do need to be effective enough to allow Maryland to run the ball effectively. The Terps strength is in their running with Da'Rel Scott and Company, but if there is no threat from the passing game, the running game will follow suit. Chris Turner is coming to his home state with no competition to the quarterback job, let's see if his "coolness" shows tonight.

2. Can Javhid Best be stopped?
This is a daunting task for the Terps defense, especially for the new defensive line. Best is a very big threat, and the Terps cannot let him run all day. The linebacker corps returns Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten, so they will need to be dealing with Best.

3. How effective will the Terps running game be?
Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett will handle the bulk of the carries today, and normally the rushing makes the Terps offense effective. With a Cal team that returns eight starters, no doubt they will be ready for these two. Cory Jackson, the Terps blocking fullback, also will be a big help.

4. What will we see from the Don?
Maryland has a new defensive coordinator this season, Don Brown, who replaced Chris Cosh. He was a great coach of UMass, and we will see what he can bring to the Terps defense. Cosh's defenses were often decent but not aggressive enough; will Brown be the same or different?

I like to think that the Terps have a chance, and I do believe a line of 21 is too high. The Terps do well against ranked opponents, and this game will be close, but right now, I do not believe Maryland has enough to handle Javhid Best or the strong Cal defense.

California 27, Maryland 17

(Photo credit: AP (Turner), US Presswire (Best))

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