A Mixed Bag: Local College Football Preview
Previews: Local Overview | Maryland | Navy | Towson | Morgan State | Hopkins
Mids, Bears And Jays Seek To Extend Success; Terps And Tigers Must Find Road To Recovery
By Steve Jones
The 2010 local college football season, starting Sept. 2, will provide plenty of answers about the direction of the state's programs. Navy, Morgan State and Johns Hopkins posted winning seasons last fall and hope to build on their success. Maryland will try to bounce back from a 2-10 season, the school's worst since 1967. If Towson can stay healthy, the Tigers could make progress in the Colonial Athletic Association, a strong league producing four of the past seven national champions in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA).
A RIVALRY RENEWED
For just the second time since 1965, Maryland and Navy will meet on the football field. The state's two major college programs will kick off their seasons in what is being billed as the "Crab Bowl Classic" on Labor Day at M&T Bank Stadium. It will be the 21st meeting of the schools that first played in 1905. In the last century-plus, the in-state rivals have played just 20 times, with Navy holding a 14-6 advantage.
The Terps and Midshipmen last met in the 2005 opener, won by Maryland, 23-20, on a late touchdown. This year's game features two of the nation's best players, Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs and Maryland inside linebacker Alex Wujciak.
Dobbs has earned preseason accolades as one of 30 players on the watch list for the Davey O'Brien Award presented to the nation's top quarterback in December. The senior signal-caller broke the NCAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback last fall.
Wujciak is a nominee for three major national defensive honors: the Lombardi Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Lott Trophy.
The season-opener is a crucial game for a Maryland team suffering from a poor record last season. After Navy, the Terps play host to Morgan State, then travel to West Virginia before tackling a tough Atlantic Coast Conference slate including three more preseason top-25 teams -- Clemson, Miami and Florida State.
The stakes are high for Navy, too. If Navy beats Maryland, it could be a special season for the Midshipmen. Their toughest remaining opponents are Air Force, Notre Dame and SMU. The Midshipmen have beaten Air Force seven straight times, the Fighting Irish lost their two best offensive players from a year ago, and SMU's defense will have a hard time stopping Dobbs. Navy beat all three of those opponents last year and could do it again. An unbeaten season is not out of reach.
|Towson DT Yaki Ibia (Towson Athletics)
ANOTHER CHALLENGING START
The Towson program begins its second season under Rob Ambrose in much the same fashion as the coach's inaugural campaign -- facing a Big Ten team on the road.
Last year, Towson lost to Northwestern in its opener, and on Sept. 2 the Tigers travel to Indiana. The Hoosiers can score, but they also surrendered 29 or more points in eight of 12 games last season. That could leave a window open for Towson, which is trying to rebound from an injury-riddled 2-9 campaign and doesn't have a proven quarterback heading into camp.
"We have a lot more experience, and our No. 1 focus from January on was strength and conditioning," said Ambrose, a Towson graduate who was a successful offensive coordinator at the University of Connecticut before returning to his alma mater. "Our quarterback position is more defined than last year, but it is still open."
After several down years, can the Tigers bounce back and compete in the CAA, which at one point last season had seven teams ranked in the national top 15?
"There was a point in time where we were these teams," Ambrose said. "We were beating Delaware and James Madison, and then had the rug pulled out from under us. The CAA is the elite (FBS) league in the country. While we committed to join this conference, our budgeting and resources were far behind the other schools. Now, the commitment has been made and it's awesome to be a part of this. We're on the comeback trail, and our guys are working harder and very focused. It's just a matter of time before we get there, and we want to keep driving forward."
Which team has more former players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Maryland or Morgan State? Surprisingly, it's Morgan State. Four former Bears are enshrined in Canton, including Roosevelt Brown, Len Ford, Willie Lanier and Leroy Kelly. The Terps' two inductees are Randy White and Stan Jones.
Morgan and Maryland will meet for the first time in their long football histories Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. at Byrd Stadium. The Terps will be favored, but Morgan returns 57 lettermen from last year's 6-5 team and will surely be eyeing an upset.
BLUE JAYS ON MISSION
The Johns Hopkins team is getting respect in the preseason NCAA Division III polls. Coach Jim Margraff's team is ranked 12th by Lindy's and holds the No. 15 spot in the Sporting News.
The Blue Jays, who were eighth in the final national poll of the 2009 season, start the campaign with three straight road games before hosting Muhlenberg Oct. 2. They return 13 starters from last year's 10-3 team that won the Centennial Conference championship and reached the NCAA Division III quarterfinals. Margraff, now in his 21st season as the Blue Jays coach, believes it will be a challenge to improve on the best season in school history.
"We graduated some fine players, but we still have a lot of experience coming back," said Margraff, who has guided the Blue Jays to five Centennial titles in the last eight years. "Every year, we try to focus on winning the Centennial Conference championship and getting the automatic NCAA bid."
Issue 152: August 2010