A different time is about to start in Maryland‘s football program.
The post-Jordan Steffy time.
Many would argue there never was a true Steffy Era, given his injury history, but it’s strikingly not so. While I don’t know precisely how long ago it was that Steffy first popped up on Maryland’s recruiting radar as its quarterback of the future, it’s safe to say it probably happened by the time he was in the middle of his junior season in high school.
That, by the way, was in 2002 —- Ralph Friedgen‘s second season at Maryland.
For all that has changed since then, yet Steffy was a constant in fans’ view of the quarterback situation all that time. From potential future star QB (as a recruit in 2002-03) to immediate savior (2004) to redshirting after injuries (2005) to backup (2006) to opening day starter (2007-08), the guy was cat-like in the number of lives he had a college player.
He played in a season opener three times. Shaun Hill didn’t do that. Neither did Scott McBrien. Nor did Sam Hollenbach. (Chris Turner will likely accomplish the feat next season).
The recap of the quarterbacks begins with Steffy, not just because he began the season as the starter but because he’s seemingly been in the discussion for the job since time immemorial.
No one can be sure how the season would have unfolded had Steffy not fractured his thumb against Delaware. Maybe he would have turned out to be the quarterback Friedgen always claimed he was. On the other end of things, perhaps another serious injury was lurking at such a dangerous position.
One thing is certain: There would have been scrutiny. Tons of it. And there would have been no shortage of baying hounds whenever Maryland suffered a loss.
Instead, the responsibility of dealing with some of that weight fell to Turner, who showed improvement in his second go-round as Maryland’s starter. That’s not to say he was Heisman-worthy, or even all-ACC-worthy.
But he was better for the most part, regardless of the nitpicking of fans who simply like to complain. He still had a propensity to shine in big games (just ask California, Wake Forest and, to a much lesser extent, North Carolina).
Sure there were stretches when it was clear “Bad Turner” had emerged —- think the second half at Middle Tennessee and the third quarter of the Humanitarian Bowl —- but Turner usually steadied himself and broke out of his ruts.
So the consistency wasn’t always there, but the erratic play wasn’t as pronounced as Turner’s sophomore year. And as a result, he was certainly not a hindrance to Maryland’s efforts on most days.
Put another way: If Turner played poorly, chances are his offensive line wasn’t doing much, his receivers were dropping passes, his running backs were tiptoeing, and possibly some or all of the above.
Turner is in an interesting spot now. His backup (for all intents and purposes, Steffy) is out of eligibility. His change-of-pace option, Josh Portis, didn’t even play a game’s worth of snaps —- 45 in all —- and is transferring to Division II California (Pa.).
(As a fun little game that basically involves Monopoly money, I looked up the cost of tuition, room and board, etc. for an out-of-state student at Maryland, which now stands at a little more than $32,000. For the sake of convenience and also to account for increasing costs, I’m going to ballpark it at $30,000 a year on average over the last three years. That means in this overly simplified and theoretical situation, Maryland received one snap for every $2,000 poured into Portis. Krikey —- even if it doesn’t completely reflect reality).
OK, back to Turner. He already ranks seventh on Maryland’s career passing list with 4,474 yards. If he matches his junior season production of 2,516 yards, he’ll comfortably sit in second place behind Scott Milanovich.
Presumably, the job will be his, with only sophomore Jamarr Robinson (no career snaps at quarterback) and a couple incoming freshmen as the competition for the gig.
Turner’s progression from 2007 to 2008 was, for the most part, promising. Quarterback was rarely the major reason Maryland lost. Of course, there were a few times it wasn’t the major reason the Terps won, either.
The next leap involves improved arm strength, as well as discovering ways to function effectively a green offensive line and overcoming the loss of his most dangerous target in Darrius Heyward-Bey. Those are the challenges facing Turner, and he’s sure to hear about them ad nauseam in the coming months.
Indeed, it will be Turner who hears about it. Steffy, after all, is no longer around. And as all starting quarterbacks eventually learn, they’ll eventually become a lightning rod for fans in some way or another. It already started for Turner as the fall unfolded, though the attention paid to Steffy the last two years blunted some of the overanalysis.
Turner’s turn for facing extreme signal-calling scrutiny will only intensify next season, even after making 20 starts over the last two years. All the evidence suggests he’ll capably deal with it, even if Maryland isn’t any better overall next fall.
The senior-to-be has taken two teams to bowl games, assuming the job from Steffy and salvaging a pair of seasons that both looked like they could collapse in September. That’s the sentence-long assessment of the Maryland quarterback situation in both 2007 and 2008.
It’s safe to say 2009 will at least be somewhat different.
—- Patrick Stevens