- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2011

PINEHURST, N.C. — Maryland brought a new coach to the ACC Kickoff for the first time in a decade. It is installing new schemes, faces scholarship and practice-time reductions and watched a dozen players with eligibility remaining leave the program since the beginning of the year.

Coach Randy Edsall, though, demonstrated little interest in identifying any possible limitations entering his first season with the Terrapins.

“My thought process is we’re going to compete for a league championship this year,” Edsall said Monday, just more than a fortnight before his first preseason camp commences in College Park. “That’s the whole mindset.”

Others don’t necessarily agree, even with the Terps coming off a 9-4 season, a bowl victory and the presence of returning conference rookie of the year Danny O’Brien. The congregated media at the Pinehurst Resort pegged Maryland to finish fifth in the six-team Atlantic Division, ahead of only Wake Forest.

Edsall laughed off such prognostications as coaches often do, joking he felt like he was still in the Big East. The former Connecticut coach took the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl last season after entering with a fourth-place prediction.

Nonetheless, Maryland’s placement was a mild surprise considering a substantial portion of last year’s starters return. A contributing factor - and a point of concern - might be a trickle of off-field setbacks emerged since the start of spring practice.

Right guard Justin Lewis was dismissed from the team earlier this month. Maryland was docked three scholarships for failing to comply with the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate cut score. Then there’s the loss of 2 1/2 hours of a possible 20 hours of practice and game time each week during the season, a self-imposed punishment for violating practice limits last season.

Edsall said he intends to spend less time than he would like on football activities each Sunday, then reduce the length of practice every Tuesday and Wednesday.

“It’s not going to be an issue at all because we’re not going to let it be an issue,” Edsall said. “I’ve put together a schedule that is going to allow us to be successful in what we’re doing. … It’s not going to hinder us. Not going to let it hinder us.”

Time will tell, of course. Maryland must adjust to new offensive and defensive coordinators, and also faces a trying two-game stretch (home dates with Miami and West Virginia) to open the season.

For now, players are echoing Edsall’s mantra.

“Coaching changes, things going on, hardships, everybody is going to have those,” linebacker Kenny Tate said. “The main goal is everyone wants to win. We don’t want to have an excuse of ‘Oh, we had a young team this year. We had so many things happen to us.’ That’s part of the game.”

Regardless of pre-camp talk, Maryland faces obvious obstacles in its chase for its first conference title since 2001, even if the Terps don’t intend to use any of them as a crutch.

“We’re not using anything as an excuse,” said O’Brien, who threw 22 touchdown passes as a freshman. “The goal is ACC title or bust. Anything short of that is a failure as a season for us despite any circumstances.”

NOTE: Edsall said defensive tackle Zach Kerr was no longer in the program. Edsall said last month Kerr was ineligible, though his long-term status with the Terps was still unknown.

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