COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — In his first game as football coach at Florida International, Ron Turner has the advantage of fielding a team that Maryland knows nothing about.
The Terrapins didn’t have much relevant game film to study in advance of Saturday’s season opener, mainly because Turner and his hand-picked coaching staff have employed a new system for a team depleted by graduation.
Turner was hired in January to replace Mario Cristobal, who went 3-9 last year. Turner’s previous jobs included head coach at Illinois and San Jose State and offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears.
Now he’s in charge of the Panthers, 32-88 since establishing the football program in 2002.
“We don’t know much about them because they have a new coaching staff, but we know their coach came from the Chicago Bears,” Maryland defensive tackle Darius Kilgo said. “We’re just going in not knowing the situation but being prepared for anything.”
Turner, similarly, has no idea what to expect from a squad he’s overseen for a mere eight months. FIU has only five starters returning, just one on offense.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what we have,” Turner said. “This is the youngest team I’ve ever been around, experience-wise.”
Maryland, in its third year under coach Randy Edsall, is also young. Only four seniors are in the starting lineup, two apiece on offense and defense.
At least Terrapins have quarterback C.J. Brown, who returns after missing the entire 2012 season with a torn left ACL. Brown was a force as a runner and efficient as a passer in 2011, and now he’s eager to pick up where he left off.
“The knee feels great. I haven’t worn the brace in a couple of months now,” he said. “We’re excited as an offense and I’m excited individually. Just the way it’s all unfolded, it’s finally here.”
His main target will almost certainly be wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who set the Atlantic Coast Conference single-season record for all-purpose yards per game last year (172.4).
Diggs was one of few bright spots for a team that was 4-2 before finishing with a six-game skid.
“Everybody’s hyped up for the game,” Diggs said. “I remember in the winter it was 44 days left. I thought it would never be here. It’s here now.”
Before Maryland gets down the business of playing against ACC competition for the final time before leaving for the Big 10 in 2014, the Terrapins have four non-league foes to face. The stretch begins with FIU, and there’s no underestimating the significance of a good start.
“Every game counts the same,” linebacker Cole Farrand said. “Beating FIU is as important as beating Florida State. We need wins early to set the tone for the season, because we’re definitely looking to have a team that everyone in the ACC will remember.”
The Panthers, in their first year in Conference USA, know that Maryland will provide a stiff challenge. That’s why a victory would be so sweet.
“They’ve got good athletes, they’ve got good speed,” Turner said of the Terps. “A win would mean a lot and be a huge confidence boost to our guys.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)