UPDATE: Wednesday afternoon, O'Brien released the following Tweet: "Contrary to rumor, I am still a Terp." We will have more updates on this story as it develops.
Expectations were very high for the Maryland Terrapins coming into the 2011 football season. They were coming off a very impressive 9-4 season in 2010, there was reason for hope under a new coach, but most importantly, they had reigning ACC rookie of the year Danny O'Brien under center. And for one night in September against the Miami Hurricanes, it looked like O'Brien and the Terps would live up to expectations.
But the months since that game have not gone according to plan. O'Brien had mixed results on the field and was ultimately yanked in favor of the unproven C.J. Brown. He was reinserted late in the year, but his season came to an end when he suffered a broken arm against Notre Dame. Now, a few months after the season ends, we get the news that O'Brien is leaving the team and told Randy Edsall as much in a meeting today. His departure from the Terps means a lot more than his performance over the last season might suggest.
Many in the Maryland fan base figured that O'Brien was in line for a bounce back season after the Terps brought in a new offensive coordinator, Mike Locksley, whose system might mesh a little bit better with O'Brien's playing style. We know that the talent and the work ethic is there. But we also know that Gary Crowton's system did not fit O'Brien and Crowton was not going to bend his system for his best player. So even though C.J. Brown was still on the roster, most fans were under the impression that O'Brien would get a fresh start as a starter this coming year.
So the immediate impact of O'Brien's departure is that C.J. Brown is now entrenched as the starting quarterback moving forward. He showed a lot of flashes last year, but he needs to improve his passing to be effective. Without O'Brien as a safety net, giving the reigns to Brown entirely is a risky proposition. But now they don't really have any other choice.
Another interesting thing to note is that O'Brien hosted recruit Stefon Diggs on his final official visit over the past weekend. At the time it was seen as a pretty good indicator that O'Brien was going to stay, and that Edsall was comfortable enough with his relationship with the quarterback to use him as an ambassador for the program when the stakes were at their highest. Did Edsall really not know that O'Brien planned to transfer? How could he let such an important recruit stay with a guy who was even on the fence? These are all questions that must be answered if Diggs does not choose Maryland on Friday.
As for the state of the program, this is a pretty big blow after a few weeks of positive recruiting news had given fans some hope about the future under Edsall. I don't think anyone would have been surprised if O'Brien decided to transfer immediately after the season, but waiting until the Terps had hired new coaches, not transferring then, and then hosting Diggs made it seem like a sure shot that he would be around. Now he is gone and Randy Edsall's program is without a face.
O'Brien didn't set the world on fire in his second year as the starter. In fact he performed way below expectations. There is a possibility that another player could step in and replace the performance O'Brien provided. But despite his troubles, fans loved him, and the optimism about his returning to form next year was helping to keep a lot of Maryland fans off the ledge. Now, it turns out he won't be a part of the team next year and it could possibly cost us Stefon Diggs as well.
This is a big enough blow as it relates to the upcoming season, but in terms of Edsall's approval rating with the fans and their perception of his control over the program, it's devastating.
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