Tag Archives: 2015

More Than A Friday: Cubs in the Movies and For Actual

On Wednesday evening, we said good-bye to the 2015 Chicago Cubs, the latest we’ve ever bid the north-siders adieu in a calendar year, but that didn’t make things any easier for those who have suffered through elimination in ’84, ’89, ’98, ’03, ’07, and 2008. I felt bad for them, and then I made it about myself.

Poooooooooor Cub fans.

Poooooooooor Cleveland fans.

You know what though? It’s just a game, and while we love it, we shouldn’t lose sight of that fact. The players make a lot of money, and sports, in general, make money hand-over-fist. They do that because we pay to be entertained by the games. It’s a lot like the movies, except the joy and anguish we experience at the theater doesn’t stay with us for days, you know, the way the games do.

Back to the Future: Part II lied to us

You buying that?  I sure as hell don’t subscribe.  By now, I’m sure everyone is well aware that October 21, 2015 was the day the 1985 characters from the first installment of the Back to the Future franchise arrived 30 years into their future.  I’m as aware as anyone, as I prepare to attend a theme party about 15 years in the making this Saturday.  So, of course, we watched what Robert Zemeckis envisioned yesterday’s world would be like.  We did so on digital media, a bonus of technology developed a few years back, from “Digital Copy” discs that accompanied our Blu-Ray box set of the trilogy.

The beginning of the movie is basically a series of jokes about what the next 30 years might have brought to the world, and how much of 1985 would be outdated by then.  We didn’t quite make it to flying cars, dehydrated Pizza Hut, or Jaws 19, but we’re far beyond scenes in window screens, fax machines, and printed newspapers.  And while, most Pepsi isn’t going to set you back $50, that Pepsi Perfect promises to fetch quite a bit more.

cubbiesworldseries

Today’s news was supposed to feature the beginning of the slamball playoffs, Queen Diana’s arrival in Washington DC, and the Cubs taking down a Miami baseball team to sweep the World Series.  Well, Slamball is a real thing, the late Princess didn’t outlive her mother-in-law, and few months after Diana’s tragic death, not only was there a team in Miami, but they won it all.  In fact, that Miami team has once the whole shebang twice, while the Cubs have a lot of years between them and their last World Championship in 1908.

The joke there was clearly about the contrasting viewpoints of people in the present tense of 2015 being intrigued by the Cubbies finally getting it done, to the point of congratulations somewhere in California, versus Marty’s amazement with the existence of a team in Miami.  While Chicago wasn’t quite the 100-to-1 shot the movie said they were, they are a far cry from what they were when the 2014 season, and in a good way.

Instead of being pissed that it didn’t happen, fans should rejoice that they got to carry the storyline beyond the regular season and three rounds into the post-season.  Remember, this was a third place team that sent the first and second place teams in their division to the golf course, while they got an honest crack at the Mets and were a step closer to the World Series than Pittsburgh or St. Louis.

Mark Grace was Taking Care of Business

We didn’t actually see the World Series in Hilldale, just the reporting of what happened in their fictional world.  Twenty-five years ago, we actually put them on the field in Anaheim against the Angels.  Mark Grace actually hit a home run that Jim Belushi broke out of prison to catch, and the most unreal thing about that premise was the Cubs playing the Angels in the Series.  Down the road a few years, Gracie would hit a World Series bomb, in Game 4 of the 2001 World Series, which his Diamondbacks would win in 7 games.

belushiball

The Rookie of the Year bests the Mets

So, a kid breaks his arm, it heals, and the catches the eye of the Cubs brass when he throws a home run back at Wrigley.  Preposterous?  Perhaps, but no more unrealistic than the Cubs sweeping an American League team in Miami, right?

The Cubs rival in that flick was the Mets, and why?  It’s because we were in the days before interleague play and there was no one exciting enough from the National League back then, so they went with New York’s JV squad.  Of course, the kid loses the magic right before the big inning and manages to get it done anyhow.  Kids movie send viewers home happy.

Actual Cubs make adults cry in their beer.  We actually get to see Mr. Henry Rowengartner later in life, crying to his single high school friends about getting nothing more than head from Tara Reid.  This is the adolescent sex-comedy equivalent to how Cleveland fans ultimately feel seeing the sorrow of Chicago fans.

We get it, the Cubs mean more to most of them than any other sport, if not thing, in the world.  Still, I’m left to think about the last thirty years, which saw the Bears win a Super Bowl, the Bulls win six titles, and the Blackhawks take home three Stanley Cups, even if we disregard the White Sox winning the World Series in 2005.

At least we got the best of the sports movies.

A Major League Hit

I like a lot of sports movies, and I think there are a lot of good ones.  Even the bad ones have their moments, but not the sequels to Major League.  Remember The Titans, Hoosiers, Miracle, and BASEketball are among my favorites.  Kevin Costner movies don’t do it for me, though Tin Cup has its moments.  However, Major League is all the way there for with timeless adult humor and, of course, my Cleveland Indians.

There actually ended up being a lot of real life parallels from the 1989 flick.  We ended up getting our speedy lead-off Willie Mays Hayes-type in Kenny Lofton, our beleaguered power-hitting outfielder in the form of Albert Joey Belle, and our ultimately unlikable third basemen in Jim Thome.  Just imagine the graffiti clean-up on a Roger Dorn statue.

However, while the big screen gave the team that beat Miami, Jim Belushi, and Tara Reid’s sexually predatory high school boyfriend World Series wins, Cleveland still got shit on, with the sequel revealing that magic playoff clincher against the Yankees was followed up by an excruciating sweep at the hands of the White Sox.  Screw you, Hollywood.

Your movies may lie to Cub fans, but you do a number in telling my hometown the truth.  Cleveland can’t catch a break on either side of the camera.

A Eulogy For the 2015 Indians

What can you say about the 2015 Cleveland Indians? They had their moments, sure, but to compare the end result to where we figured they would be in late September before the whole party began in April, leaves an almost unexplainable discrepancy.

When the front office pulled off the coup of landing Terry Francona, straight out of the ESPN broadcast booth in 2013, it was supposed to be different. When they pulled out all of the stops for Nick Swisher, and then signed Michael Bourn, under the RADAR, it promised to be a new day in Cleveland.

All three had grossly underperformed in Cleveland, and two of them didn’t last three full seasons. The third, Francona, was brought aboard by someone who opted not to stick around to watch it all crumble. It crumbled in Boston, but they had a couple of shiny trophies on the mantle to remind them of the good times. Progressive Field has only a painted grey flag with the numbers “2013” to show for all of they hype that came with the 2012-2013 off-season.

The 2015 season didn’t mean the arrival of too many new faces; the headliner of the group was Brandon Moss, but the former Oakland Athletic was damaged goods, and the Indians’ brass was all about the reclamation projects (see: Kazmir, Scott). Gavin Floyd and Jeff Manship decided to come along for the ride, joining the pitching staff. They didn’t figure to need a lot of new faces, as the familiar faces were supposed to carry this squad to a title, said the experts at Sports Illustrated.

After all, they had the reigning Cy Young winner, in Corey Kluber1no longer Hans set to take the ball on Opening Day, and pick up where he left off in 2014. Carlos Carrasco showed the accountants enough in the second half of the prior season, that the club decided to extend him 5 years. Trevor Bauer was expected to turn the corner this season, Danny Salazar was expected to bounce back from a sophomore slump of sorts, and Gavin Floyd was the big veteran the team needed to eat up innings at the back of the rotation every fifth day.

It turned out to be the rookie Cody Anderson, and not Floyd, due to completely foreseeable injury, that owned the 5th spot, after Bruce Chen and Shawn Marcum reminded everyone why they were available to anyone willing to give them a shot. Bauer had his glimpses, but finds himself in a battle with Josh Tomlin for a 2016 rotation spot, after Tomlin showed flashes of brilliance, but no consistency in 2015.

Those who did start on the bump, on a semi-regular basis, all flirted with no-hitters. Trevor Bauer was first, but it was early in the season, so he combined with the bullpen for about 8 innings in Tampa, before Nick Hagadone blew the no-no and the shutout. Kluber went 5 or 6 on multiple occasions. Cody Anderson went 5, to kick off a remarkable streak of games in Tampa for the rotation. It was during that stretch that Carlos Carrasco came closest to finishing the job, surrendering a hit with 2 outs in the 9th. Carrasco was on a nice run last Friday against the Royals’ taxi-squad, the night after they clinched their first division title since 1985. Unless it happens in the next four games, Len Barker’s 1981 perfecto against Toronto will remain the last no-hitter of any sort from Tribe pitching.

In a time when the city has moved on to the Browns and getting Johnny Manziel on the field, you could put the celebrity quarterback in the same bucket with the group that plays 81 games a year in the building a few blocks south of First Energy Stadium. You might love the snapshots, but have to understand there’s nothing sustainable, just yet.

Carlos Santana is a first basemen; his days of catching or playing third base have gone the way of the dodo. That might be more of a Yan Gomes thing than a Santana thing, but the effect was felt when Gomes’ season was put on hold in early April, and we entered the black hole of the Roberto Perez/Brett Hayes platoon offensively. The thing offensive about that duo is that fans took offense to the lineup card, but Yan couldn’t go between suffering an injury on April 11th and returning to the lineup in late May.

Arguably, Yan never got things going with the bat all, after a 1-for-4 outing on Opening Day. It was June 6th before he broke the Mendoza line, and his water mark in the batting average category was .237, after a 3-for-4 day in a home loss to the Yankees in August.

At that point, who even cared? They were 7 games under .500, 14.5 games behind the Royals, and in the middle of spending a full month in the American League Central Division cellar. These are symptoms of a team whose clean-up hitter was batting .229, and I’m not talking about Ryan Raburn here.

Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley had some lofty expectations set on them, and despite some really badly-timed slumps, they’ve given everyone everything they can honestly expect at the plate, when you’re looking at the big picture. The problem is, that can’t do it alone, and the players who manned the left side of the infield on Opening Day in Houston weren’t cutting in the field or at the plate. Eventually, the club understood the formula for insanity, doing the same shit and expecting different results, wasn’t going to work, with Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, though Chisenhall was reborn as an outfielder, a la Alex Gordon, in the minor leagues.  There’s a definite “to be continued” happening there, so stay tuned.

Alas, we get the relatively unknown Giovanny Urshela up from the minor leagues to play third base, and not too far behind, but way too late for many die-hard Tribe fans, Francisco Lindor to play short. People who couldn’t pick the latter out of a lineup admired and pined for the services of Lindor in Cleveland. Going against the grain of everything not named LeBron James in Cleveland, Lindor has lived up to the hype, and should be named American League Rookie of the Year. In resetting a season that largely makes me frown, it’s all smiles when it comes to the 8th overall pick from the 2011 draft.

Lindor passes the eyeball test, even when he swings and misses. At shortstop, he turns into outs and fielder’s choices into double plays. While I liked Julio Franco, Omar Vizquel, and various stages of the Asdrubal Cabrera Experience, it’s fair to say this young man is one of a kind. He has fun, he takes instruction, and oh by the way, the numbers on the stat sheet are sexy as hell too. They’re not good for a rookie, they’re good for a baseball player. It’s all there in black and white.

The bullpen did some things, like suffer through CC Lee, Scott Atchison, and Anthony Swarzak outings. Zach McAllister and Bryan Shaw didn’t look too bad on paper, but you always cringed when Tito called to the bullpen for their services. Cody Allen was able to stay the course for what he’s been over the course of his still young career, and he will continue to be the starter until he veers obscenely off course (see: Perez, Chris). Manship and Austin Adams seemed to be better with each appearance. We also saw some nice things from Floyd and Shawn Armstrong, but in very small sample sizes.

They sent Marc Rzepcynski packing at the deadline, when Brandon Moss and David Murphy were already gone. Due to their ability to clear waivers, Swisher and Bourn were moved after the traditional July 31 deadline. The moves brought back AAA slugger Abraham Almonte and the albatross contract of Chris Johnson in return; it’s very likely that neither are long-term options, but nice placeholders until the farm system develops recent draft picks a little more.

It was clear after a 7-14 April that this team was not World Series-worthy and the ceiling was reset from 94 wins to 83, and they will be very lucky to even reach that plateau. We’ll miss them anyway.

Rest in Peace, 2015 Cleveland Indians2…or play golf, fish, and have fun with your family.  I’m just offering some parting words on the ball club.  These players should enjoy their lives..

References
1 no longer Hans
2 …or play golf, fish, and have fun with your family.  I’m just offering some parting words on the ball club.  These players should enjoy their lives.

2015 Maryland Terrapins, Like 2010 Terps, Earn No. 4 Seed

Greivis Vasquez, heavily defended, threw up of one of his patented, off-balance, seemingly erratic shot attempts from about eight feet. The ball gently kissed off the glass and fell through the net, giving the Terps a one-point lead with six seconds remaining in the game. The Terrapins had rallied against Michigan State in the second half, overcoming a 16-point deficit. As the floater off the fingertips of Vasquez gave the Terps the lead, Michigan State would need a miracle to steal the win back from Maryland’s grasp. With a Sweet Sixteen birth on the line, reserve guard Korie Lucious delivered the miracle Michigan State needed by draining a three as time expired.

As hard as that may have been for Terps fans to read, it was even harder to write. The four-seed Maryland Terrapins were ousted from the tournament in true March Madness fashion and have not been back to the dance since. This unfortunate tradition finally came to an end in 2015.

Yes, I am having difficulty balancing my satisfaction with seeing the Terps back in the Tourney with my dissatisfaction that they were inexplicably relegated to a four-seed (Oklahoma gets a three-seed with 10 losses?!?).  But immediately upon hearing the Terps announced as a four-seed I thought back to that 2010 team that had so much potential.

Much has changed since that 2010 team. The players have obviously changed, but so has the coaching staff. Legendary Maryland head coach Gary Williams left after the following season, giving way to current head coach Mark Turgeon. The Terps have not participated in the NCAA Tournament since that heartbreaking end to the 2010 season.

Equally as frustrating as the Terps’ exit from the Tourney in 2010 is the thought of what could have been. Had Lucious’ game-winning three rimmed out, Maryland would have faced Northern Iowa, the nine-seed, in the Sweet Sixteen. The UNI Panthers had miraculously upset the first-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the second round. In the Elite Eight, Maryland would have drawn a beatable sixth-seeded Tennessee team who previously pulled off an upset of their own by taking down Ohio State, a two-seed. In the Final Four, the Terps’ opponent would have been the surprising Butler Bulldogs for a chance to face Duke (yes, Duke) in the National Championship game. Of course the Maryland-Duke Championship matchup contained quite a few hypothetical assumptions, but the lower-seeded teams had done most of the heavy lifting in the Terps’ region by taking out the one- and two-seeds.

While predicting March Madness outcomes is undeniably an annual impossibility, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the last Maryland team to make the Tournament and compare it to the team that is finally back this March after a five-year hiatus.

Regular Season

The 2010 Terrapin team finished the regular season with a 24-8 overall record and a 13-3 conference record. Significant outcomes included wins over No. 4 Duke and No. 18 Florida State, a loss to William & Mary at home before conference play began, and getting knocked out of the ACC Tournament in the first round by a mediocre Georgia Tech team. That Maryland team finished the season nationally ranked at No. 20, their highest ranking of the 2009-10 season.

The 2015 team finished the season with an impressive 27-6 overall record and a 14-4 conference record. The Terps have suffered some lopsided defeats this season, including getting beaten by 19, 24, and 16 points by Indiana, Ohio State, and Iowa, respectively. But nonconference wins against Arizona State, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State, as well as conference wins over Michigan State (twice), Indiana, and Wisconsin afforded the Terps a No. 8 ranking in the AP Poll to finish the season. Head coach Mark Turgeon led the team to its highest regular-season win total in school history.

Star Power

The 2010 Terps were led by their fearless, unpredictable, chest-pounding leader Greivis Vasquez. You never knew when Vasquez was going to toss up one of his spontaneous running floaters or jack up an NBA-range three, but the Terps unquestionably would not have achieved the level of success that season without him. Vasquez received national attention and put himself on the radar of NBA scouts en route to being named Player of the Year in the ACC. He also won the Bob Cousy Award as the top point guard in NCAA Division I basketball and was a Wooden Award finalist. He averaged 19.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.

As great as Vasquez was for Maryland, I believe the 2015 team has the edge when it comes to its star players. Vasquez put the team on his back and carried them thorough the 2009-10 season and into March. There were other solid contributors on the team, namely Jordan Williams, Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley, and Landon Milbourne, but Vasquez was the lone true star.

The Terps will need freshman phenom Melo Trimble to hit threes and get to the foul line in March. Photo Courtesy AP Photo/Patrick Semansky.
The Terps will need freshman phenom Melo Trimble to hit threes and get to the foul line in March. Photo Courtesy AP Photo/Patrick Semansky.

Maryland currently has three stars with NBA potential. Junior Jake Layman is averaging 13 points and six rebounds per game. He was named to the watch list for the Karl Malone Award, presented to the best power forward in the nation. Senior Dez Wells is averaging 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per contest, and is one of the best basket attackers in Maryland hoops history. And what can be said of freshman phenom Melo Trimble that hasn’t already been said? The Terrapin point guard is averaging more than 16 points and three assists per game this season. Although he fell subject to a midseason dip in production (as well as going ice-cold in the second half against Michigan State in the Big Ten semi-finals), Trimble caught fire as the regular season winded down, and was named to the Bob Cousy Award watch list.

Big Men

Freshman Jordan Williams provided Maryland with a solid low-post presence on both ends of the court in 2010, but hadn’t yet developed into the double-double machine he would the following season. Williams did finish second in the conference in rebounds in 2010. Senior Landon Milbourne was also a solid contributor at power forward, but was more likely to step back and take a contested shot than back a defender down and go to the rim. He averaged 12.7 points and 4.9 rebounds that season.

If there is one glaring weakness of the 2015 Terrapins it is their lack of production under the basket. While Layman sees time at power forward, he is more of a small forward; a position that also allows him more opportunity to utilize one of his strengths, which is his range from beyond the arc. Sophomore Damonte Dodd and senior Jonathan Graham split time at center/power forward and average a combined 6.3 points and seven rebounds per game. Slovakian freshman Michal Cekovsky hasn’t accumulated much playing time this season, but the seven-footer made his presence felt in the Terps’ upset of then-No. 5 Wisconsin on February 24. He could (or at least in my opinion should) see more playing time at center during the Tournament.

Bench

Cliff Tucker and Adrian Bowie were the Terps’ main sources for a spark off the bench in 2010. While both occasionally started for Maryland, their primary roles were relegated to relieving Vasquez, Hayes, and Mosely when needed. Tucker averaged nearly six points per game while Bowie chipped in close to five.

The Terps currently have several players off the bench who can contribute significant and meaningful minutes. Senior Evan Smotrycz sees the most minutes off the Terrapin bench, but has also started. While a liability on the defensive end (and not much of a ball handler on the offensive end), Smotrycz’s strength lies in shooting threes. He’s averaging around four points and four rebounds per game. Freshman Jared Nickens has found a niche for himself in coming off the bench and hitting threes at important times in a game (averaging 6 PPG, and not just in garbage time). Senior transfer Richaud Pack has also proven he can hit a three when needed, and is averaging 6.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Pack has earned himself a starting spot in several recent games, showing that Turgeon has faith in Pack’s capabilities. Freshman Dion Wiley has also seen meaningful time and is averaging 4.3 PPG.

There are some striking similarities between this team and the 2010 Terps, which I believe bodes well for this team overall, with stellar play from their guards at the top of the list. The main concern heading into March is that Maryland hasn’t shown all that much this year on the road, particularly against more formidable opponents. Drawing a four-seed in a Midwest region that includes Kansas, newly-crowned ACC champs Notre Dame, and that one undefeated team everyone will pick to cut down the nets on April 6, doesn’t necessarily support a favorable outcome for Maryland. But this Terrapin team has many strengths, and I believe they could hang with any team in the country if they limit mistakes, get the usual production out of the “Big Three” (Trimble, Wells, Layman), and get solid defensive production from their bigs (Graham, Dodd, and Cekovsky). The potential of this Terrapin team is apparent, and as Maryland fans know all too well, anything can happen in March.

One thing Terps fans don’t have to be concerned about this March: Korie Lucious graduated in 2013.

An Early Look at the Terps’ 2015 Schedule

It is never too early to begin looking at the season ahead, and the release of the Terrapins’ 2015 football schedule presented the perfect opportunity to do so. At first glance there are some intriguing matchups, including a rematch with newly-crowned national champion Ohio State in Columbus. Here are a few games to mark on your 2015 calendar:

September 26 @ West Virginia

The Border Battle continues in 2015, as the Terps will travel to Morgantown to take on the Mountaineers. Maryland has faced West Virginia a total of 13 times over the past 15 college football seasons, and the rivalry has not proved particularly kind to the Terrapins. Maryland has defeated WVU on just four occasions, and three of those wins came during the 2001, 2002, and 2003 seasons. The Mountaineers defeated the Terps in seven straight matchups from 2004 to 2012, until the Terps finally prevailed again in 2013 with a resounding 37-0 shutout at a rainy contest played in M&T Bank Stadium. Last season, quarterback Clint Trickett led the Mountaineers to a 40-37 win over Maryland, throwing for 511 yards and four touchdowns. The loss was a heartbreaking one for the Terps, as they rallied after falling behind 28-6 to cut the West Virginia lead to 28-27. Maryland tied the game at 37 before Trickett led the Mountaineers down the field ending in a controversial game-winning field goal. Trickett will not be under center for WVU next season, as he graduated and in fact opted to retire from football altogether due to enduring multiple concussions over a relatively short time period in his short playing career. The future look of the Terps’ offense is still very much a mystery at this point as well, as starting quarterback C.J. Brown has used up his collegiate eligibility after six years and star wideout Stefon Diggs declared early for the 2015 NFL Draft. While the exact makeup of either team is still greatly unknown, the Terps seem to have righted the ship over the last two years as far as this rivalry goes and this should be another great game.

October 3 vs. Michigan

Michigan has uncharacteristically underperformed over the last few seasons, and the Terps added to their 2014 woes by defeating the Wolverines in Ann Arbor 23-16. Michigan finished last season with a 5-7 record, fired head coach Brady Hoke, and hired former Stanford and San Francisco 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh to take his place. Harbaugh was a quarterback for the Wolverines from 1983-86, and even has a few ties to the state of Maryland as he quarterbacked the Baltimore Ravens in 1998 and brother John is the current coach of the team. While it will likely take a few years for Harbaugh to get Michigan back on the winning track (if it all), this historic college football program making the trip to College Park is a must see. If anything, watching Jim Harbaugh jumping up and down along the sidelines should provide a sufficient amount of entertainment.

October 24 vs. Penn State

Maryland’s victory over Penn State in 2014 was arguably the biggest win of the season, as the Terps traveled to Happy Valley and Brad Craddock kicked the Terps to a 20-19 victory over the Nittany Lions. If not the best win, it was certainly the most memorable game of last season. Aside from the last-minute game-winning kick, the game itself was preceded by the infamous handshake snub at midfield by the Terrapins’ game captains. Regardless of what side of the fence you are on regarding the pregame incident, along with the way the game itself played out, it helped give birth to a new college football and Big Ten rivalry. Hopefully, the rivalry will only continue to grow (for the right reasons) between these two universities, and the 2015 matchup between Maryland and Penn State could be indicative of where the rivalry is headed. The game will be played at M&T Bank Stadium, so the stadium should be rockin’ with Terps fans and Penn State fans alike. If you’re going to attend just one Terps football game in 2015, I strongly suggest it’s this one.

November 28 @ Rutgers

The most heartbreaking loss of the 2014 season came at the hands of Rutgers and offensive coordinator/former Terp head coach Ralph Friedgen in the regular season finale. After building a 25-point lead just before halftime, the Rutgers offense scored touchdowns on four consecutive possessions. While the offense gained ground on the scoreboard, the Rutgers defense completed the unforgettable comeback by holding Maryland to just one field goal in the entire second half and stuffing running back Brandon Ross on a 4th and 1 with just under three minutes remaining in the game. The loss dropped the Terps to 7-5 and prevented them from receiving an invitation to a more prestigious bowl. The exact circumstances surrounding Friedgen’s departure is more than cloudy, but it is safe to say his firing was less than amicable. Understandably so, after Friedgen won 75 games at Maryland over ten years and was assured by AD Kevin Anderson that his job was secure. The 2015 rematch after Ralph’s revenge to end the regular season could present similar postseason implications and ramifications to the 2014 collapse.

Why Terps’ Star Stefon Diggs Should Have Stayed for Senior Season

When the news broke last week that Maryland Terrapins’ star wideout Stefon Diggs would forego his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft I was less than shocked. Most Maryland fans probably felt the same way, as Diggs has unquestionably been the Terps’ most dynamic, athletic, and exciting player over the past two years. His playmaking abilities have dominated Maryland football highlights, and the wide receiver has maintained a high level of offensive production despite less than average quarterback play during his collegiate career.

Stefon Diggs became an immediate star for the Terps as a freshman in 2012. He finished the season ranked eighth in the country in all-purpose yards as both a wide receiver and a return man on special teams. He led the team in receptions with 54, tallied 848 receiving yards, caught six touchdowns, and even threw a touchdown pass. Diggs truly did it all his first year in red and black.

As a sophomore, Diggs maintained his status as the team’s all-purpose star for the first six and a half games of the season until suffering a season-ending injury mid-October. Before his injury, Diggs had recorded 34 receptions for 587 yards and three scores, and had a legitimate chance to eclipse the 1000-yard plateau, a commendable feat for a Terrapin wide receiver over the last four years.

A relatively similar story played out in 2014, as Diggs’ offensive production continued until a suspension/injury cut his season short following the Terps’ memorable 20-19 win November 1 at Penn State. He returned for Maryland’s (embarrassing) bowl game, and all-in-all finished his junior season, and his last as a Terrapin, with 62 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns.

Stefon Diggs left opposing defenses in his dust during his three years as a star at Maryland. Photo courtesy si.com.
Stefon Diggs left opposing defenses in his dust during his three years as a star at Maryland. Photo courtesy si.com.

Diggs performed well in a Maryland offense that has employed game plans focused more around quick slant routes and bubble screens than attempting passes of 15 yards or more; a game plan that has essentially been permanently instilled since Randy Edsall’s arrival in 2011. During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Diggs’ primary quarterback was C.J. Brown. Brown was a serviceable quarterback, but struggled greatly with accuracy and would often tuck the ball and run when an initial read wasn’t there, further limiting Diggs’ production. In 2012, Diggs’ freshman season, three quarterbacks saw time under center over the first eight games of the year. After each suffered season-ending injuries (not including a season-ending injury C.J. Brown before the season began), a freshman linebacker finished the remaining four games at quarterback. Diggs has put up some great individual numbers throughout his Terrapin career despite all of these significant obstacles. While Diggs has had three great seasons statistically at Maryland, he did not have the nationally-recognized, can’t-miss-this-player, head-turning season he was capable of.

For this reason, Diggs should have stayed one more year at Maryland.

Many Terps fans would argue his freshman season was that type of year. Finishing eighth in the nation and second in the ACC in total yards is no small feat, and he managed to stay healthy for almost the entire year. But 2015 presented the best chance for Diggs to have his most productive year as a Terp. He returned from an injury for Maryland’s bowl game against Stanford, and would have been heading into the offseason healthy and able to enter next year at 100 percent. While Diggs has been Maryland’s go-to guy for three years, fellow starting wide receiver Deon Long is graduating, which would likely have increased Diggs’ role in the passing game even more.

Furthermore, and quite frankly most significantly, the era of sixth-year senior C.J. Brown is complete. This is not meant as a direct knock on Brown, despite his well-documented and aforementioned inconsistencies throwing the football. Brown is more of an athlete with a decent arm who can tuck the ball away when needed and utilize his speed to help the offense. Next year, the offense will be senior Caleb Rowe’s to lead. Rowe has seen a good amount of playing time already, attempting at least one pass in a dozen games since 2012 and starting several as well. Rowe is more of the traditional pocket quarterback that Brown was not. He has shown his quarterbacking abilities are at least as good as Brown’s, and having a quarterback staying in the pocket and looking to complete a pass instead of taking off on their own to pick up yards on the ground only would have benefitted Diggs. If he could have stayed healthy in 2015, I believe he would have had that truly noteworthy, nationally-recognized season under his belt heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. His draft stock would likely have risen, propelling him to the late-first round range he was originally projected earlier in his Terrapin career.

Diggs, however, decided that it was in his best interests to forego his senior season at Maryland and enter the 2015 NFL Draft. One can only hope that Diggs’ NFL career path more closely resembles that of former Terp Torrey Smith and less that of Darrius Heyward-Bey. As a Terrapin fan and alum, I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to watch Stefon Diggs play on Saturdays, and wish him the best in the NFL.