Randy Edsall is facing one of the biggest challenges of his coaching career.
In a few months, the Susquehannock High School graduate will lead the Maryland football program into its first-ever season in the Big Ten Conference.
As usual, Edsall is saying all the right things. In an Associated Press story on Monday, the Glen Rock native said he was a big supporter of the move to the Big Ten. He's also looking forward to the "challenge" and hopes to "prove people wrong" who don't believe the Terrapins can be competitive in the storied conference. He also expects to win from the "get-go."
Those are all fine sentiments.
Sentiments, however, don't normally win football games. Players do. And that's where Edsall may run into some problems.
Specifically, Edsall has a recruiting problem.
Edsall has never been known as a sensational recruiter. There's not enough used-car salesman in his buttoned-down personality. Still, he's been able to succeed by coaching up players that were overlooked by other programs and the recruiting gurus.
Of course, it was much easier to do that with UConn in the Big East, which was not a top-flight football conference, especially in its later years.
Since his arrival at Maryland, things have not gone as smoothly. He struggled to a 2-10 start in his first season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, when players from the Ralph Friedgen era exited the program in droves. His no-nonsense coaching style apparently didn't suit them.
His second year got off to promising start before a series of staggering quarterback injuries left him starting a linebacker at the position. The Terps finished 4-8.
Last season, with more of his own recruits, Edsall had his best season yet at College Park, finishing 7-6 and earning a Military Bowl appearance. The players seemed to be buying into Edsall's more-disciplined regimen.
Now the Terps have left the ACC for the Big Ten.
The good news for Edsall is that the level of competition is not a huge jump – if it's a jump at all. After all, the ACC produced the national champion last season in Florida State, while Clemson finished ranked No. 8. But, year in and year out, the depth of above-average programs is probably a little stronger in the Big Ten.
The bad news for Edsall is that the level of recruiting intensity will jump significantly.
First, the Big Ten is undoubtedly a higher-profile football conference than the ACC by any measure — attendance, television ratings or revenue. He will battle schools with much greater resources to pour into recruiting.
Second, he must deal with three men who know more than a little bit about how to attract Maryland recruits.
New Penn State head coach James Franklin is a former assistant to Friedgen with the Terps. He's already poached three of the top recruits in Maryland for his 2015 class. And unlike Edsall, Franklin is the ultimate salesman. One Big Ten assistant has told ESPN.com that Franklin is already "downright killing Maryland."
Former PSU assistant Larry Johnson is now the defensive line coach at Ohio State. For years, Johnson lured some of Maryland's best players to Happy Valley. He was long regarded as the Nittany Lions' top recruiter. Johnson hasn't landed any Maryland players for OSU just yet, but you can be sure he will.
Finally, Friedgen is now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers, which just happens to be joining the Big Ten next season, too. Friedgen obviously knows Maryland football and he enjoyed significant success while with the Terps. His age (67) will likely prevent him from hitting the road a whole lot, but his contacts in the state may be invaluable for the Scarlet Knights.
Penn State and Rutgers are also relatively easy drives from Maryland, which can also be a selling point, especially with parents who want to see their sons play college ball. Ohio State is a bit farther, but not unreasonable.
So there can be little doubt that Edsall is facing an uphill battle in the Big Ten. He admitted as much in the AP story.
"Do we have as many quality student athletes as some of the people we're going to play? Probably not, if you take a look at the rankings," Edsall said.
That situation is only likely to get worse, especially with having to go head to head in the recruiting wars with men such as Franklin, Johnson and Friedgen.
Edsall has always done more with less. That is his track record.
It's a record that will be put to the ultimate test when the Terps join the Big Ten.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.