No. 77 Maryland
Maryland won six games in 2016 and reached a third bowl game in four years, yet the Terrapins are still an afterthought in the loaded Big Ten East. Can that begin to change under second-year head coach D.J. Durkin?
The former Florida and Michigan defensive coordinator won (most) of the games they were expected to and won (most) of the games they were expected to. With 12 returning starters, many viable options at quarterback and the conference's most underrated running back duo, the Terps are seeking bowl eligibility again but with at least one more notable win.
2016 Record: 6-7 (3-6, Big Ten)
Maryland's six victories came against teams who finished a combined 20-52. Their seven losses came against teams who finished a combined 63-29, including three teams who won at least 10 games.
The Terrapins weren't particularly great in any area, had a turnover margin of minus-seven (13th in the Big Ten and 107th nationally) and were annihilated during a three-game November losing streak to Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska (combined score of 149-13).
Head Coach: D.J. Durkin (2nd, 6-7 overall)
D.J. Durkin rocketed up the coaching ranks from Bowling Green grad assistant in 2002 to Florida defensive coordinator in 2013 to Maryland head coach in 2016.
Durkin — who was technically head coach at Florida for one game, the Birmingham Bowl after Will Muschamp's dismissal — became one of the youngest head coaches in the FBS. He was 37 at the time of his hiring and enters 2017 as a 39-year-old second-year head coach.
He beat a bunch of bad teams and lost to a bunch of good ones in his first season with the Terps. It's time to add some good ones to the win column.
Key Returning Offensive Players
Sophomores Max Bortenschlager and Tyrell Pigrome are two of five quarterbacks competing for snaps in 2016. The pair combined for 104 pass attempts last year in relief of Peyton Hills and played adequately well for freshmen.
Whoever emerges as starter will have a dangerous one-two punch at running back. Ty Johnson averaged a stagging 9.1 yards per carry last year, while Lorenzo Harrison averaged 7.2. They combined for 1,637 yards and 11 touchdowns on fewer than 200 carries.
"He's consistently been a big-play guy for us," Durkin said of Johnson after he ran for 159 yards on 15 carries in the bowl loss to Boston College. "He does have that ability, he's a young guy and still learning and getting better. We're certainly excited about him and a lot of guys at that position, moving forward."
Leading receiver D.J. Moore is also back. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder has averaged 15.1 yards per catch in his first two seasons and found the endzone six times last year. And they return three offensive line starters, including rising sophomore Terrance Davis. He got the start against Penn State and never lost the job, starting their final nine games.
Key Returning Defensive Players
Six starters return from a defense that was decent against inferior foes and downright terrible against elite ones. They gave up 75 total points in wins over FIU, UCF, Purdue, Michigan State and Rutgers, but were blitzed for 159 against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.
Their top three tacklers return, led by senior linebackers Jermaine Carter Jr. and Shane Cockerille. The pair combined for 209 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, nine sacks and five passes defended.
They're joined in the front seven by disruptive defensive end Jesse Aniebonam. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder had a breakout junior campaign, leading the team in sacks (nine) and tackles for loss (14). He had 5.5 sacks in their first five games and needs another fast start with an opener at Texas looming.
In the secondary, juniors J.C. Jackson and Darnell Savage are the leaders. Jackson needs to take a big step forward after struggling last year, his first with the Terps after transferring from Florida.
Notable Player Losses
Maryland did not lose much. Sure, they lost production and experience at quarterback and receiver but Peyton Hills and Teldrick Morgan and Levern Jacobs are not crippling losses.
Same goes for the defense. Another season from dynamic all-purpose player Will Likely and Roman Braglio (5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks) would've been great but not imperative to their quest for Big Ten relevance.
Notable Player Additions
Maryland is overflowing with options at quarterback, three of which haven't taken a snap with the Terps.
Caleb Henderson transferred from North Carolina last summer and sat out the 2016 season. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from Virginia redshirted in 2014 and saw negligible action in 2015. JUCO transfer Ryan Brand is a former three-star prospect who participated in the Elite 11 Finals before spending one season apiece at Air Force and San Mateo Community College.
Lastly, Kasim Hill is a true freshman. The four-star recruit from Washington, D.C., was the 10th-ranked pro-style passer in the class and picked Maryland over offers from Michigan, Penn State and others.
Defensively, three freshmen could see big playing time immediately, particularly safety Markquese Ball. Don't be surprised if the 6-foot-2, 194-pounder earns a starting job alongside Darnell Savage out of fall camp.
Life in the Big Ten East is not fun for Maryland right now. And that has nothing to do with their season-opening road trip to Texas, an aggressively scheduling play that seemed unnecessary.
They get the usual gauntlet of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State and face Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin from the West. At least they only have one true road game over the final five weeks?
|Saturday, Sept. 2||at Texas|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Towson|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||vs. Central Florida|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||at Minnesota|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Ohio State|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Northwestern|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||at Wisconsin|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||vs. Indiana|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Rutgers (Yankee Stadium)|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Michigan|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Michigan State|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. Penn State|