The narrative blipped up not all that long ago and should stay in the forefront when it comes to Maryland football. The Terrapins are a sleeping giant, with a monster apparel deal with Under Armour as long as they can find a coach to keep the talent on the east coast home.
Maryland initially signed with Under Armour in 2008 and signed a 10-year extension worth at least $34 million in January 2014. It's one of the main reasons the Big Ten went after the school when it expanded more than two years ago, in addition to the desire to extend its conference footprint and television market along with Rutgers.
The problem is, the Terrapins were all but spectacular in their first two Big Ten seasons, which led to coach Randy Edsall's firing the day after Ohio State thumped them 49-28 in Ohio Stadium.
Administration tabbed Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh disciple DJ Durkin to lead the Terrapins from the fray and make them a contender in the daunting Big Ten East. Its Durkin's first head coaching job, and he worked with Meyer both at Bowling Green as a graduate assistant then at Florida as linebackers coach.
Durkin worked at Stanford under Harbaugh from 2007-09 before reuniting with him a season ago as Michigan's defensive coordinator. His coaching history and experience with high profile coaches is rare, but it remains to be seen if he can truly kick over the supposed sleeping giant that is Maryland football. The Terrapins lost
Ohio State beat the Terrapins 52-24 behind five J.T. Barrett touchdowns at Byrd Stadium (now known as Maryland Stadium, a smart move) in 2014. Though Barrett turned in a magnificent performance that day, we'll never forget Cardale Jones jumping over a poor soul in the fourth quarter.
This year, the Buckeyes visit the east coast in mid-November after back-to-back home night games. Let's get to know what Durkin's group brings to the table in 2016.
For whatever reason, Maryland really liked to throw the football last season. The only issue was its quarterbacks kept throwing it to the wrong team. Perry Hills, Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman all combined to toss 29 interceptions on 363 passes — easily the highest total from any team in 2015. For even more perspective, the average interception rate for quarterbacks last season ranged from 1.5 to 4 percent, Maryland's finished at 8.1 percent.
Both seniors, Hills and Rowe return looking for more stability at quarterback, as Randy Edsall couldn't figure out who he liked best. However, Hills did set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 170 in the loss to Ohio State. New offensive coordinator Walt Bell heads east from Arkansas State and called many more running plays with the Red Wolves last season.
The Terrapins say goodbye to leading rusher Brandon Ross, who tallied 958 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground in 2015. But senior Wes Brown teams up with Virginia Tech graduate transfer Trey Edmunds in addition to sophomore Ty Johnson in the competition for carries this fall. Plus, Durkin added three running backs in his first recruiting class. Finding talented guys to hand the ball to shouldn't be difficult.
However, three starters from the 2015 squad are gone from the offensive line and while the returning group is talented — Edsall and now Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa did a terrific job recruiting the big boys — is is severely inexperienced. Damian Prince started six games as a true freshman last season and the other guys with any starting experience are former walk-ons. Offensive line coach Dave Borbely has his hands full.
As does Bell, especially with finding consistency at quarterback and receivers who can make plays. The players at the position who return didn't have terrible statistical seasons a year ago considering how many interceptions their quarterbacks threw, but the tallest receiver with experience is Teldrick Morgan (a graduate transfer) who stands at 6-foot tall.
The talent Maryland possesses on offense isn't terrible — it just needs a quarterback to orchestrate it consistently and efficiently. If things go south early with either Hills or Rowe, don't be surprised if Durkin pulls the rip cord and sees what true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome can do.
Maryland finished 10th in scoring and ninth in total offense in 2015. How Durkin manages his quarterback situation will determine whether those numbers improve in his first year on the job.
Defense is what made Durkin into an attractive candidate in the college football coaching carousel last season. What he did with Michigan's unit before its defensive line and linebackers were decimated with injury impressed, but Ohio State's 42-13 victory against the Wolverines showed their lack of depth.
Durkin faces a similar challenge in College Park. The Terrapins allowed 34.4 points per game last season, the program's most since 1993. But the 36 turnovers committed by the offense didn't help matters, constantly putting the other side of the ball in awful situations.
|Head Coach||DJ Durkin (1st season, 0-0 career record)|
|2015 Record||3-9, 1-7 (Finished tied for last in the B1G East with Rutgers)|
|Biggest Losses||RB Brandon Ross, 3 starters on OL, DL Yannick Ngakoue, Quinton Jefferson|
|Biggest Returnees||CB/KR/PR Will Likely, LB Jermaine Carter, 2 QBs with experience|
|Summary||DJ Durkin has work to do in order to build Maryland into a contender.|
|Matchup||Nov. 12, 2016: Ohio State at Maryland, kickoff TBA.|
The Terrapins lost their two best defensive linemen to the NFL in end Yannick Ngakoue (set a school record with 13.5 sacks) and tackle Quinton Jefferson. The latter tallied 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, third only to Ngakoue (14.5 TFL) and linebacker Jermaine Carter (14.0 TFL).
Azubuike Ukandu, Kingsley Opara, David Shaw, four-star true freshman Adam McLean bring size to the interior for Durkin, but Maryland needs to replace its pass rushers. However, even with Jefferson, Ngakoue and Carter, the team's pass defense was not good.
Three players are gone, and five seniors return so the level of experience in the secondary is solid. But outside of stud playmaker William Likely, none of those guys started in 2015 for Edsall and Co. If Durkin and new defensive coordinator Andy Buh (Durkin's second choice after Scott Shafer had a change of heart) want better production from their defense, it starts in the secondary.
Likely is terrific — 8.0 tackles for loss, six interceptions, 20 passes broken up and four forced fumbles in his two years as a starter — and the Terrapins should feel fortunate he spurned the NFL. Expect him to make an impact in the return game as well, and Durkin could even put him in on offense.
Maryland has 44 lettermen returning for 2015, so Durkin has plenty of players with experience in the fold for his first season. He must get the most out of them so as to not put too much stress on a solid recruiting class, though that is a group that got worse when Dwayne Haskins and Keandre Jones elected to flip to Ohio State as part of 12-star Monday in January.
Still, Durkin looks to be a terrific hire, at least on paper. At 38, he is young, hungry and owns a terrific coaching background. If he can figure it out, he could turn Maryland into at least a Big Ten contender. He loaded his staff with a mix of coaches anxious to prove themselves (Walt Bell, Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and Matt Barnes) and older, more seasoned members (Dave Borbely, Andy Buh, Mike London).
A school with a lucrative apparel deal and located in a recruiting hotbed appears to have the coach set to unleash the so-called sleeping giant, but Durkin could take some lumps this season with games at Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska. He does get Michigan State and Ohio State at home but Maryland is a far reach from being on par with those programs.