Terps stepping out of the shadows of the past to shine this season
To quote the great Bruce Buffer before any UFC main event, this Saturday at College park “IIIIITTT’S TIIIIIIMMMEEE!!! Terps fans have anxiously awaited not only for this game, but for this season. Randy Edsell was blah, DJ Durkin was a joke, and now we finally have something to get excited for. Let me take you back to three years ago before the hiring of Mike Locksley.
Coach D.J. Durkin was placed on administrative leave due to the team being under investigation for a toxic environment and the death of beloved student athlete Jordan McNair. After the intense investigation, Maryland originally decided to retain Durkin as its Head Coach. Players walked out of meetings with their head coach and there was an immediate outrage not only in College Park but globally. Due to the backlash, Durkin was fired and again Maryland was on the front page of the sporting news for its inability to regain credibility.
Lawsuits were filed, players and parents were left feeling uncertain of their futures, and already a hesitant group of boosters had to decide if they were willing to show support for their beloved University. Before the team could be concerned about winning, it was necessary to change the culture of the football program at Maryland. With limited funding in comparison to its Big 10 counterparts and still owing Durkin remaining contract. Maryland desperately needed a coach that was willing to take on such a herculean like task. While several interviewed, there was only one candidate Maryland fans could have hoped for, and that was Coach Mike Locksley.
Coach Locksley was fresh of a National Championship and the Broyles Award to honor the best assistant coach in college football. He promised he would be able to bring in top tier recruits and he has done just that from the moment he since arrived back on campus. He was able to establish a coaching coalition to support minority head coaches in NCAA. He upgraded the facilities to compete with any other school in the nation. He also handled the Jordan McNair situation with empathy and respect that his family deserved. No matter what happens in his tenure at Maryland, we must never forget what he has done for this program. He put those damning years in the past, and finally allows Maryland fans to look towards a future.
The results off the field have been impressive, but the on the field results has been anything but good. Maryland is 6 – 17 (including 2015 when he went 1 – 5) at Maryland and 8 – 43 overall after going 2 – 26 at New Mexico. The fact is, Maryland is ready to take that next step in their ascendance of NCAA football and Coach Locksley has the talent to do something he’s never done as a head coach. Win.
Maryland will return seven Big 10 award winners from last year and 85% of its total production. Everyone is familiar with Tulia Tagovailoa and his flashes of brilliance last season. With another year under his belt, he has already been put on the Maxwell Award watch list for top QB in the NCAA. With three years of recruiting classes we have seen Maryland go from 47 (2019) to 31 (2020), to 18 (2021) including several five-star recruits.
Last season Maryland was able to pass the football (264 yards per game, 35th nationally) and stop the pass allowing only 200 yards per game which ranked 25th in NCAA. However, for those who watched the games, Maryland could not stop Bishop Sycamore High School on the ground last season. Maryland allowed almost five yards per carry and 230 yards per game rushing last year. No matter how many five star skill position players that are recruited, their potential can never fully be recognized until they are protected by both sides of the line. Should Maryland show the ability to control the line of scrimmage, Maryland’s speed and athleticism should flourish and we could be looking at a potentially magical season. However, the schedule is not kind to Maryland, and we will know a lot after its first game against West Virginia University this upcoming Saturday.
While they will face six teams receiving preseason top 25 votes this season, they will be more equal with talent than they have in years past. The only obvious team that is a massive betting favorite is Ohio State on the road. As daunting as that seems, Maryland should be competitive within the Big 10 with the number two spot in the conference being wide open. Each week Maryland will have the chance to prove that they belong in top 25 conversations. Even if they lose a matchup, the schedule will allow a chance at redemption all season long.
Terps fans should be watching the trenches to determine what kind of season this will be. If Maryland can score on WVU’s stout defense, that will give faith to a program that needs to step out of the shadows of irrelevance and into the sunlight of credibility. While I hesitate to put a lot of faith into one game, Maryland fans have been patient and will learn a lot about its future due to its ability to fix its past.