Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 2 Maryland.
Maryland somehow manages to crank out a random great season every once in a while, consistently owning their fanbase by fooling them into thinking, “This year might be the one!” Do not believe anyone who sells you on that line of thinking—shit in the ACC smells the same as shit in the Big Ten.
D.J. Durkin is making his head coaching debut with the Terrapins after spending the past 15 years working under some the best programs and coaches in the nation—he’s had gigs with Bowling Green under Urban Meyer, Notre Dame, Stanford, Florida, and, most recently, Michigan, where he reunited with Jim Harbaugh as the Wolverines’s 2015 defensive coordinator. He’s got a special eye for defense, but given the state of Maryland’s 2015 offense, he may have to step out of his comfort zone to fix things for a squad attempting to improve on a 3-9 season.
Perry Hills is back at quarterback; considering the senior combined with Caleb Rowe to throw 14 touchdowns to 28 interceptions last year, his return and current role as a starter are going to have to count as strikes against the Terrapin offense. Throw in since-graduated reserve Daxx Gormann’s one pick, and the team total of 29 interceptions ranked dead last in the FBS, with a cushion of six interceptions separating them and UNC-Charlotte, which was competing in the FBS for the first time. This shit doesn’t get fully fixed with a new coach, it gets fixed with a new quarterback; until Durkin has time to recruit and develop an actual passer, the Terrapins will be stuck with what they’ve got in Hills.
If there are two nice thing I can say about Hills it’s that he is a capable running threat and has yet to throw a pick through two games this year—as a matter of fact, he’s bumped up his completion percentage from 50.0 to 73.0 through two games. However, those two contests were against Howard and FIU. He apparently hit up Gus Frerotte this offseason and is all better now—we can revisit in mid-October, when they finally face some real defenses.
The running game was Maryland’s saving grace last season. The Terrapins, behind Hills and Brandon Ross, averaged 200.7 yards per game, good for 31st in the nation. While Ross was lost to graduation, Maryland seems to have found a pair of solid replacements in freshman Lorenzo Harrison and Virginia Tech-transfer Trey Edmunds. Uber-talented senior Wes Brown is also back for the Terrapins but is currently serving a three-game suspension, marking the third time he’s been removed from the team’s gameday roster. Previously, he was brought up on second-degree assault, theft, and felony wiretapping charges that were eventually dropped, and was later caught with a handgun and ammunition in his campus apartment. He’s still around College Park though, because football.
Against Central Florida, the reigning No. 1 team in the nation per the Deadspin 25, the Maryland rush attack will be tested, as the Knights are allowing just 102.0 yards per game thus far. And that’s not just against some weakling squads—UCF managed to hold Michigan to 119 yards on 41 attempts. If the Knights stifle the crowded Terrapin backfield, look for D.J. Moore, the team’s top wideout, to step up for Hills.
Like the offense, the Maryland defense was wonderfully unspectacular in 2015, finishing 110th in the nation after allowing 34.1 points per game. Things won’t get easier for the unit given defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson’s wise decisions decision to forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft. Now the Terrapins will need a new batch of defensive linemen, led by Azubuike Ukandu and David Shaw, to hold together Maryland’s ever-changing front and actually start defending the run. Durkin is supposed to be a defensive genius, and turning things around certainly takes more than two games, but man, it hasn’t been pretty so far.
FIU smacked Maryland’s front seven around to the tune of 202 rushing yards in Week 2. It can’t be overstated how depressing and alarming that must be for the Terrapins’s coaching staff, for a couple of reasons First, the Golden Panthers didn’t crack 200 yards all of last season and they play in Conference USA. Second, FIU was held to 63 rushing yards by Indiana in Week 1, who allowed teams to rush for an average 195.7 a year ago. If you’re a Big Ten running back, that Maryland contest should look awfully fun right about now.
Jermaine Carter Jr. is the best linebacker at defensive coordinator Andy Buh’s disposal; it will be up to the junior to five another herculean effort from his spot at the second level. As a sophomore, Carter piled up 103 tackles, 14.0 coming for a loss. Now in his third year, he may be the team’s most valuable asset. He’ll line up alongside Shane Cockerille and Jalen Brooks. William Likely III will likely lead the secondary this year, as he’s coming off an All-Big Ten campaign and is the most notable player on this side of the ball. Josh Woods, Darnell Savage Jr., and Denzel Conyers fill out the remainder of the secondary.
A lot of folks outside the Maryland camp look at William Likely III as the team’s top defender and playmaker because of his special teams ability. Although it’s true that he’s a threat anytime he gets his hands on the ball, I found the title of top defender to belong to a different Terrapin—Jermaine Carter, Jr.
The hyperactive linebacker recorded 103 tackles as a sophomore and is right back at it in his junior campaign—through two games, he’s recorded one sack, two tackles for loss, and taken an interception back for a score. He’s all over the place for Maryland; considering their current rush defense situation, you should expect to hear his name called often this season.
Predicting how a Maryland season is going to play out seems to be a pretty foolish task given the last 15 years—the Terrapins never seem to be stay in the same spot for more than a couple years, switching seamlessly between two-win and nine-win seasons, likely driving their shitty fanbase crazy. But no, they can’t make the playoff.
I find it very hard to believe one can spend extended periods of time around Urban Meyer—the Florida Gator Meyer, no less—and Jim Harbaugh without picking up some dick-ish qualities. But being employed by dicks does not automatically make you one, so Durkin gets a pass for the time being.
Sept. 3: Howard
Sept. 9: @ FIU
Sept. 17: @ UCF
Oct. 1: Purdue
Oct. 8: @ Penn State
Oct. 15: Minnesota
Oct. 22: Michigan State
Oct. 29: @ Indiana
Nov. 5: @ Michigan
Nov. 12: Ohio State
Nov. 19: @ Nebraska
Nov. 26: Rutgers