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. 10 Maryland.
Maryland hasn’t given anyone outside the Big Ten much reason to think about them since the early Ralph Friedgen years; D.J. Durkin may not have his team headed back to the Peach Bowl, but as the folks at Texas will tell you, the time to start seriously thinking about the football team coming out of College Park might be here sooner than anticipated.
The Terrapins finished 6-7 in Durkin’s first season at the helm; the record largely matched up with the on-field product, as neither the offense or defense were particularly impressive and often fluctuated wildly in performance week-to-week. A vicious three-game stretch of Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska—one they mercifully avoid this season—was always going to doom Maryland’s record and the end of its season. The Terrapins saved themselves briefly by not losing to Rutgers in the regular season finale, but then dashed that by allowing an awful Boston College to drop 36 points on them.
This season, there’s no Perry Hills under center and youth at nearly every position on the depth chart, but thanks to a more merciful schedule and some pleasantly surprising young talent, that might not matter all that much.
Quarterback Caleb Henderson, a transfer from North Carolina, was expected by many to be the starter come opening weekend despite the fact that he had just one pass attempt to his name as a Tar Heel. But then, the injury bug took a big bite into Henderson’s foot, leaving him in a boot and spurring a battle for the starting spot. Tyrrell Pigrome was the first one to get the nod, starting the Terrapins’ season-opener on the road at Texas. After his first series ended in a pick-six on a slightly overthrown ball, Pigrome rallied to go 9-of-12 for 175 yards and two scores through the air; he added another 64 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
But—there’s always a but with Maryland—Pigrome wouldn’t get to see the dispirited look on Tom Herman’s face when the clock hit triple zeroes thanks to a torn right ACL that thrust freshman Kasim Hill into his first collegiate game. The rookie responded with a 52-yard drive, on which he accounted for 57 yards (delay of game penalty) and punched in a three-yard run to put the Terrapins up by 10 with just over seven minutes left in the game.
Maryland downed the Longhorns 51-41—an impressive win that nevertheless should not have genuinely shocked a single soul that lives outside the Austin city limits who bothered paying attention to the Texas depth chart and spring work—and Hill did plenty of impressing in a Week 2 cakewalk victory over Towson. In the 63-17 creaming, Hill completed 13 of 16 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns.
Hailing from the nation’s capital, Hill’s a polished pro-style quarterback, and by most accounts, he’s supposed to be the future (at max, four years) of this program. There’s not much to go off of so far—he only threw, and completed, three throws against the Longhorns, and Towson ain’t much of a barometer—but so far, all signs seem promising. It’ll also help that he’ll be aided in his first year by a group of skill players who constitute one of the most explosive units the Terrapins have been able to bring together in years.
Running back Ty Johnson had a nice little coming out season last year, logging 1,004 yards and six scores on 110 carries—his 9.1 yards per carry set a program record. Johnson will be joined by Lorenzo Harrison, who etched his name in the record books for his efficient running as well, with his 7.2 yards per carry ranking as the highest mark set by a Maryland freshman in school history. Together, with a year of playing together under their belt, this duo packs a very real, and very entertaining 1-2 punch. The offensive line gets three starters back, including studs Damian Prince and Terrance Davis, while the remaining two slots will be filled by players with starting and playing experience. If Maryland’s running game is ass, in any way, it’s on the coaches, because this is a group that can and should get the job done.
Freeing up the middle of the field for them will be D.J. Moore, the team’s leading receiver a year ago; he’ll be joined by Taivon Jacobs, a speedster that can take the top off a defense, and Jacquille Veii, a slot receiver. Moore is the big-play guy—15.5 yards per catch a season ago—and the best case anyone can make for Hill having a shot at a successful rookie season; if the young’n is smart, he’ll keep leaning all the way on Moore—the junior’s already turned in 235 yards and three scores through two weeks.
On the other side, the Terrapins seem to be on track for a similar season as they had in 2016. They typically allow good teams to drop at least 35 points while handling the shit teams just fine, for the most part. Having allowed 29.5 points per game last season and 41 points to Texas, I wouldn’t count on Maryland marching to the Big Ten title behind a defense that rarely lets opponents cross midfield, but it should be juuuust good enough to keep them in ballgames and above .500.
Senior Jesse Aniebonam is back as the go-to edge rusher for the Terrapins line a year after leading the team with nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss. He’s joined by tackles Kingsley Opara and Cavon Walker; the other end spot belongs to Chandler Burkett. Jermaine Carter Jr. will hold down the middle of the defense for a third-straight year. He led the Terrapins in tackles the past two years and was the defensive star of the Longhorns win, wreaking havoc to the tune of seven tackles and two sacks. Behind him, the two corner slots will be filled by JC Jackson and Tino Ellis. Out of this entire defense, Aniebonam and Carter are really the only two you need to know, as they’re the only ones you can count on the show up regardless of the jersey being worn by the opposing team. For the rest of them, expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when they face Rutgers and Northwestern.
Ty Johnson is a modern college football running back—he’s strong, lean, fast as hell, has great hands and route-running abilities, and uses enough sudden-stop moves to make you think you’re watching that One Holy Reggie Bush Cut on repeat.
Johnson’s already on pace to surpass last year’s totals—he accounted for 212 total yards and a score against Texas, and managed 124 rushing yards on five carries against Towson. Harrison is still coming into his own, but he’s a proven talent that will consistently relieve Johnson, keeping the junior’s legs fresh. Last season, he struggled mightily against actual defensive competition—he posted five 100-yard games, one 200-yard game, but totaled just 64 combined yards in four games against the Big Ten’s best. He partially made up for this by roasting Boston College’s wall of a defense to the tune of 159 yards and two touchdowns in Maryland’s postseason defeat. If Maryland wants a shot at ruining one of Big Ten big boys’ playoff hopes, Johnson and his offensive line obviously have to show up for those games. For now, they’re doing exactly what they need to to keep the Terrapins moving forward.
Maryland clearly isn’t a playoff team, but the Terrapins don’t have the toughest schedule around the Power Five. Games against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin are all losses, barring an unexpected upset; outside of that, the Terrapins have a real shot to notch seven or eight (if they’re absolutely perfect) wins by the end of the regular season. If they can take another step forward, finish over .500, and keep recruiting at the break-neck speed they’re currently going at, Maryland will be an perennial nine-win team in no time—it’s not a glass football, but that’s the downfall of playing in this version of the Big Ten East division.
I haven’t found anything on Durkin to indicate he’s a dick since last year; unless one of you can convince me otherwise, he’s good for now.
Sept. 2: @ Texas
Sept. 9: Towson
Sept. 23: UCF
Sept. 30: @ Minnesota
Oct. 7: @ Ohio State
Oct. 14: Northwestern
Oct. 21: @ Wisconsin
Oct. 28: Indiana
Nov. 4: Rutgers
Nov. 11: Michigan
Nov. 18: @ Michigan State
Nov. 25: Penn State