2015 Record: 3-9 (1-7 B1G)
2015 Final S&P+ Ranking: 65
2016 Projected S&P+ Ranking: 62
Returning Starters: 7 Offense, 5 Defense
DJ Durkin to the rescue
The Randy Edsall era at Maryland is over. In four and a half years, Edsall's Terrapins finished above just .500 twice -- their record was 7-6 on both occasions -- and failed to muster even one winning conference record in either the ACC or the Big Ten. The success that Edsall had at Connecticut did not translate to the Big Ten. So Maryland has turned to DJ Durkin, the former defensive coordinator at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh. Durkin has never been a head coach before, but has coached at Bowling Green, Stanford (under Harbaugh), and Florida (under Urban Meyer for one season, then Will Muschamp). His defense at Michigan last season was one of the best in the country, ranking 2nd in college football according to S&P+.
Durkin inherits a Maryland squad that went 3-9 a season ago. The Terrapins lost to Bowling Green (48-27), West Virginia (45-6), Michigan (28-0), and Ohio State (49-28) before Edsall was fired. Under interim head coach Mike Locksley, Maryland proceed to lose five more games before topping Rutgers 46-41 on the road in the season finale. Part of the problem was that Maryland quarterbacks combined to throw 28 interceptions in 345 pass attempts, good enough to help the Terrapins rank 125th in the nation in turnover margin. This did nothing to help a Terrapin defense that ranked 48th overall according to S&P+, but ended up 103rd in scoring defense, allowing 34.4 points per game. With a potent rushing offense ranked 31st in college football, it is a mystery why the Maryland coaching staff felt compelled to throw the ball so much.
This will be Maryland's first matchup with Minnesota since joining the Big Ten. The two programs have only met once before and that was back in 1977, when the Terrapins defeated the Gophers 17-7 in the Hall of Fame Classic.
Keep the interceptions coming, Maryland
I mentioned the staggering number of interceptions earlier, and senior quarterback Perry Hills was responsible for 13 of them last season. But Hills will be back under center after be named starting quarterback during fall camp, beating out fellow senior Caleb Rowe, who accounted for 15 interceptions of his own last year. Hills was the Terrapins' leading passer last season, throwing for 1,001 yards and 8 touchdowns, but barely completing 50 percent of his passes. But Hills is also a threat with his legs, rushing for 535 yards on 109 carries with three touchdowns. That will certainly help a rushing attack that will be led by senior Wes Brown, who must replace the production of Brandon Ross (150 carries, 958 yards, 10 touchdowns). Virginia Tech graduate transfer Trey Edmunds will also be in the mix after rushing for 185 yards on 47 carries and three touchdowns with the Hokies.
If Hills can avoid throwing the ball to the other team, he should be able to take advantage of having all four of last year's leading receivers. Brothers Levern and Taivon Jacobs combined for 56 receptions, 689 receiving yards and five touchdowns last season, and former four-start recruit and second leading receiver DJ Moore is back to build upon a strong freshman debut. The Terrapins also bolstered their experienced receiving corps with New Mexico State graduate transfer Tedrick Morgan, who hauled in 45 receptions for 551 receiving yards and four touchdowns for the Aggies.
The offensive line will be young and inexperienced with the loss of three starters from last season. Senior left tackle Michael Dunn and sophomore right guard Damian Prince are the lone returning starters, and aside from junior left guard JaJuan Dulaney, the Terrapins will rely on sophomores and freshmen to fill out the rest of the two-deep. The talent is there, but youth and inexperience don't bode well for this season.
Will Likely and a strong defensive front return
Everyone knows about senior cornerback Will Likely. But there is less talk about his defensive acumen and more talk about his prolific performance as a punt and kick returner. The Big Ten essentially created the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year Award to honor Likely last season, because no one else in the conference was close to matching his production in the return game. Likely is the lone returning starter from the secondary, and occupying the other cornerback spot will be J.C. Jackson, a JUCO transfer from Florida. The Terrapins were 103rd in passing yards allowed last season, so improvement is a must, but Durkin will have to rely on upperclassmen who weren't able to beat out the starters from last season's atrocious secondary.
Junior middle linebacker Jermaine Carter is in the monster up the middle. He led the team in tackles last season with 103 and also tallied 14 tackles for loss, none of them sacks. Carter will lead an experienced linebacker corps that returns junior fifth leading tackler Jalen Brooks and junior converted fullback Shane Cockerille. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson are both gone after combining for 20 sacks last season, but the Terrapins have the size to replace them with 6'4'', 300-lb. sophomore tackle David Shaw and 6'3'', 260-lb. junior defensive end Jesse Aniebonam. Maryland's defense have the talent in place to field another strong defensive front seven, which will help a less than stellar secondary.
Can the Gophers beat the Terrapins?
I think so. But winning on the road in the Big Ten is difficult, and this Gophers squad hasn't faced the Terrapins before. But Maryland was also winless at home in conference play last season, so home field advantage doesn't appear to have been much of a factor. Granted, the Terrapins had strong performances in home losses to Penn State and Wisconsin. So I guess what I'm saying is I'm not sure what to expect from this team with DJ Durkin at the helm. I think they'll be improved from a season ago, but I don't see them finishing better than 6-6. Their schedule this season isn't as brutal as last year, although I don't envision a quick program turnaround.
It'll come down to how much Minnesota's young secondary has matured during the early part of the season and whether or not the Gophers' thin offensive line can contend with the Terrapins' solid defensive front. But this is one conference road game that Minnesota should be able escape with a victory.