Another 2017 Maryland Season Preview

The world was one Maryland football season preview short. But not anymore. Other rightings: IowaMichigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern, Rutgers.

After airing out the facilities and replacing the carpeting, DJ Durkin succeeded in getting the odor of Randy Edsall out of College Park in 2016. Maryland improved from a dismal 3-9 in 2015 to a respectable 6-6 last year. That’s good!

However, Maryland’s wins were against teams that went a combined 18-43. What’s more, their six losses against decent teams were ugly. They lost by a combined score of 260-73, an average margin of 31 points. For bad measure, the combined total against Michigan and Ohio State was 121-6. That’s…bad.

But, the Terrapins also made a bowl in DJ Durkin’s first season. Solid!

They lost that bowl to a Boston College team that went 2-6 in conference and lost to 4-8 Syracuse. Pity.

Freshman running back Lorenzo Harrison rushed for 633 yards, 57 yards short of the freshman rushing record set by Lamont Jordan. That’s promising!

Harrison was suspended for (and eventually cleared of) allegedly shooting Maryland students with a BB gun. That’s a no-no.

Durkin’s first full recruiting class ranked 18th in the nation, a momentous haul by Maryland (and Big Ten West) standards. Hey now!

That class was good enough for a relatively distant 4th in the Big Ten East. Shucks.

Yes, herein lies the Terrapins’ problem: as tortoises go, their fortunes zigzag like hares.

As if in fealty to its tetralogic color scheme and zany logo, Maryland plays like four teams in one: rising hotshot, and orphan with a checkered past; sleeping giant, and soporific Big Ten sideshow.

Maryland’s “spring game,” a crowd of 19 that included a wayward family of 5 from Missouri who walked in to ask for directions to the Air and Space Museum

The prescription? In 2017, Maryland needs a hare cut, by which we mean, it needs to live less on the extremes, to become — dare we say it? — more predictable, more dependable.

That’s not to say it needs to be slower — though in the Big Ten, the plodding approach has always had a strange proprietary virtue. On the contrary, with four returning offensive linemen and the young rushing duo of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III, OC Walt Bell could put together one of the most imposing ground games in the Big Ten.

But it can’t let its passing game stagnate, as it’s done in the past — and it looks like it’s destined to. Junior Tyrrell Pigrome appears to have taken the lead in camp, as injuries have held back transfer Caleb Henderson (who has thrown one career pass, which was incomplete), and coaches have averred from promoting true freshman Kasim Hill. But in limited action last year, Pigrome did not prove himself a viable threat through the air, and better defenses could key on Maryland’s running game.

And then there’s the defense. A dearth of returning experience means many of Maryland’s top recruits will be thrust into early action, burning redshirts, and risking some serious growing pains.

But not all growing pains are bad, most are necessary, and Growing Pains was great. The key is to have an Alan Thicke-like father figure to guide you, keep on the right laugh track, and tell you everything will be OK as long as you do it this way.

Maryland has found theirs in DJ Durkin. Can he nurture his players like Dr. Seaver nurtured his kids? That remains to be seen. But what he has done is grab hold and take charge. This is Durkin’s program, no question, and with his pedigree and a proximity to the recruiting hotbed of DC, his Maryland program may be as good as he is a great coach in the making.

After a year of tutelage, this 2017 Maryland team should be better than last year’s. And yet, a brutal schedule may obscure that. If the Terps wind up an improved team with a worse record, will anyone but the give-a-shits notice?

One can’t expect Maryland to compete for the East immediately. But maybe, in a few years, if they keep improving, keep recruiting well, and notch some big wins along the way…well…they’ll be victims of their own success, and an ambitious Durkin will take a more prestigious job.

Middle tier’s a bitch like that.

 

Best Case Scenario

Maryland opens the year with an “upset” over Texas as Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrison, and QB Tyrrell Pigrome slash the Longhorn defense left, right, up the middle, and, somehow, backwards. Having consoled itself that a good team beat it, the Texas fanbase loses all hope when the Terps’ vaunted ground attack stalls in a home loss to UCF. Maryland plays villain to another first-year coach when it edges Minnesota in PJ Fleck’s inaugural Big Ten game, punctuated by Fleck’s refusal to shake Durkin’s hand. But the Terps are completely outclassed by Ohio State. They lose painfully to NW at home and enormously to Wisconsin, and the staff completes a shift in QB from Pigrome to Kasim Hill, who proves, as he’s hyped, to be a solid-quarterback-eventually. He shows growing pains in a loss to Indiana, a closer-than-it-should-be win over Rutgers, and a loss to Michigan. But the scheme clicks on the road against Michigan State. A 5-6 Maryland team plays Penn State close into the 4th quarter but, in a microcosm of its season, of itself, falls short. The number of fans able to see past a 5-7 record to the fact that Maryland is getting better doubles.

 

Worst Case Scenario

A 2-10 Maryland team wins the Runt Bowl against the Scarlet Knights, proving again how thankful they are there’s Rutgers. But hey, they really show Towson who owns the Old Line State.

 

Most Likely Scenario

The true soul of Maryland remains undiscovered as the Terps live an Indiana-like nightmarish season as a promising offense incapacitated by a young and capricious defense. The Terps post a 4-win season in which a bunch of underclassmen get invaluable game experience and a bunch of single-game specialty jerseys peddled by Under Armour, and in the offseason, the OC staff begins to carve the faces of Hill, Pigrome, Harrison, Johnson into Mt. Passmore.

 

Did You Know?

It’s unwise to show your state pride in the kitchen with a Maryland-shaped cutting board.

 

Fantasy Preview

The little guys run Maryland. Edsall and Durkin both recruited with “CAUTION — Low Overhead Clearance” signs in mind. Skill position guys over 6-feet are practically nonexistent in College Park.

Quarterback

What a fantasy mess. For a while it seemed like North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson, with his prototypical size and pro-style bonafides, would inherit a position beleaguered by too many Hills and so many valleys. But fall camp reports paint a picture like one of Pollock’s finest. Highly regarded freshman Kasim Hill is playing well and sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome is electric with his feet. Marylanders prefer pilsners, so a sudsy Max Bortenschlager has no chance. Hill and Pigrome are apparently the frontrunners after superior play and an injury to Henderson. We’d ordinarily say drop this QB race to 14th on your fantasy big board, but with QB competitions at other schools, you may not have that luxury. Pigrome is the safe pick since he’ll see the field at QB, in the wildcat, or some other way regardless of the starter. If you’re feeling frisky, bet on Hill late in the draft; he may be a steal.

Running Back

Junior Ty Johnson gained 1,000 yards at an obscene 9.1 YPC, and since carries are meaningless in fantasy, that kind of quick-hitting, big-producing running style that reduces wear and tear but maximizes stats make him one of the league’s most potentially undervalued prospects. Johnson has plenty of hype, but in a league with Barkley, Jackson, Smith, Weber, Wadley, and Wisconsin, his running fantasy chops are somewhat obscured. If he slips into the third round, it’s a gift from God(win). Backup Lorenzo Harrison picked up 600 yards and 5 TDs in only 9 games last season as a freshman, and with a shaky passing game, Maryland will happily use both running backs. Think about Harrison in rounds 5 and 6. This is one two-headed backfield monster we’re eagerly on board with.

Wide Receiver

Terps wide receivers are caught somewhere between their QB and RB situations, with one rising star in junior DJ Moore and a mess of uncertainty behind him. Moore is a legitimate starting fantasy wideout this season, as he collected 600 yards and 6 TDs through the air in addition to 300+ yards on kickoffs last year. Moore is worthy of consideration beginning in late round 3 and would be a huge steal by round 6. Behind Moore, it’s a tangled web of DJ Turner, Taivon Jacobs, and Jacquille Veii. Unless a Terrapins QB seizes the role and thrives early, this may be a 1-WR team, and #1 is the only one getting it done. Monitor the waiver wire in-season for Messrs. Turner, Jacobs, and Veii.

Tight End

In 5 years of combined experience, senior Derrick Hayward and junior Avery Edwards have only caught 23 passes for 190 yards and 3 TDs. Don’t draft a Maryland tight end.

Kicker

Maryland fans lie awake at night pining for the right foot of Brad Craddock, and Adam Greene simply never had a chance. He’s between the 8th and 11th best kicker.

Defense

For fantasy purposes, this is a bottom-four defense. And we’ve said it before: you can’t win a fantasy title with a bottom-four defense. The Terps finished last season 77th in total defense, which isn’t all that terrible, and may well improve in year two under defensive guru DJ Durkin, but overall talent and competition still stack up against Maryland. On the brightside, seniors Shane Cockerille and Jermaine Carter, Jr. are good enough to play linebacker for Wisconsin. If Maryland is your backup D for your starter’s bye week, you’re in decent shape. If they’re your starter, don’t make any hotel reservations for the playoffs.

Suggested viewing

Ty Johnson/Lorenzo Harrison highlights:

Kasim Hill high school highlights:

A man who may or may not be Jim Delany hand-feeding some freshmen Terrapins

Image via MGoBlog/BY-NC-2.0