Some momentum in year one of a coaching change is generally a given, but actual gains aren’t. Maryland made some in 2016. The win total improved by three from the previous season and the Terrapins were an intriguing case study in how growth happens. Last year Maryland was very good against average to below-average teams, and quite bad against good teams. The definition of success in 2017 then is probably closing the gap against the conference’s best.
Maryland was defined by an explosive running game in 2016. The Terrapins ranked in the top 15 nationally in runs of 20-plus and 30-plus yards. Junior Ty Johnson averaged 9.1 yards per carry on 110 carries and his backup, Lorenzo Harrison III, averaged 7.2. If Maryland can pair that with some consistency at quarterback it could be even tougher to handle in 2017. Look for Caleb Henderson, a former U.S. Army All-American and a North Carolina transfer, to take the reins there.
Head coach D.J. Durkin helmed some pretty good defenses at Florida and Michigan, but there’s plenty of room to grow after a season in College Park. Given Durkin’s track record, it seems like just a matter of time before the Terps take some steps in the right direction and don’t be surprised, with eight starters back, if it starts this season. Linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. is a 25-game starter over the past two seasons and has earned honorable-mention all-conference honors twice. Safety Darnell Savage Jr. was the leader in the secondary a year ago and could contend for all-conference honors this year as well. If Maryland starts stopping the run — something it didn’t do well in 2016 — the Terrapins have the right formula for progression in the Big Ten.
Maryland opens on the road against Texas and has to face what should be a good UCF squad two weeks later. Penn State and Michigan — combined they beat Maryland by 80 points in 2016 — at least have to visit College Park this season. The West-Division draw doesn’t have any automatic outs either with games against Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Still, 2016 was a solid step forward and, with a blockbuster 2017 recruiting class in the fold, there’s enough here to say things are looking UP for the Terrapins.
An exciting brand of football might be on its way at Maryland. If the Terrapins run game can remain explosive against the better teams on the schedule, and Durkin can make characteristic gains on defense, all while maintaining recruiting momentum, this is a program that’s trending UP. Don’t be surprised at the end of the season, however, if that’s not totally apparent based on record.