By Timmy Chong
While the University of Maryland hasn’t been regarded as a school renowned for football for several decades, head coach DJ Durkin is in the midst of changing the culture.
In his first year working as the head coach last season, Durkin brought refreshing energy and an inspiring sense of leadership to the team. The football team ended the 2016-17 season with an appearance in a Bowl game and an improved 6-7 record, after finishing 3-9 in the season prior.
In his second year, Durkin is continuing to establish a legacy— the University of Maryland football team just had its best recruiting class in history, ranked top 20 in the nation by 247 sports.
The class features eight four-star and 20 three-star recruits. Seven of the top eight recruits are from the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, as part of Durkin’s intense effort to hold onto the local elite. This regional focus of recruitment has been dubbed #TheMovement on several social media sites.
“I see this season [as] being one of the best the Terps have had in the past few years,” says junior communications major and Terrapins supporter Max Alpert.
To complement this historic rise of UMD football, the team now has a home in the newly renovated Cole Field House. The indoor practice facility’s construction was completed at the beginning of August 2017. $40 million worth of renovations has made the historic building a cutting-edge facility, which will undoubtedly facilitate the team’s elevating status in Division I football.
“It is a game changer for us with our team, with the development, with what we’ll be able to do on a day-to-day basis in here… in recruiting, in all of those things…. you really can’t measure it,” stated Durkin to WTOP on Aug. 2.
Upcoming Season Prediction
Maryland’s run game will continue to be the focus of the offense. Although it was consistently shut down by strong teams, as made evident by Maryland’s 0-5 record against top 50 teams in the 2016-17 season, there are several talented runners on the roster this year.
The run game will be spearheaded by the returning dynamic duo of junior Ty Johnson, who set a school record of over nine yards per rush, and sophomore Lorenzo Harrison, who set a freshman record of over seven yards per rush. They combined for an average of over eight yards per carry and 11 touchdowns.
Anthony McFarland, a four-star freshman running back recruit from Hyattsville, Maryland who was ranked 3rd at his position in the nation, also shows a great deal of promise.
Projected starting quarterback, junior and former four-star recruit Caleb Henderson, who transferred from the University of North Carolina, has a suitable size and is a formidable runner. However, Henderson didn’t get much run last year and is unproven as a passer.
For the offense to be as elite as it hopes to be, it needs to be complete. The Terps’ offensive line will need to block better so that the runners can do what they do best. Maryland also needs to elevate its passing game this season.
Returning junior D.J. Moore is the only lock at wide receiver. Although he showed big play potential last year, he will need to settle into some consistency this season.
The rest of the receiving corps is up in the air. Junior Jahrvis Davenport, senior Taivon Jacobs and senior Jacquille Veii, all of whom are undersized at sub-six-feet tall, could win the second starting spot.
The inefficient offense seen in 2016-17 will need to perform better, as nearly 23 percent of drives were capped at three-and-outs.
On the defensive end, pass defense will need to maintain the same level of success as last season. Fortunately for the Terrapins, several key playmakers will be returning for the upcoming season. The defensive line’s run defense, however, was one of the worst in Division I football and will need to see bounds of improvement to keep Maryland in games against stronger squads.
Maryland will be facing a lot of these stronger teams. The Terps will play their toughest conference game against Ohio State on Oct. 7, who they have been blown out against three times straight since joining the Big Ten. Afterwards, back-to-back conference wins against Indiana on Oct. 28 and Rutgers on Nov. 4 will be necessary if they want to secure a spot in the postseason, as the final stretch of teams will be difficult to beat.
The Terrapins are scheduled to play Michigan on Nov. 11, followed by a match against Michigan State on Nov. 18. Last season, the team was dominated by Michigan and won against a rebuilding Michigan State.
The closing game of the upcoming season will be a highly anticipated matchup against conference rival Penn State, which is scheduled to be held on Nov. 25. In the 40 games versus Penn State throughout Maryland history, the Terps have only pulled out wins twice— the last one being in 2014.
“Coming right off the bat, we have Texas, which will be a tough matchup… but as mentioned before, with the improved practice faculty and stacked recruiting class, I see a lot of potential to win some unexpected games,” says Alpert. “[A] bold take [is that] we beat Wisconsin on the road and Penn State at home,” he said.
In a strong East Division, Durkin is looking to capitalize on his team’s building momentum and become a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. Fortunately for the Terrapins, the newly renovated state-of-the-art facility just might help them do it.