Given how the last fortnight has transpired for the University of Maryland football team, honestly your guess is as good as mine at this point as to how the 2018 season would unfold. Prior to the continuing fallout surrounding Jordan McNair’s death, the thought was that the Terrapins were poised for a bounce-back season where 6 or perhaps 7 wins seemed plausible if not likely. Now, it’s a craps shoot.
I’m an engineer by trade, not an attorney, so here goes nothing...
Last season was disappointing to say the least. The stage was set late in the third quarter in Austin, Texas last season when Tyrrell Pigrome was carried off the field with a season-ending knee injury. The nadir came 2 games later when Kasim Hill suffered a similar fate in the first half of the Central Florida game. After a quick 2-0 start upsetting Texas on the road and knocking off FCS Towson at home; the Terrapins won only 2 of their remaining games at Minnesota (spoiling PJ Fleck’s Big Ten debut) and Indiana at home.
Aside from the quarterback injuries, Maryland’s other glaring 2017 weakness was their defense; or lack thereof. For 2017 the Terrapins gave up 5033 yards, 419 yards per game, 2743 yards rushing, 445 points, and 37.1 points per game. It’s hard to win any games with that type of defensive performance, let alone trotting out third and forth string quarterbacks each game.
On paper, prior to August 10, Maryland seemed poised to bounce back from 2017’s disappointment. Both Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill were on the road to recovery, the defense was bringing in new talent that on paper appeared to be an improvement versus last season, and new Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada seemed to be an upgrade over the departed Walt Bell.
Now, Canada will be Interim Head Coach (at least) through September 15 as DJ Durkin has been placed on Administrative Leave as the fallout from Jordan McNair’s tragic death continues to evolve.
The optimism following Maryland’s win in Austin last season - the Terrapins first victory over a ranked team in 7 years - dissolved rather quickly as by the second half of the Central Florida game Kasim Hill joined Tyrrell Pigrome on crutches. Max Bortenschlager did his best filling in at quarterback - including leading the Terrapins to an upset victory over Minnesota in the conference opener. However, the offense wasn’t equipped to win games via shootout; which was required given the issues Maryland had on the defensive side of the ball.
With healthy quarterbacks for 2018, the thought was that defenses wouldn’t be able to put 9 in the box to stop the run; allowing more running lanes for Maryland’s stable of tailbacks. Also, an offense that moves the chains on a consistent basis would keep the defense off the field; which is a good thing as Maryland’s is still very much a work-in-progress.
Maryland seemed poised to improve upon its #122 ranked offense and #84 ranked defense for 2018. This, in addition to a more favorable schedule (especially the conference cross-overs) led to the optimism that the Terrapins would be in play to return to the post-season, end the embarrassing blow-out losses to the Big Ten top-tier, and/or score an upset or two (such as the road game at Iowa). Now, it’s all a big TBD at this point.
There were signs that 2018 could be a successful season for the Terrapins. With quarterbacks actually in uniform and on the football field and a defense that couldn’t possibly be as bad as it was in 2017, there was hope that a winning record and bowl game were on the horizon. Maryland will always have to deal with Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State each season. But with improving talent - as evidenced by the last several recruiting classes - there was a glimmer of hope that the embarrassing blowouts would be ending; perhaps coupled with an occasional upset.
With either Kasim Hill or Tyrrell Pigrome at quarterback, coupled with tailbacks Ty Johnson, Lorenzo Harrizon, and Anthony McFarland (aka AntMac) on offense, the Terrapins appeared to be much improved on this side of the ball. Continued improvement along the offensive line was also expected, as former blue-chip recruits like Damien Prince and Derwin Gray return for 2018. Additionally, Matt Canada’s more traditional offensive approach appeared to both maximize Maryland’s talent (especially at tailback) and help keep the defense off the field.
The defense appears to be - on paper - much improved. However, there’s not a lot of experience returning on this side of the ball. Within the front 7, relative newcomers such as the Gaddy twins Brandon and Breylon, Cameron Spence, and (Auburn transfer) Byron Cowart join returnees Jesse Aniebonam and former blue-chip recruit Adam McLean. The talent appears to be there to improve Maryland’s at times horrific performance against the run and generate some resemblance of a pass rush.
Again, things appeared to be in place for a respectable 2018 football season. Now, with DJ Durkin’s continued employment in College Park very much in jeopardy; all of this just might be for naught.
Pick a number between 0 and 7. That represents the number of victories Maryland might manage for 2018. DJ Durkin won’t be on the sideline for Maryland’s games against Texas, Bowling Green, and Temple. And if the reports are true, Durkin might be permanently relieved of his duties by the time of the September 22 conference opener against Minnesota.
In these situations, one of two things may happen. Either the players will rally around Interim Head Coach Matt Canada, dedicating this season to Jordan McNair, and exceed expectations. Or, during the first sign of on-the-field adversity mail it in. That’s the proverbial $64 question for 2018.
As far as ‘writers’ predictions, I didn’t bother because: 1) I don’t have access to the ‘writers’ Slack channel and can’t ask them for their inputs; and 2) they’re probably just as uncertain as I am about how 2018 will work out for the Terrapins.
[ed. note: ask and ye shall receive; but WSR will swing in like your neighborhood Spiderman and actually make it appear]
How will Maryland’s 2018 football season transpire?
This poll is closed
Despite the turmoil, Maryland will exceed expectations and go 7-5 (or better).
There will be an emotional upset win, and an accompanying surprising loss or 2: aka, somewhere around 5-7 or 6-6.
After a decent start, the fallout from McNair’s death, including head coaching uncertainty, takes it toll and Maryland has another 4-8 season.
The bottom falls out, and Maryland goes 3-9 (or perhaps worse).