The Good (Part 1): September 2023 contained five weekends. Therefore, as decreed by the bylaws of Big Ten Football, September Maryland raced out to a 5-0 record in convincing fashion, which included Bully Beatdowns administered to Virginia [42-14], Sparty 31-9], and Indiana [44-17]. You’re welcome, Indiana fans. Indiana OC, Walt Bell, was summarily fired after this game.
The “Meh” (Part 1): Maryland played an entertaining game against Ohio State, even with Maryland playing some sloppy, careless football. They were only down 20-17 with 10-1/2 minutes to go when the wheels fell off, eventually losing 37-17. The game was much closer than the final score. Maryland took very risky chances [going for fourth downs in their own territory instead of punting] after going down 27-17, playing to win as opposed to just losing respectably. For context, this is Maryland. Losing is generally bad. But losing a competitive game to OSU and not getting embarrassed is progress.
The Bad: after losing to OSU and falling to 5-1, Maryland had to play Illinois at home. The OSU loss seemed to have lasting effects on Maryland. Maryland fell to Illinois 27-24. It was a somewhat predictable letdown game. Maryland was emotionally deflated after the OSU game and injuries were starting to pile up. And Illinois came right before their bye week. This loss was disappointing but was somewhat expected. Therefore, it didn’t sting.
Following their bye week, they traveled to Northwestern and shit the bed while in a drunken stupor, losing 33-27. After their bye week. Really? With hindsight, Northwestern turned out to be pretty good, so this loss wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed at the time. However, it was still the second game in a row that Maryland should have won and didn’t.
Next came the only game of the season in which Maryland got trounced, losing to Penn State 51-15, making this four losses in a row. The consistent factor in all of these losses was the defense had taken a significant step backward on defense. Through the first five games, Maryland’s defense was very good, particularly in the second half. Through 3+ quarters against OSU at the Horseshoe, Maryland’s defense only allowed 20 points. Then they snapped. Allowing 27 points against this year’s Illinois offense, and then 33 points against Northwestern, and then allowing 51 points against Drew Allar? No bueno. I don’t know what happened but the defense was bad and ugly for this stretch of games – Illinois, Northwestern, and Penn State..
The “Meh” (Part 2): In a slump? Does your team need a boost? Especially your defense? Just play Iowa or Nebraska. Maryland played Nebraska. Defense and turnovers ruled the day. This game is probably XXX porn for Brian Ferentz. The first points of the game came with 2:30 left in the 1st half with Maryland going up 7-0.
I was absolutely stunned with the utter incompetency of Nebraska’s QBs. They trotted out three different QBs and each one threw at least one pick. Most were just putrid throws, not great plays by Maryland. With the game tied 10-10 and Nebraska 1st and goal on the Maryland 6-yard line with 4:30 left in the game, Nebraska seemed destined to go up by at least 3 points and seal this game. Not with these QBs. On 3rd and goal with 3:42 left in the game, Nebraska’s third QB of the day, Brock Purdy’s brother, threw Nebraska’s 4th pick of the game for Nebraska’s 5th turnover. Maryland promptly marched down the field to kick a field goal from Nebraska’s 6-yard line with 3 seconds to go to win the game.
The Good (Part 2): Having achieved bowl eligibility with the Nebraska win and ending their 4-game losing streak, the Terps faced undefeated Michigan. Looking as lackluster is they did squeaking by Nebraska, Maryland fell behind 23-3 midway through the 2nd quarter and it looked like Maryland was on its way to one of their annual ass-kickings from one of the Big Three. But, then something happened. Maryland did lie down. They fought back. This game was 29-24 with about five minutes to go. Maryland truly played Michigan toe-to-toe. How can Maryland let Northwestern score more points than Michigan? I dunno.
The 2nd half of the Michigan game seemed to revitalize the Terps. The following week they played a seemingly up-and-coming Rutgers squad. They attacked an injury-paqued Rutgers squad from the get-go, sprinting out to a 28-3 within the first 20 minutes of the game. Rutgers kinda-sorta fought their way back into the game [28-17] in the first half. But Maryland’s trademark 2nd half defense reappeared and Maryland cruised to a 42-24 victory.
Good Maryland continued into December with a very uplifting trouncing of scummy Hugh Freeze and the Auburn Tigers in the Music City Bowl. Most folks expected Maryland to fall flat on their faces given Taulia Tagovailoa opted out and Auburn recently came a 4th-and-31 end-of-game play from beating Alabama. Instead, Locksley had the Terps pumped up against a seemingly disinterested Auburn team. Maryland bolted out to a 21-0 lead and never looked back. They extended the lead to 31-7 with a pick six in the third quarter and cruised from there.
Summary: The Terps season resembled a cosine curve with a very long period. Sorry. I have no analogy for those more artistically inclined readers. This season was a bit of a paradox. Most OTE “writers” picked the terps to go 8-4, myself included. They fell slightly below those expectations going 7-5. However, if I had predicted Maryland would be the fourth best team in the Big Ten behind the Big Three, you would have accused me of loving nothing more than bacon and doughuts. I’m a big fat Homer. Get it? But here we are: ranked #27 in the Nation according to ESPN FPI and Sagarin
We’re talking Maryland. Our football equivalents, in terms of fan support, donor support, and putrid NIL are Rutgers, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, and Northwestern. [Maybe Minnesota?]
Prognosis for 2024: The Terps are not dead, or even on life support. Not even close. Locks has done a very nice job at Maryland. The Terps are now seeing consistent success that they haven’t seen in two decades. They have had three straight winning seasons for the first time since Ralph Friedgen’s first three [and best] seasons at Maryland from 2001-2003. The Music City Bowl against Auburn season marks the first time Maryland has ever won a bowl game in three consecutive seasons. Maryland finished the 2021 season ranked 57th by Sagarin. After installing Brian Williams as the DC for the final two games of the 2021 season, Maryland’s defense improved significantly for those last two games of 2021 and for 2022, resulting in being ranked #37 at the end of the 2022 season. As mentioned, this year they finished the season ranked #27 for the fourth best ranking in the Big Ten. Maryland has brought in MJ Morris from NC State through the transfer portal. He went 3-1 this season [preserving his red shirt], including wins over Miami and Clemson. He is the favorite to win the QB battle this spring against Billy Edwards, Jr. and Cam Edge. IMHO, I think Cam Edge has some talent and will push Morris for the starting job. Maryland has lots of skill position talent in WR, TE and RB rooms. The only notable coaching staff change has been Henry Baker leaving as the DB coach. But he was replaced with Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, who like OC Josh Gattis, had a brief feud with Locks before patching things up. AAR coached for Maryland under Durkin and has returned. He has deep, deep roots in the DMV high school football scene having started the vaunted Friendship Collegiate Academy [FCA] football program and took it to national prominence. Some would argue AAR is an upgrade over Henry Baker. With Locks, steady recruiting classes and solid portal work, and very little coaching staff turnover, Maryland will most likely fall into that 25-35 range in the Sagarin/ ESPN FPI rankings for 2024. But the good news is Maryland only plays one of the Big Three next season, PSU on November 30. The Terps get USC at home [Yay! Sell-out!] and Oregon away to replace OSU and UM. The Big Ten West crossovers [yes, I know it technically doesn’t still exist] are Northwestern at home, Minnesota away, and Iowa at home. This schedule has 8-4 written all over it. If this ends up being a correct prediction, I’ll take it! It’ll be a new milestone for Maryland football with Maryland never having recorded a winning conference record.
IMPORTANT REMINDER: The Terps open their 2024 Men’s Lacrosse season with an away game against a solid Richmond Spiders team. The Terps are looking to rebound from a down season in which they missed the Final Four for only the third time since 2011 [when current coach John Tillman took the helm]. Sadly, neither USC, UCLA, Oregon, nor Washington have Men’s or Women’s lacrosse. Why did we even bother bringing these teams into the conference if they are not going to play lacrosse?