The past three months have been a complete nightmare for the Maryland football program. The unethical death of a player after practice, evidence of a toxic culture and head coach D.J. Durkin being placed on administrative leave makes you wonder if the players are even ready for the 2018 season. Everything is still in to be continued mode, but the games must go on. Last season got off to a fast start after the upset win over Texas, but injuries at the quarterback position forced the offense to play five different signal-callers and the team never recovered, losing seven of its last eight games. Durkin added a new offensive coordinator and welcomed in an influx of transfers to help the team find a new identity. One thing Durkin has done is recruit upper-echelon talent and the roster has that. With the two best quarterbacks healthy again, there’s no telling how far this team can go this season.
Team strengths: The running backs and offensive line. The Terrapins return 97 percent of the teams’ rush yards from last season, led by Ty Johnson. The backfield is loaded and the offensive line is one of the most experienced unit in the Big 10. Derwin Gray, Sean Christie, Brendan Moore, Terrance Davis and Damian Prince have combined for 104 career starts and should open up big holes this fall for the backs to run through.
Team weaknesses: Receivers and the defensive front seven. D.J. Moore left early for the NFL and besides Taivon Jacobs no other returning receiver caught more than 13 balls last season, leaving young and inexperienced wideouts to fill the void. The defense took a huge step back last season and gave up 37.1 points per game, which was last in the Big 10. That’s not a good sign when only three starters are returning in the front seven.
Players to watch: Running back Johnson, wide receiver Jacobs, nickelback Antoine Brooks Jr. Johnson was the teams’ leading rusher last season with nearly 900 yards and five touchdowns. He’s capable of carrying the load in 2018, but there are enough backs to go around and give carries to. Jacobs is the teams’ leading returning receiver in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He’ll have to be a leader this fall and show all the young receivers the ropes. Brooks Jr. was the lone bright spot for the defense last season with 77 stops, including 9.5 behind the line of scrimmage, a sack and two interceptions. He will be the tone-setter for a defense in need of a push this season.
The schedule: Very challenging. The Terrapins open up against a Longhorn team out for blood after getting embarrassed in last seasons’ opener. The road slate is flat-out brutal with trips to Michigan, Iowa and Penn State. The home games are winnable besides Ohio State and Michigan State.
My take: This year may be over before it starts. A ton of distractions are still ongoing with Durkin on paid administrative leave and the strength and conditioning coach axed. A blowout loss to Texas could possibly cause everything to fall apart. The offense may have to play musical chairs with the quarterbacks again and they only have one proven receiver to throw to. The defense has the biggest task of all and will give up a ton of points. I’d be surprised if Maryland finishes the regular season with a 6-6 record.