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Maryland Terrapins Football Preview: Reasons to be optimistic in 2018

After a 4-8 season in 2017, why should you be optimistic about the 2018 Terps?

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When D.J. Durkin was hired in December of 2015 to lead this program, it was clear that there would need to be a cultural shift in the Maryland Terrapins program.

As 2018 approaches, we are also entering a pivotal season — season No. 3 — of the Durkin era.

Two seasons in and we’ve seen the potential and the need for continued roster building in big ways. Year one ended with a Bowl berth and three Big Ten wins. Year two ended with just two wins in conference and a 4-8 overall record.

It means this season will tell us which direction was real. So, given that 4-8 season in 2017, why should anyone be optimistic about the 2018 Terps season?

Let’s take a look at some of those reasons.

Durkin Has an Eye for Talent

For some schools, recruiting rankings really matter. For others, recruiting rankings don’t tell the full story. For Maryland, the truth lies somewhere in the middle and that’s not a bad thing.

In the first two complete recruiting cycles for head coach D.J. Durkin, the Terps have shown an ability to be a school that can compete for Top 25 positions. More importantly though, Durkin and his staff have shown that the hype can be backed up by play on the field.

While we only saw one full game and parts of two others from Kasim Hill, it was abundantly clear that the rankings and hype surrounding him was warranted. Same from Tyrrell Pigrorme, who was bombing Texas’ defense in Austin prior to a season-ending injury in the third quarter.

There’s also the fact that players who weren’t highly regarded when Durkin came in and are becoming stars. Seniors like Ty Johnson, Jesse Aniebonam and Darnell Savage weren’t that known coming in to their recruiting class, but have become very productive players.

With a two-deep that is full of seniors, it is clear that Durkin understands the talents he has and knows how to maximize what is in front of him. Three years of work behind the scenes could well pay off for those seniors.

Defensive Line Talent

One of the most puzzling stories of the Durkin era has been the inability of the defense to become a quality unit. That could be on the way to changing in a big way in 2018, and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time.

We’re optimistic about the defense this season for one reason — the defensive line. Durkin has made it a great priority to get bigger, faster and meaner up front in his first three recruiting classes. This season he has three really talented players in the front four.

Adam McClean will take his freshman experience and be a good player up the middle, while 2016 star Jesse Aniebonam is back after missing almost the entire 2017 season and they add in 2015’s No. 1 overall recruit (according to ESPN) as a transfer — Byron Cowart.

Having three players that opposing teams need to pay attention to, not just keying on one is going to be huge. It also should be a huge help to an intriguing linebacker group that includes productive Illinois transfer Tre Watson and hybrid nickleback Antoine Brooks.

Running Game Depth

When the Terps were at their best in 2016, they were burning teams on the ground offensively. Look for a return to that formula in 2018 in part due to D.J. Moore’s graduation at wide receiver and in part because running back may be the deepest and most dangerous position on Maryland’s roster.

First, former 1,000-yard rusher Ty Johnson returns for his senior season after rushing for 875 yards last season despite teams keying on him after both quality quarterbacks went down. Then there’s a bit of thunder with Lorenzo Harrison in the mix, as he rushed for 622 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season.

Now, add in one of the top 2017 recruits, Anthony McFarland, and you have a three-headed monster that East division teams are going to have to worry about. Both Johnson and McFarland are capable of busting the big run, but do so in different ways. Johnson is more of the every-down type of back, while McFarland is an absolute speed nightmare for opposing defenses.

That three-headed monster is one way for the Terps to keep pressure on opposing defenses.

With Matt Canada at offensive coordinator, a good run game is Maryland’s best friend. The odds of it happening seem really good on paper.

Overall Reason to be Optimistic

As we described above, the formula to win more than you lose in the Big Ten seems to be in place for the Terps on paper. You know, play strong defense up front and be able to run the ball on offense.

If the talent can equal production on both fronts, Maryland may be in business in a way that will surprise some. You have to love the combination of skill sets at running back and you have to love the fact that Durkin hasn’t been afraid to go after talent on the defensive line.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

Terps Football

5 names we’d look to in Maryland Terrapins coaching search

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We’ll start with this caveat — given the tumult surrounding the entire administrative hierarchy at the University of Maryland things could really change fast. 

A lot will depend on if Wallace Loh and Damon Evans stay. Rumblings we are hearing indicate that Loh has done a ton of politicking to keep his job and firing Durkin in defiance of the Board of Regents was part of that. 

As for Evans, things seem less clear given the climate around the program and some things happening on the fundraising (or lack there of) front. 

So, this list is based strictly off the assumption that everything stays the same. It also isn’t a list based off of any inside information, but it is a list that tells you where this search should look. 

These are the five names I would be putting phone calls in to and going hard after in investigating their fit for the Terps program. Take my advice or not Terps. 

Matt Canada, Maryland (Interim Head Coach)

COLLEGE PARK, MD – SEPTEMBER 14: Maryland interim football coach Matt Canada during the Temple Owls defeat of the University of Maryland Terrapins 35-14 on September 14, 2018, in College Park, MD. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

With so much stuff swirling around the players and the program in general, Canada has done an amazing job in 2018. He’s gotten this team largely pulling the in same direction and most importantly is winning the games they should. 

Maryland, for all the problems they have on and off the field, are just one win away from reaching a bowl game. 

Not only that, but it is clear the players love playing for Canada. 

What could keep him from getting the job permanently? It could be the optics of keeping anyone associated with the Durkin era in the mix. But, Canada is a first-year coach at Maryland and his ties to the Durkin era are tenuous at best. 

He’d be the first name on my list. What’s better than showing you can win at Maryland than actually…you know…winning at Maryland?

Mike Locksley, Alabama (Offensive Coordinator)

Of the five names we are suggesting to look at, this one may be at the bottom of my personal list. 

Locksley checks off a ton of the intangible boxes, as he was formally the offensive coordinator and an interim head coach at Maryland. He also is hugely plugged in to the all-important DMV area. Oh, and that Alabama offense everyone is marveling at  — Locksley is the one calling the plays and engineering as offensive coordinator.  

So, why is he at the bottom of my list? It’s hard to get past his disastrous tenure at New Mexico. He went just 3-31 at the helm of the Lobos program that had gone to five straight bowl games and been around the .500 mark under the long tenure of Rocky Long before him. 

Taking a program that was looking to take the next step and absolutely tanking is hard to get over. So is all of drama that surrounded his time at the helm of the Lobos program.

Of course, it could’ve been a great learning experience, but is this the job to take on that type of coach (even if it was 8 years ago)? Let’s not forget he went a mighty 1-5 as the interim head coach at Maryland after they fired Randy Edsall in 2015 too. 

Sometimes coaches are better off as coordinators or position coaches than they are at the next level up, and I feel like Locksley is exactly that man. 

Matt Wells, Utah State (Head Coach)

WINSTON-SALEM, NC – SEPTEMBER 16: Utah State Aggies head coach Matt Wells talks to Utah State Aggies linebacker Derek Larsen (49) on the sideline at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC. (Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If it won’t be Matt Canada, then a smart decision would be going with someone with an offensive mind to the game. Maryland isn’t going to win by getting better on the defensive side of the ball, they need to be innovative on offense. 

Enter the best young coach on the West Coast. Wells took over for Gary Andersen after he left Utah State for Wisconsin and he has kept Aggies relevant in the Mountain West conference. That is no small feat considering the history of the program. 

Wells is 41-33 in his five-plus seasons in Logan, and the Aggies are poised to head towards a second Mountain division championship this year with a 7-1 overall record and 4-0 in conference play so far. He also won the Mountain West in 2013, his first season as a head coach. 

Being in position to do it completely with his own players tells you a lot about his coaching ability. 

If ever there is a younger head coach with the understanding of what it takes to win with fewer resources and fewer eyes on the program, Wells is it. He’s also been great at developing quarterbacks and a powerful offense built around the run game out of the spread.

Unlike most transitions at the top, there might not be much that needs to be changed about the Terps offense…at least in a major way if Wells were to come on board. 

Yes, Wells doesn’t have the DMV background of other coaches, but he was born in South Carolina and his program recruits the heck out of the Southeast, including Florida. Those ties would be greatly helpful and I’m sure he can find staff members to take on the DMV roles needed to keep that pipeline open. 

Dino Babers, Syracuse (Head Coach)

KALAMAZOO, MI – AUGUST 31: Head coach Dino Babers of the Syracuse Orange looks on during a game against the Western Michigan Broncos at Waldo Stadium on August 31, 2018 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Syracuse won 55-42. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Syracuse vs. Maryland? What is the difference? 

Some may ask that question and wonder why Babers would even consider this move. He may not, but he is a name that would be on my list for sure.

Here’s why — HE BEAT CLEMSON. 

If you can do that and then nearly do it again the next year, you know how to get your program up for big time matchups. 

Maryland happens to be in a division full of big time programs and if the Terps want to make a move up the division totem poll, it has to find a way to win games against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State on a consistent basis. 

Babers was on the list the last time this job came open, but (not so) shockingly, a personal conflict with Kevin Anderson kept him from getting the job by a lot of accounts. 

If the Terps want a guy with some energy, personality and most importantly the coaching chops to stand on his own two feet, Babers is it. 

Of course, this move would take a significant investment, as Barbers is earning $2.4 million (just $100,000 less than Durkin would’ve in 2018). Add in the likelihood that you’ll have to pay out Durkin and then maybe even Damon Evans, will the Terps have the cash to make the splash to get this hire to happen? 

If there’s one personality that could get donors to pony up the money to get the job done, Babers could be it. 

Scott Satterfield, Appalachian State (Head Coach)

BOONE, NC – SEPTEMBER 29: Appalachian State Mountaineers head coach Scott Satterfield watches the clock wind down during the South Alabama v Appalachian State game on Saturday, September 29, 2018 at Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC.(Photo by Bobby McDuffie/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This isn’t the season nor the time to poach a young and inexperienced but fun offensive coach from the MAC or anywhere else. But, this is a time to swing for the fences for a proven lower division coach. 

Sattefield has been amazing for Appalachian State in its transition from FCS to FBS and the Sun Belt Conference. All he’s done is taken the Mountaineers to 9 or more wins in three of its first four years in FBS football and were ranked No. 25 last week before a tough loss moved them to 5-2 on the season. 

While he is a Mountaineers alum, Satterfield is not immune to hearing out other offers and this is a perfect year for him to capitalize on what he’s built with that program. 

To top it off, Satterfield put his team in to Happy Valley and made Penn State squirm all the way to overtime just a few months ago. 

If his Appalachian State team can do that, imagine what he could do with more resources like Maryland could provide. 

He may not be a “sexy” name on the coaching carousel, but Maryland needs to focus on finding the head coach that can be a long-term leader. Satterfield is as steady and rock-solid as they come.  

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Terps Football

Maryland fires Durkin 24 hours after reinstating him

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Less than 24 hours after announcing head coach D.J. Durkin would be reinstated as the Maryland Terrapins head coach, the university has reversed course and according to multiple reports has been fired. 

Maryland’s 247sports site indicates that those reports are true, as they were able to confirm via an athletics department spokesperson. Durkin apparently notified the team in a meeting earlier this afternoon and we just recently received notice as well. 

What changed in 24 hours? Instead of internal politics within the University of Maryland System, it appears outside political pressure changed the minds of the powers that be.

Loh met with academic and student organizations and they were less than happy with the decision to keep Durkin on as their head coach. 

He also had plenty of pressure from the highest political office in the state — governor Larry Hogan — who was less than happy to see the decision that was made by the Board of Regents and Loh. 

“While the university system is required by law to operate independent of political influence, and as such no governor has the ability to hire or fire any university personnel or members of the Board of Regents, I can and will demand that the university is held accountable for making the reforms they have pledged to put in place with the full transparency that the students, parents and faculty expect and deserve,” Hogan stated. “The University System of Maryland has let down the University of Maryland community and the citizens of Maryland, and now is the time to fix it.”

Loh and the decision makers seemed to be living in a bubble, unaware of the optics and the pressure that was coming from power structures within the student body, academic faculty and the people in the state house as well. 

It’s just another example of the mess that Loh has made of things since coming aboard in 2010. About the only thing he has done right is get Maryland in to the Big Ten and enrich an athletic department that was awash in debt. 

Since then its been a series of mishires and horrible decisions. All of which have led to a player that should’ve never died in Jordan McNair, a program with a sense of “toxic culture” and a leadership group that did not lead under his hiring and direction. 

Maryland has a lot of soul searching and moving on from Durkin is step one in fixing that problem. Doing it just 24 hours after making a big deal of his return just continues to smack of an entire university leadership group that doesn’t get it. 

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Terps Football

Terps decision on Durkin highlights politics inside higher education

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After months of twisting in the wind, Maryland Terrapins head coach D.J. Durkin now knows his fate. The embattled head coach will return to his position after a 10-week absence according to multiple reports. 

Durkin was caught up in a pair of brutal situations this fall, coming under fire after one of his players, Jordan McNair, died following complications after a work out and ESPN reporting on a “toxic culture” inside the program as a whole. 

But, reports indicate that the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents have not found a “toxic culture” to exist nor blame to be placed on Durkin for McNair’s death. 

Instead, the recommendation is to keep Durkin around. Additionally, university president Wallace Loh and athletic director Damon Evans appear to be sparred from the chopping block as well…at least for now. 

That’s where things get interesting here, because a look inside the reporting shows that politics, more than anything else, may be at play here. 

It started with the report on McNair’s tragic death, where there was clearly an attempt to excuse the lack of monitoring of the athletic training staff by Durkin. 

The biggest failure appeared to be with his head strength and conditioning man, Rick Court, and that much was noted in the report in to McNair’s death: 

We must acknowledge factors that likely played a role in Mr. Durkin’s failure to adequately address Mr. Court’s behavior. As a first-time head coach, Mr. Durkin heavily modeled his program after coaches for whom he previously worked—most notably, Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh—who have achieved great success as tough, no-nonsense leaders. Mr. Durkin was hired under high-pressure circumstances and tasked with turning a struggling football program into a Big Ten contender, with less funding and fan support than other conference programs. The Athletics Department provided little education around, or support to handle, the myriad administrative responsibilities of a head coach, tasks Mr. Durkin had not been delegated in previous jobs as a coordinator or position coach.”

Not only did the report go after Court and cushion any blow to Durkin’s credibility, it also began the process of shielding Durkin from any potential liability or scrutiny internally or externally. 

That’s politics at work. 

Further, reports indicate that Durkin may have saved his job with his own politicking last Friday. He had a meeting with the Board of Regents and apparently impressed them with whatever went down. 

One would expect Durkin to fight for his job given all that is on the line. The man’s reputation as not only a coach but a human being is on the line. 

But, all of his words aside, this is a decision made by a group of people with plenty of political motives all over the place. Such is the nature of just about any board room in any company, university or organization in the world. 

The biggest indicator that politics may have been at play here is that there was allegedly a large financial consideration at work as well. 

Firing Durkin could be a very expensive proposition and Maryland isn’t exactly in great financial shape in the athletic department. 

Sure, they could try to eat his salary and fire without cause, but that would cost the Terps 65 percent of his remaining contract. Firing him for cause, should the investigation found cause, would’ve likely meant a lengthy legal battle over his salary. 

Is the external pressure to fire Durkin so great that eating his remaining salary and not fighting a long legal battle worth it? Would anyone step up to the plate with the money to make it happen?

Clearly the answers were no and no, because if they were yes and yes or even no and yes, this decision would’ve been much easier and made much quicker. 

Giving the Board of Regents cover to make this difficult decision is one way that the politics could’ve played out here. 

Then there is the internal factor of how the team reacts to whatever move is made. Eating over $5 million of salary is one thing, losing a locker room and a program having to start from scratch just two years after a hire is another thing completely. 

Reports indicate that the Terps locker room is divided over Durkin’s return. Some believe his no-nonsense approach boarders on abusive and they would’ve liked to see him gone. Some have lined up steadfastly behind the head coach. 

Much will be made of how Durkin goes about getting his team to play on Saturday’s the rest of the year. However, the real work is going to be in healing this program after six months of brutal division and strife. 

Despite all of that, interim head coach Matt Canada has the Terps just one game away from bowl eligibility. How does Durkin’s arrival back to the program play out? 

Those are the calculations that seemed to be at play here, even if the USM Board of Regents won’t admit to it publicly. In this case, the decision that was made was one that appears to have shown internal politicking trumps any outside optics that were at play. 

How else does someone who oversaw a program and a workout schedule that allowed someone to die keep his job? How else does it make sense that it takes 10 weeks to really figure out if a “toxic culture” exists as reported? 

We’re likely to never get the real reason “why” this was the decision. Just remember, that’s the nature of a political entity making these types of decisions. 

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Terps Football

What does Terps victory over Texas really mean?

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The Maryland Terrapins did it again — knocking off a favored and ranked (if you want to pay attention to those things) Texas Longhorns football team. 

Much like last season, it was a fight to the very end and it was Maryland coming out on top again. The Terps survived for a 34-29 win in Landover, Md. this time around. 

But, spoiling Tom Herman’s debut last season was one thing, winning in 2018 felt totally different. 

After all, it came on the heels of one of the craziest offseasons one could imagine. There was the tragic death of a teammate following an intense workout and then the suspension and investigation in to the head coach. 

It also came as the debut of Matt Canada as a head coach at any point in his long career in college football. 

So, of course, getting this win was an emotional moment for the Terps. But, there is a large question at hand — what does this win really mean? 

Last season’s win in Austin proved to mean little more than a glimpse of what could’ve been. 

Injuries to both quarterbacks that played this Saturday crushed any momentum that was being built. So too did other injuries on both sides of the ball. 

The good news on this Saturday was that Maryland’s quarterbacks escaped this one without injury. Kasim Hill, who came on for injured Tyrell Pigrome, looked every part of the star people expected last season. 

He finished this game completing 17 of 29 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Pigrome was 3 of 4 for 22 yards in his limited action. 

Maryland found a balanced run game too, with no one rushing for more than 31 of the 143 yards put up as a team. 

The Terps defense gave up plenty of yardage — 405 to be exact — but they also found ways to make positive contributions when it mattered most. There were the three turnovers created. There were the seven tackles for loss as well.

Maryland didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher either. 

All of those were positive developments for a defense that badly needed to prove it could contribute positively to the 2018 season. 

Kicker Joseph Petrino hit a pair of short field goals as well

Many are adding all of that up and spinning tails of Maryland’s rise. There’s no doubt that this win and the two over Texas in this series are important, but they aren’t the end all, be all that some writers are making it out to be. 

Then there is the factor that far too many of my fellow brethren in the sports writing world care about the AP Poll and Coaches Poll. Clearly Texas is not one of the 25 best teams in America and the Longhorns probably should never have been thought of that highly to begin with. 

So, what does it really mean? For me, this win is telling in that Maryland has become a program capable of playing with teams that are hanging around the fringes of quality. 

One could chalk last season up to a fluke or to Texas just getting used to Herman and his style. But this second win? It showed that Maryland isn’t afraid of the name brand in front of them — they can play with anyone on their best day. 

Ultimately, this win will be looked back on as a promising start and unless they do something with it, that’s all it will be. 

There are still 11 more games to help define the 2018 season.

How the Terps build from this start and work going forward will matter way more than what took place on the 1st of September. 

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