The end of September has arrived with cooler weather across the Midwest and, more importantly, conference play. Thankfully the Big Ten left a good final impression with a 12-1 record in non-conference play during Week 4, and that could open the door to one of these conference competitors becoming a College Football Playoff competitor as the season progresses.
But non-conference play is now mostly behind us, which means it is time to turn a laser focus to these new East and West Divisions and the Big Ten Championship race.
Coming into the season, it looked as though the West Division was totally up for grabs between five teams, with Illinois and Purdue looking to improve and be competitive as well. Meanwhile, the East Division appeared to be highly stratified, with the “haves” (Michigan State and Ohio State) outpacing the “have-nots” (Rutgers, Penn State, Indiana) by a wide margin.
But after four weeks of mostly non-conference play, those preconceptions about these divisions have totally flipped.
The West Division has a clear favorite Nebraska and another top contender Wisconsin, then there appears to be a big gap to Iowa and Minnesota (and possibly Illinois), and still a further big gap to the two true dumpster fires in the conference, Purdue and Northwestern. Meanwhile, Michigan State is still the favorite in the East Division, but the other six teams have all shown strengths and weaknesses that render the division race completely unpredictable. How did this muddling of the waters in the East Division occur?
Rutgers and Maryland, that’s how.
Jim Delany did not make fans quiver with excitement when he led the charge to announce the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights would be joining the conference a couple years ago. Indeed, both of these programs appeared totally lost at the time in football, making the move look weak outside the television markets and viewership brought in by these universities.
But four games into the first season of the new Big (14) Ten, it’s Rutgers and Maryland bringing up the collective level of play in the East Division. Add that to Michigan’s continued struggles, Ohio State’s injury/suspension concerns, and strong play at times from Penn State and Indiana, and the division looks like a total free-for-all behind the Spartans.
Maryland is not just good enough to compete, this team can win big and perhaps make one of the big New Year’s Day bowl games.
Rutgers may end up at the bottom of the division standings, but this team will fight valiantly and will likely not be the 0-8 or 1-7 doormat most suspected.
Both these teams will be tough outs, if the development during the first four weeks of the season can be believed. That should raise the level of play and competitiveness within the East Division to be even more stacked than imagined before the 2014 season began. It all starts with Rutgers and Maryland, a surprising but welcome development in the conference expansion and realignment saga.
Rutgers has only had two losing seasons in the last decade, but one of them came last year (6-7) in Kyle Flood’s second season at the helm. That, plus the worst defensive performance in 2013 since the early Greg Schiano days had all signs pointing downward in the first Big Ten year.
However, Rutgers has taken care of the first part of the schedule better than expected, sandwiching impressive wins at Washington State and at Navy around a win over Howard and a tight loss at home against Penn State. The Scarlet Knights should likely be 4-0 after outplaying the Nittany Lions for most of that game, and their chances look good to continue rolling at home against Tulane and Michigan the next two weeks.
Take care of that business, and nobody will be able to ignore the positive impact Rutgers is having heading into the brutal final six games of the schedule. This includes four road games and two division crossover games against the best in the West, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
The key difference from 2013 appears to be much higher amounts of experience, especially on defense. In 2013 the team only had four returning starters on that side, and it definitely took a toll. This defense brought back seven starters and many important backups, and that depth helped the team survive a rocky start against WSU.
Even more impressive has been the development of this unit since the opening game, as Rutgers shut down each of Howard, Penn State, and Navy for most of the game, despite those teams presenting much different angles of offensive attack. Rutgers under Kyle Flood continues to focus on shutting down opposing running games and forcing opponents to win with their quarterbacks’ arms. Some teams just simply are not built for that (unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, Penn State was built for that).
That defense may become even more important as the offense must now adjust to the loss of leading running back Paul James (torn ACL, out for season). Gary Nova has shown some improvement at quarterback as a senior, but he is still prone to mistakes and bad reads. Which means, as always, the Scarlet Knights will need to be a defense-first team to win games. That does work in the Big Ten though, just look at Mark Dantonio and Jim Tressel for proof.
Rutgers should remain close and competitive in many games, even if a lot of the tougher games on the back half of the schedule do not end up in the win column. That will raise the level of play of everyone in the East Division, lest they be left behind and fall into the cellar of this competitive division.
Meanwhile, the expectations of Maryland were a bit higher coming into the season thanks to three seasons of continued improvement under Randy Edsall. Although the cupboard may have been left somewhat bare by Ralph Friedgen, Edsall has rebuilt this program with his style of recruits, and the results (especially on defense) are finally starting to show.
Much like Rutgers, Maryland brought back a ton of starters this season, including 8 on the offense and 9 on the defense. Other than the 63-0 beatdown received from Florida State, these players had been through close game situations and figured out how to win more than lose during the 2013 campaign. Accordingly, all signs pointed to continued improvement despite the small step up to the Big Ten.
The Terrapins have not disappointed so far, even though their record is not perfect. West Virginia is a tough team now that Dana Holgorsen has another good quarterback, and losing on a last-second field goal to a quality opponent like WVU is not season-breaking. The dominant win at Syracuse and the win at USF despite turning the ball over six times are the signs of a good team, finding various ways to win.
Maryland has found a nice balance on offense, throwing for 238 yards per game while running for 163 yards per game. C.J. Brown has not been forced to rely too heavily on his superstar wide receiver Stefon Diggs, although that dynamic duo will almost certainly make some big plays during conference play. The Terrapins open up Diggs and the other receiving options by running the ball tough with C.J. Brown and RB Brandon Ross. One potential risk is that C.J. Brown could be injured with the extra hits he takes in the running game, and that will be something that could derail the early success in this topsy-turvy East Division.
The Terrapins have a tough conference schedule with crossover games against Wisconsin and Iowa, but it is not quite as brutal as that final six-game stretch for Rutgers. What could be brutal for Maryland is the injury bug, which hit in a big way against Syracuse. Starting TE Andrew Isaacs, starting DE Quinton Jefferson, and backup LB Cavon Walker are all done for the season following injuries at the Carrier Dome. This has caused a shuffling of the defensive line, which could be troublesome with two solid offenses in Indiana and Ohio State coming up next on the schedule.
As long as that injury bug does not spread like wildfire or hit a couple of key roster spots, Maryland will likely be fine. Every team has to deal with some level of attrition, but there’s always seemingly one team in the Big Ten that gets really derailed by the number and/or severity of injuries each season. If that happens in College Park, then Maryland could take a quick turn with a number of losses.
Just like Rutgers, Maryland has proven that it will compete, if not win, many of the games on the Big Ten schedule. This newcomer should not be looking up at all of the old guard when the season ends, and that means a very good bowl game is likely on the table for the 2014 Terrapins.
Just like with the previous moves to add Penn State and Nebraska to the conference, the legacy of conference realignment and Jim Delany’s role in it will not be cemented for many years. However, the starts of Maryland and Rutgers have put a relatively weak Big Ten conference on notice: the new teams have come to compete, not just get beat.
With Indiana improving as long as it can hold onto Kevin Wilson as coach and these developments at Maryland and Rutgers, the East Division could quickly become one of the best in college football. It may take a while to catch up to the SEC, but the competitiveness and balance in this division could help achieve that goal.
Which is a shock, considering what everyone seemed to think about these additions bringing down the conference football quality.
Welcome Rutgers and Maryland (and good luck). Now let’s play some Big Ten football!
Understanding Maryland’s fixation on Mike Locksley as next HC
If you are one to read tea leaves then what the Maryland Terrapins are about to do with the vacant head coaching position for the football program seems obvious.
FootballScoop.com is reporting that the Terps are fixated on former Maryland assistant coach and current Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley for the position.
Just how serious have the talks been? Serious enough to indicate that both sides want to explore the possibilities that exist. But, we really won’t know much for at least another week or so.
Locksley has apparently told the powers that be in College Park that he will not talk until after the Crimson Tide compete in the SEC championship game this upcoming Saturday.
But, it is clear given the silence around this position outside of news on Locksley, that he is the main target of this search — at least amongst candidates not currently on the coaching staff.
So, why the fixation with him? Is it because of his ties to the Terps program? Is it because of what the Alabama offense is doing this season? Is it a combination of things?
From the outside, it appears that it may indeed be a combination of those things that have moved him to the front of the list. But, does any of it actually make sense?
Most signs point to no, including a pair of glaring facts about Locksley as a head coach. Chief amongst the issues seem to be the fact that he won all of two games (2-26) as a head coach at New Mexico. Secondly, there’s the 1-5 record at Maryland as the interim head coach in 2015.
There’s also the fact that while at New Mexico, Locksley had a number of issues personally off the field — including having a car registered to his son being used by someone else who got a DWI, a complaint of age discrimination and sexual harassment (which was settled out of court) and a one-game suspension for punching one of his own assistant coaches — and multiple players had arrests for various offenses during his just over two-year tenure as the head coach there.
Can someone learn from those mistakes and grow? Of course.
Locksley and his family have had a lot of that growing and learning, especially following the tragic and unsolved shooting death of his son Meiko. That kind of tragedy has a way of changing a person and a coach.
But, does someone deserve a second chance at coaching redemption at a place like Maryland before doing anything as a head coach to prove he’s learned how to lead a program for real?
That’s the question I am asking and many others are sure to ask if Locksley is to be hired by the Terps. How as he been able to demonstrate that in the past?
Let’s remember Locksley basically got a second chance as a head coach, albeit in a difficult situation as Maryland’s interim head coach back in 2015, and failed there as well.
Maryland went just 1-5 in the six games Locksley got as the interim head coach. The lone win was over lowly Rutgers and even that was a narrow 48-45 affair. In the five losses, Maryland only managed to score 30 or more points once and gave up 30 or more points in all but one of the losses.
Times and players may not have been ideal, but usually in situations where an interim head coach is named one of two things happen — a team is galvanized and plays out of their mind for the coach or it’s a complete flop.
In the case of Locksley, the latter seems to have been the case. Combine the flop as interim head coach and all the stuff that happened at New Mexico and I’d be really skeptical to make this hire.
It simply doesn’t make sense.
Locksley have proven time and again to be a quality offensive coordinator, but a quality coordinator does not always make for a quality head coach. Time and again we’ve seen that bare out across the college football landscape.
What makes this time different? Apparently Nick Saban is the answer.
What I would be asking in any interview that would happen is just how Locksley has grown in his time under Nick Saban at Alabama. After all, one can fail in one place, learn and be ready to take on a bigger opportunity. It happens all the time in the business world.
Usually it happens because someone is able to demonstrate they have learned from those failures and have been able to add to their leadership style or outlook from mentors. They have demonstrated the ability to understand the formula that works best for them by trial and error.
Has Locksley been able to figure out that formula now that he’s added Saban’s wisdom to the mix?
It’s also hard not to be intoxicated by watching what Alabama is doing to teams on the offensive side of the ball this year and thusly fall in love with Locksley as a coach.
The worry here is that Maryland will fall in to the trap of going after a sexy set of stats instead of going after the man and the leadership skills.
It also has to worry about falling in to the trap of going after a coach who can recruit but not develop players. Maryland has not had problems recruiting the DMV lately, but it has had problems taking those hyped names and making them in to star players.
The jury is still out on Kasim Hill, largely because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Certainly the jury is still out on a ton of highly touted players on the defensive side of the ball as well. Would Locksley’s hire take these promising, but underachieving players to the next level?
I certainly hope the Terps will take a look at the whole picture and ask the really tough questions to get to the real truth.
Maryland appears to be in between a rock and a hard place, so it is easy to understand why it would fixate on a guy who has some deep ties to the program at large and not just to certain people within the political and administrative set up of the university.
This isn’t an easy situation and one that may not resolve itself for some time to come. However, the longer this process goes on, the more likely it seems that a much larger change than just a new head coach is coming.
It also would be a clear indication that Locksley isn’t a lock for the head coaching job either.
Only time will tell, and in today’s hyper-speed world of coaching changes, Maryland can’t waste any time given the smaller field of realistic candidates regardless of who is making that decision.
Either it needs to keep all parties involved in this decision intact for the foreseeable future, or it needs to make a clean break. What that decision is may ultimately dictate how Locksley is seen as a viable candidate or not.
Then again, not much about the Terps decision-making as of late has made a lot of sense. Why start now?
5 names we’d look to in Maryland Terrapins coaching search
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Maryland fires Durkin 24 hours after reinstating him
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.
Terps decision on Durkin highlights politics inside higher education
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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