As the Big Ten enters its first nine-game conference schedule, Land of 10 examines each school before its league opener.
ANALYSIS: Last season’s disaster led to regime change, and the new staff is off to a strong start, especially on offense. After leading the nation with 36 turnovers last season, the Terps are one of only two teams left in the nation that hasn’t committed one in 2016. Their 123 points scored are the second-most in school history through three games. The top returning rusher hasn’t played yet, but the ground game has been very effective in the new no-huddle spread look. On defense, however, Maryland has had some problems against the run (as evidenced by giving up 195 yards on the ground and needing to go into double overtime to beat Central Florida, 30-24, on Sept. 17). Nonetheless, the Terps did figure some things out when Plan A wasn’t working so well.
KEY GAME: at Penn State, Oct. 8, Beaver Stadium
This is going to be a huge game every year for regional pride and, more importantly, for recruiting credibility. Penn State has raided the DMV forever, and DJ Durkin’s staff is adamant about keeping more of the best local players from leaving. This game is also important in the context of the 2016 season, because Maryland could be 4-0 when it arrives in Happy Valley, but with several tough games to play later on.
KEY PLAYER: Will Likely, CB
Likely hasn’t had a huge impact on the offensive side of the ball to this point, but the Terps also haven’t needed him to have one. On special teams, opponents have done a decent job of kicking the ball away from him — a good idea considering the one kickoff he has returned went for 64 yards against Central Florida. He’s also an anchor for a promising pass defense.
FIRST MATCHUP: vs. Purdue (2-1), 3:30 p.m. EST, Saturday, Maryland Stadium
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Terps continue their mistake-free ways and climb firmly into the middle of the Big Ten pack. They beat Purdue, Indiana and Rutgers, and land a regional roundhouse against reeling Penn State. They knock off one of the four ranked teams left on the schedule but also drop a close one to Minnesota and finish 8-4. Durkin earns serious consideration for Big Ten coach of the year honors.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The talent just isn’t at the necessary level to compete despite the staff’s best efforts to coach ’em up, and a few injuries leave the team thin in several positions. Maryland gets into close games against schools like Minnesota and Penn State and turnover-itis returns. A quick start ends with a big slump and no bowl game.
REALISTIC SCENARIO: Halfway to bowl eligibility, the Terps could beat Purdue, Indiana and Rutgers to get to 6-6 and that would be a big success. It’s a small sample size, but this coaching staff could be worth at least one extra win so let’s say Maryland splits with Minnesota and Penn State, gets to 7-5 and has a really nice foundation to build upon.