Can D.J. Durkin Turn Maryland Around?
Sure, there were a couple teams that lost more games than Maryland. Purdue. Kansas. Eastern Michigan. Wyoming. Seven other teams in Division-I, as well. There were teams with more embarrassing losses. There are teams with less talent. But not very many. This isn't Florida or Michigan.
And now, Durkin will be going against Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, James Franklin, Chris Ash, and Kevin Wilson to try to win a division title. Competitors like Durkin enjoy a challenge - this is more than a challenge.
But good luck telling that to the man who took the stage on Thursday for his introductory press conference. When D.J. Durkin started talking to reporters, he sounded like half of a football mastermind and half like a kid on Christmas. "Thanks, everyone, for being here. It's amazing, the turnout we've had. Uh, this - this is really cool. I've been waiting for this day for a long, long time, preparing for it, and it's finally here. And to say the least, I'm very excited." He went on to call being investigated by Maryland's search committee "an enjoyable process." Within the next minute, he was introducing his family with a giant smile on his face.
Mixed in with the family atmosphere: "I embrace competition. I want to recruit guys that embrace that competition. ... We are the aggressors. We're going to be aggressive in everything we do. ... I think you can out-effort people." While Durkin didn't get into many specifics about what 2016 Maryland would look like, he did suggest a blueprint, an approach that mirrors Harbaugh's manic enthusiasm and love of competition.
Durkin insisted he was a little different from Harbaugh, but the similarities might continue for a while. After all, his first test will be diversifying Maryland's roster into a more physical, in-your-face Big Ten ball club. Maryland's offense was great this year at one thing - dynamite plays, thanks to its speedy play-makers - but it failed miserably at moving the chains or controlling the trenches. Durkin will be the one who graduates Maryland into the Big Ten, just like Harbaugh was the man to graduate Michigan into Chuck Norris.
Durkin will also need to be ready to excite the fan base. Most Michigan fans would agree this is something he can do pretty easily, but it's a change that should not go overlooked. Maryland ranked near the bottom in total attendance this year, and that kind of atmosphere drives away recruits and muffles home-field advantage. Under Durkin, Byrd Stadium could become dangerous territory very quickly. Not unlike the Big House.
Credit: Tommy Gilligan, USA Today
One of Juwann Winfree's 11 career catches. Winfree was a four-star recruit who lasted one year at Maryland.
Anyone from the DMV area will tell you there's a lot of high school football talent there. Durkin's first hire, Aazaar Abdul-Rahim, was designed to tap into some of that talent and keep those players home. With a great recruiter like Durkin, and a few more recruiting-conscious hires, it's safe to say the future will feature some more blue-chip talent than the Terps have enjoyed the last few years. And the Terps have gotten blue-chips pretty consistently already, even if they didn't always work out.
Finally, the million-dollar question, Durkin will have a lot of young talent on defense, too. After all, 2015 was always going to be the reloading year for Randy Edsall. The linebacking corps for Maryland is deep and talented, while the defensive line has at least some size and returns most of their major players. The secondary is undergoing an extreme makeover, but there's a chance Will Likely returns for his senior year. As first-year seasons go, Durkin is actually set up pretty well to succeed right away.
Just like Harbaugh, again. The Big Ten East is getting a little more interesting.
Hitting the Links Is Traveling
I may be eating another hat soon, but this hire does not leave me convinced that Rutgers will be climbing the mountain any time soon (though it's certainly better than Kyle Flood). For one, Ash hasn't had many opportunities to lead at a high level. He's consistently served as co-DC since 2011, and in the one exception - 2013 at Arkansas - he still was working closely with Charlie Partridge and Bret Bielema. He hasn't shown as much ingenuity as Durkin, either, with some of his success at OSU attributed to Pat Narduzzi's schemes.
There's no denying that Ash has talent at recruiting (something Rutgers desperately needs help with) and with defensive backs. In fact, those are his two specialties, and in that sense he was a perfect fit at Ohio State. But he is also a few steps behind in recruiting New Jersey, as everyone else has been fighting to get into the state for some time now. As the second article will eagerly tell you, Rutgers does have some talent in the secondary, but this is a much bigger job than coaching defensive backs.
Now Ash will have to figure out how to scrape some early wins from a roster that can't hold a candle to the upper echelon of the Big Ten, unlock some productivity from his young quarterbacks, gather a well-paid staff despite no AD, limited funds and a somewhat limited coaching network, and keep his team believing when things get rough. And things will get rough before they start getting better.
Does Ash have the scouting abilities of Ferentz, Kill, Harbaugh and Dantonio, to find the overlooked gems? Will he be able to install his spread offense without a hitch? And for the love of God, can he get that defensive line up to Big Ten standards?
We'll see how smoothly this goes. A lot of Rutgers fans are optimistic, which is always good to see. But we'll see if that lasts through what could be a very rough 2016.
It would be a shame to see an Ohio State player get another Silver Football - which goes to the Big Ten's best player every year - particularly because Michigan and Ohio State are currently tied for the most ever. But Zeke deserves this award more than Connor Cook, and certainly more than Beathard. Regardless, we'll find out Friday.
This wasn't really surprising after a poor showing against MSU. Ohio State was going to be the aggressor, and the Wolverines were playing wounded.
Unless Clemson's Deshaun Watson takes home the trophy, this year's winner will be a running back. Melvin Gordon picked a bad year to run for 2,587 yards.
If you measure a conference by how scary its middle-of-the-pack teams are, the Big Ten can give you 6-6 Indiana, 5-7 Minnesota, 7-5 Penn State, and 5-7 Illinois. Yeah, not all those are convincingly scary, but three nine-win teams in each division certainly are.
The most fun interviews I've seen in a long while.
I liked this piece on one of the best defensive players in this conference, a former two-star out of Detroit.
On #Illini AD search committee: current softball player Nicole Evans.— Shannon Ryan (@sryantribune) December 4, 2015
Also on #Illini AD committee is Mike Bass, ex-kicker from '82 football team. No one from men's basketball or currently with football on it.— Shannon Ryan (@sryantribune) December 4, 2015
On the #Illini search committee is long-time soccer coach Janet Rayfield. She was named as defendant in law suit filed this year by player.— Shannon Ryan (@sryantribune) December 4, 2015
All told, ten Big Ten teams will be going bowling, which is a record. And yes, Minnesota and Nebraska are both going bowling despite losing records. Minnesota, at least, has a very good chance at steamrolling Central Michigan to get a sixth win.
This was not what Nebraska needed. Most years, a 5-7 Nebraska team would be sitting at home, unhappy but optimistic about the tail end of the season. Instead, they are getting ready to face UCLA, a team that will likely beat them up pretty badly. Riley hasn't been great, but he hasn't been lucky, either, outside of the Michigan State game.
Georgia is #1 in the country in pass defense, so now would be the time for Hackenberg to show his abilities. This might turn into a battle of field goals with the way both offenses have struggled.
Like Georgia, USC is in flux with their coaching positions. Clay Helton, the interim coach who was retained, has now fired most of his staff. So this will be a weird process for USC's players in preparing for Wisconsin, as new coaches trickle in to lead them.
Roses never smelled so sweet! Looking forward to seeing the Hawkeyes and Cardinal square-off on New Year's Day! pic.twitter.com/LJmMvsZotV— Rose Bowl Game (@rosebowlgame) December 6, 2015
Indiana will be fine here. Jason Spriggs or Nate Sudfeld might be a bigger loss. However, in the quarterback derby, it's not a given that this is Zander Diamont's team now. Kevin Wilson got a nifty JuCo quarterback prospect who will be able to compete right away. Lagow is 6'6", 240 and moves wonderfully for that size.
Fun fact: Saban is undefeated against his former assistants. Quite a few blowouts, as well.
This year, the Pac-12 was on the outside looking in (sorry, Sports Illustrated). But MSU jumping Oklahoma in the last week still bodes poorly for the Big 12's hopes on a consistent basis. There won't always be a year where a conference champ is the only 10-win team in the entire conference.
Jabrill at wide receiver?? That team is stacked.