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Can Maryland challenge Michigan in Durkin's second season?

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Former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will have his work cut out for him prepping the Maryland defense for the Wolverines' seasoned offense.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Much like Rutgers, Maryland entered the Big Ten in 2014 and held its own.

The Terrapins went 7-6 that season and knocked off Iowa, Penn State and Michigan — though, to be fair, those programs weren’t where they are heading into 2017.

Much like Rutgers, years two and three in the conference haven’t been as fruitful.

In 2015, the Terps managed just a 3-9 record. Following the losing season, the rebuilding began. They brought in former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin as the new head coach with hopes that he could energize a stagnant, lower tier Big Ten program.

The result? A better 2016, with a 6-6 regular season before falling, 36-30, to Boston College in their bowl game.

Unlike Rutgers, Maryland looks to be building something promising. But the challenge for the Terrapins lies ahead, in their tough 2017 schedule.

NCAA Football: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

"Where does Durkin take Maryland in 2017?"

Could 2017 be Maryland’s year?

It’s not that I think Maryland will be taking a step back in 2017. Really, it’s more about where their program stands against the other big time national contenders — and right now, I just think they are still a few steps behind. The Big Ten is a heck of a conference, and Maryland’s upcoming schedule is going to see them have to earn it every single week.

Durkin took over a program that had been fairly mediocre, if not bad, since the mid-2000’s. In his first season, they won the games they were supposed to win, and they lost the big ones. That’s the plain truth. They beat teams like Purdue and Rutgers, and then lost to teams like Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan. Against the S&P Top 50, they went 0-5, but managed a cool 6-2 against all other opponents.

You may be thinking, so what? Don’t a lot of teams fare similarly?

Yes. Not many teams can knock off top programs year after year, but Maryland has high hopes for what Durkin is able to do in College Park. However, 2017 isn’t going to make it easy on them.

This year, the Terrapins will kickoff the season at Texas, and then go on to face Minnesota, Wisconsin, MSU and Ohio State all on the road, while taking on Michigan and Penn State at home. That would be a brutal schedule for any team — never mind a squad trying to rebuild from a debacle in 2015 and take another stride forward after a better 2016.

Could 2017 be Maryland’s year? Not likely, in terms of tallying wins, but this team is poised to make some statements in the near future.

"Any key playmakers we should know about?"

So far, Durkin has done what most people expected: he’s begun building the defense, though the offense seems to be lagging behind a bit.

Maryland's quarterback situation is very murky. Right now, sophomores Tyrrell Pigrome and Max Bortenschlager are leading the way, with Pigrome running with the starters in the spring game. Neither of these guys are going to wow you, though there is a true freshman, Kasim Hill, on the roster who could work his way into the starting role by 2018 or 2019. (This is that “Durkin’s building the program” thing I talked about earlier.)

At running back, Lorenzo Harrison III is a speed demon and a beast, and Ty Johnson is another guy who can make you miss. There’s still plenty of work to do in the passing game, so look for these two to make some big plays for the Terps this year.

Now to Durkin’s sweet spot.

Overall, this defense can be very effective with its speed, length and athleticism, but the defensive line seems like a bit of an issue. Right now they’re a little small, but the recruiting has been moving in the right direction under Durkin (No. 4 recruiting class in the Big Ten in 2017, behind OSU, Michigan and PSU) and this will continue to improve.

The linebacking corps will be exciting and returns all of its top players, and the defensive backs are going to be exceptional.

One of their linebackers, Jermaine Carter, Jr., could be a future NFL guy, and he’s a definite top-100 player in the Big Ten. He’s great at taking on blocks from the offensive line, but he’s also quick at getting to guys in space. This group is experienced and athletic with Carter, Jalen Brooks and linebacker/safety Isaiah Davis, who's a lot of fun to watch.

The secondary is fast and tall. Corner Antwaine Richardson is a former Michigan commit, and he looks like he'll be starting in 2017. Qwuantrezz Knight is another young guy to watch — he’s quick and tough. At this position group, there’s not only talent, but depth, with likely at least two guys at each position who can step in and make plays.

Maryland may give up some holes in the line of scrimmage this year, but they're going to run the ball on offense and stop the pass on defense, which should keep them in a lot of games.

"Does Durkin have the Terrapins poised for an upset in 2017?"

Maryland will keep getting better under Durkin, year after year, but it had a long way to go from where it was in 2015 in order to consistently challenge the likes of Michigan and Ohio State.

That said, I expect Maryland to put a scare into one or two of these teams that most people think already have the games won. Will it be Texas in Week 1? Will it be Wisconsin on Oct. 21 or Penn State on Nov. 25?

The key, in my mind, is being able to compete in these big games. That’s something that they weren’t able to do the last couple years. The Nittany Lions handled them pretty easily and both the Buckeyes and Wolverines ran them right out of the building in consecutive weeks.

Keep the games close and they’ll eventually learn how to win — and steal an upset along the way.

That said, it won’t be against Michigan. The Wolverines are too far ahead in terms of pure talent and player development. Michigan wins this one handily, but that has a lot more to do with where Harbaugh has his program and not where Durkin has the Terps.

Poll

When does Maryland pull off the upset in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 29%
    at Texas
    (202 votes)
  • 5%
    at Ohio State
    (41 votes)
  • 6%
    at Wisconsin
    (42 votes)
  • 2%
    vs. Michigan
    (15 votes)
  • 27%
    vs. Penn State
    (193 votes)
  • 28%
    Hmm...maybe next year.
    (199 votes)
692 votes total Vote Now