Despite only playing five games during the abbreviated 2020 season, Maryland football showed signs of progress, headlined by sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa — and there might be a blueprint to follow within its own division to take the next step.
The Big Ten East is widely regarded as one of the best divisions in college football, with teams such as Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan typically flooding the top of the standings. However, there is room for upstart teams to make headway, as evidenced by Indiana’s success this past season.
Under head coach Tom Allen, the Hoosiers enjoyed a 6-2 season and finished No. 11 in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Hoosiers’ success provides optimism for a team like Maryland to ascend in the Big Ten rankings in the near future.
“I think they’re going to be probably around a .500 team in 2021,” FOX Sports college football reporter Bruce Feldman said of Maryland on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 8. “By 2022, I think they could be like what Indiana was this year and I think they could be a top-20 kind of team.”
Maryland finished this past season 2-3, but the Terps defeated Penn State for the first time since 2014, and several young players — including Tagovailoa, wide receiver Rakim Jarrett and linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II — flashed their potential.
However, with those positives came some growing pains as well, as the Terps struggled with penalty issues. In their abbreviated regular season, the Terps averaged 79.6 penalty yards per game, while their opponents averaged just 34.8 penalty yards. Maryland was penalized 44 times in its five contests — an average of 8.8 per game.
“I think they’re probably a year away from being a top-25 caliber team,” said Feldman, who also writes for The Athletic. “I think for the next year you’re going to see some good and you’re going to see some bad.”
Maryland is still a very young team on both sides of the ball, and some incoming freshmen should get a chance to play this fall. Head coach Michael Locksley is known for his recruiting prowess, and the 2021 class is a prime example of that. The Terps put together the No. 18 class nationally and No. 4 overall class in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports.
“He’s always been a really good recruiter and he has a lot of cache in that part of [the country],” Feldman said of Locksley.
Five-star linebacker Terrence Lewis out of Miami Central High School (Fla.) is the crown jewel of the 2021 class. Lewis is the No. 1 inside linebacker and No. 20 overall player in the nation. Defensive lineman Demeioun Robinson (Quince Orchard High) and outside linebacker Branden Jennings (Sandalwood High in Florida) help bolster what is a strong class, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
While Maryland didn’t focus as much on offense during the most recent recruiting cycle, the Terps return a talented receiving corps next season. Senior Dontay Demus Jr., redshirt junior Jeshaun Jones and Jarrett all return next season, giving the Terps a plethora of weapons for Tagovailoa to utilize.
All three developed a strong rapport with Tagovailoa in 2020, and players should more time to develop in Locksley’s system in 2021 than they did this past season.
“The other thing that I think [Locksley] doesn’t get enough credit for,” Feldman said, “is he was really good at bringing the run-pass-option game and elevating it to Nick Saban’s orbit.”
New offensive coordinator Dan Enos, who was the running backs coach at Cincinnati last season, will be tasked with taking Maryland’s offense to the next level. Enos worked with Locksley as the quarterbacks coach at Alabama in 2018. The two helped mentor Tagovailoa’s older brother Tua during their time in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The familiarity that Enos and Locksley have with one another provides optimism that Tagovailoa and his talented weapons will be able to develop further.
“I think that there will be a handful of guys who flourish in his system as they kind of develop,” Feldman said.
For more from Feldman, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics