Ohio State flips hurt, but Maryland can still follow MSU's path to success
Welcome to life as you know it, D.J. Durkin.
When he signed the dotted line to take over at Maryland, Durkin was taking on a challenge far greater than the ones he undertook at his previous stops.
Maryland isn’t Michigan, where tradition and 107,000-seat stadiums make words carry more weight. Maryland isn’t Florida, where national titles and competing against SEC powers almost make the perfect weather an afterthought. Maryland isn’t even Stanford, where promises of a top-flight education coupled with Pac-12 dominance make it an easy pitch as one of the top all-around schools for a student-athlete.
No, this is Maryland, where Urban Meyer can steal two of your top recruits on a typical Monday afternoon and you’re left wondering what hit you.
The news that four-star Maryland commits Dwayne Haskins and Keandre Jones flipped to Ohio State weren’t major surprises. They shouldn’t have been. It didn’t matter that they were both homegrown products.
As much as Durkin wants there to be, there’s currently no fence surrounding the DMV. Keeping Haskins and Jones would’ve been proof that a formidable fence was being built, but it’s clear that it’s not up yet.
With the way Meyer and college football powers recruit the DMV, it might not ever be a true wall. Durkin obviously needs a boost in talent, but that alone isn’t going to guarantee that the Terps hold their own in the B1G East. You can only promise the dream of rebuilding the home-state team to so many four-star recruits.
Just ask Illinois about that.
So does that mean that Durkin is fighting a battle he can never win? Well, not exactly.
Durkin has to find his team’s identity and recruit to it. That’s obviously easier said than done, but it has been done amidst nearly identical circumstances.
Take a look at Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. It might seem like a lifetime ago that he took over a team that won four games and finished 1-7 in B1G play.
At the time, Michigan was a traditional power playing like a traditional power. On top of that, Ohio State ended the 2006 season in the national title game. Michigan State had no territory, and it didn’t stand much of a chance recruiting against the likes of Michigan and Ohio State.
As a result, Dantonio’s first two recruiting classes were rough. The Spartans finished ninth among the 11 B1G teams in the class rankings back-to-back years.
But Dantonio kept grinding away. He got the three-star guys from Michigan and worked with what he had. Dantonio realized that he had a team that didn’t need five-star athletes to pound the rock. He built the offense around the running game and he recruited smart quarterbacks that could make the necessary throws when needed. He didn’t have to land a five-star quarterback and ask him to throw 40 times a game.
Michigan State recruited sure tacklers and Dantonio — a former defensive back — turned the secondary into an NFL factory.
Michigan continued to crush MSU in recruiting while Dantonio continued to win the on-field battle year after year.
MSU had Dantonio and Michigan had Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke. As a result, the Spartans have suffered multiple B1G losses in a season once in the last six years.
It’s easy to look at guys like Shilique Calhoun, Connor Cook and Jack Conklin — all of whom could be drafted in the first two rounds — and assume they were four- or five-star talents that chose MSU over other powerhouse offers.
They were just a bunch of two- and three-star prospects that couldn’t get offers from Michigan and Ohio State. They turned into five-star college players — and B1G champs — under Dantonio.
In his first couple years at Maryland, the majority of Durkin’s recruits are going to be three-star guys just like the ones Dantonio got. That’s what he signed up for. Talents like Haskins and Jones are going to be rare. If they do come, that’s great. If they don’t, the job is still the same.
Any coach will tell you their No. 1 priority is putting players in the best possible position to succeed. Talent speeds up that process, but ultimately it comes down to the type of culture you can establish.
Everybody and their mother knows that Michigan State is the team that plays with a chip on its shoulder. That’s an identity.
Now is the time that Durkin has to establish one at Maryland. His road to success in College Park did not hit a roadblock because two 18-year-old kids decommitted from his program in Year 1. It didn’t help his team, but there’s still a path for the rebuilding Terps.
They can thank their divisional foe in East Lansing for that.