Tradition Crystal Ball: Predicting every game for Maryland football in 2020
Editor’s note: Our annual Crystal Ball series continues in the Big Ten East with Maryland. Coming Saturday: Rutgers.
The high points of Maryland’s Big Ten tenure have been outlier performances that make you say, “What?!” There was the win at No. 23 Texas to open the 2017 season, and then the win against No. 23 Texas again to open the 2018 campaign, topped off by a 52-51 loss to No. 9 Ohio State in overtime.
Each of those glimpses of potential are surrounded by losses by embarrassing margins. In 2019 —even after beating a ranked Syracuse squad by 43 points—it managed to lose 6 games by 30 or more points.
Mike Locksley’s 1st season started so promising, with 143 points in the first 2 games of the season. But the only game in which Maryland broke 30 points the rest of the way was against lowly Rutgers. Locksley came to Maryland with glowing reviews as the offensive coordinator from Alabama, but the Terrapins really struggled — even with an NFL running back in Anthony McFarland.
Locksley will surely get a few years to build up Maryland, and as you’ll see below, he is on the right track, despite a shaky start. While Maryland hasn’t won more than 7 games since 2010, that could change soon if Locksley can continue excelling off the field.
2019 record: 3-9 (1-8)
The biggest reason for optimism at Maryland has to do with what the Terps have done on the recruiting trail. The casual fan may be surprised to find out that Maryland has 12 4-star recruits on its roster, which is four times more than Minnesota and three times more than Iowa.
Maryland has a ton of talented players on its roster. It is 6th in the Big Ten in team talent, according to 247Sports. That means in the majority of its games, it will have a talent advantage. The caveat, of course, is that recruiting stars aren’t everything (just ask Texas and Florida State). But they are a good foundation for a program to start building upon.
Locksley convinced 5-star wideout Rakim Jarrett — the No. 27 national recruit and a Washington D.C. native — to stay home. The Terps finished with the No. 6 class in the Big Ten in Locksley’s 1st season, and part of that is them taking 27 commits and skewing the rankings a bit. And while there is a long way to go in the 2021 cycle, Maryland is 4th in the Big Ten (though it again has more commits than the teams below it). There is a ton of opportunity in the D.C. area, and if Locksley can continue making waves there (his top 6 commits for the 2021 class are all from Maryland), then this can be sustainable and turn into tangible results on the field.
Who will be the QB of the future?
There is an interesting QB battle brewing at Maryland between a couple former 4-star recruits from the 2019 class: Taulia Tagovailoa and Lance LeGendre. Taulia is the younger brother of former Alabama star Tua Tagovailoa, and he transferred in the offseason, gaining immediate eligibility. LeGendre originally committed to Kansas, then switched to Florida State before ultimately signing with Maryland. He was profiled in the Netflix show QB1: Beyond the Lights.
Josh Jackson, a former Virginia Tech transfer, started last year but opted out due to COVID-19 concerns. That’s just as well since Jackson’s numbers plummeted in 2019 as he completed just 47 percent of his passes after completing nearly 60 percent in 16 games at Virginia Tech. Jackson also posed almost no rushing threat.
It’s notable that Phil Steele predicted in his magazine that LeGendre would win the job over Jackson in the preseason, before Jackson had opted out. And that’s just as well considering Maryland saw what it had in Jackson last season, and it’s time to build for the future. That means giving either LeGendre or Tagovailoa (or both) the chance to show what they can do. Both were in the top 18 of quarterback recruits in the 2019 class, and one of them will probably wind up transferring if the other establishes himself. But if that’s the case, that means Maryland found a QB to build around for the next 3 seasons.
Whoever wins the job, it will be exciting to see him build chemistry with Jarrett and highly touted true freshman running back Peny Boone.
The opt-outs and transfers make it more difficult on Locksley
Locksley is facing an uphill battle already at Maryland, but when compounded by a number of opt-outs and transfers, it’s even more challenging. Depth becomes a major issue.
In the months following the season, Maryland had 17 players eligible to return in 2020 enter the transfer portal. They included formerly highly touted recruits such as Deon Jones (now starting at Boston College) and Terrance Davis (Wake Forest). They had two returning starters on the offensive line, Austin Fontaine and Johnny Jordan, opt out due to COVID-19. DJ Turner, projected to be a starting wideout, transferred to Pitt after the B1G postponed its season and on Saturday had 8 catches for 186 yards against NC State.
Maryland also dealt with a COVID outbreak in its athletic department in September.
In short, Locksley has a lot of variables to deal with this season that will make it difficult in a loaded East Division.
Week 1: at Northwestern (L)
Northwestern looks like it will be one of the most improved teams in the Big Ten. It will be one of the Big Ten’s most experienced quarterbacks (Peyton Ramsey) squaring off against a Maryland QB making his first career start. Advantage, Wildcats.
Week 2: vs. Minnesota (L)
It was only two years ago that Maryland beat Minnesota by 29. The programs have gone in opposite directions since then, as the Golden Gophers have risen to the upper echelon of the B1G under PJ Fleck. It’s the type of move Maryland hopes to someday make. But it isn’t happening in 2020.
Week 3: at Penn State (L)
If there’s any hope for some early-season Maryland magic that we’ve been accustomed to (3 straight years with a win over a ranked team in the first 2 weeks), this would be a great time for it. Penn State embarrassed Maryland last year, and while the Terps don’t have a chance in this one, being competitive would be big in terms of recruiting on the East Coast.
Week 4: vs. Ohio State (L)
How’s this for an early-season schedule? Maryland’s defense will be begging for a break by now, as it opens the season facing four of the league’s top quarterbacks. Looking at the bright side here, it will be great for LeGendre and Tagovailoa to get an up-close look at some really, really good quarterbacks. I guess Tagovailoa has watched his brother at Alabama, but you get the point.
Week 5: vs. Michigan State (W)
I think Maryland has a great chance to pick up its first win here. Michigan State is rebuilding under new head coach Mel Tucker. The Terps have more talent than the Spartans and should have an advantage at QB, too. If Maryland is still standing after that gauntlet of a first half of the season, I like it to show that same fight it did last season in only losing by 3 in the season finale.
Week 6: at Indiana (L)
This was another near-win for Maryland in 2019, but Indiana is ascending under Tom Allen in the way that Maryland hopes to under Locksley. The Terps don’t have a good-enough defense to handle an explosive Indiana offense.
Week 7: at Michigan (L)
By now, Maryland should have shifted into full evaluation mode and building for the future. Going up against a roster with 43 former 4-star and 5-star recruits is a great way to do that. Hanging around at all would be a moral victory.
Week 8: vs. Rutgers (W)
While no one outside of these teams will care about this one, it’s an important game for both to go into the offseason with some momentum. If Maryland is going to climb up the Big Ten hierarchy, it can’t be losing to Rutgers.
2020 projection: 2-6 (2-6, 5th in B1G East)
This 2020 is all about the future. If Maryland is able to identify its QB of the future and establish a connection with Jarrett, who could be a star in the making, then the struggles of this season will be worth it and provide a glimpse of a hopeful future.