Tradition Crystal Ball: Predicting every Maryland football game in 2022
Editor’s note: Saturday Tradition’s annual Crystal Ball series continues today with Maryland. We’ll wrap up the B1G East this weekend. Next week, we’ll predict every game for every B1G West team. Previously: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State
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The Terrapins closed their 2021 season by doing what had been an all-too-rare occurrence for a Maryland-based team in recent years: winning a game at Yankee Stadium.
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And Maryland didn’t just win the Pinstripe Bowl. It ran former ACC foe Virginia Tech out of the stadium. The Terps outgained the Hokies 481-259 in a 54-10 plastering. The performance looked like a harbinger of promising things to come in 2022.
But to fulfill that promise, Maryland must leave behind the vestiges of its up-and-down 2021. When the Terps lost a game, they didn’t leave any doubt. Maryland’s 6 losses were by an average of 30.2 points. Basically, when adversity struck, you could bet on the Terrapins going into their shells.
A late-season change at defensive coordinator is part of the reason for optimism. Michael Locksley promoted linebackers coach Brian Williams to the play-calling role for the final 2 games of the season, and the Terps allowed 13 ppg in those.
Now Maryland must show if its late-season form suggests anything more meaningful than drawing Rutgers and Virginia Tech on the schedule.
Will Taulia Tagovailoa take the next step?
Maryland fans and Miami Dolphins fans find themselves asking the same question this offseason — will Tagovailoa finally make the jump to stardom?
In the case of Taulia and the Terps, the outlook is quite good. Maryland’s receiving corps of Dontay Demus, Rakim Jarrett and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland will be the best in the B1G behind Ohio State.
Demus is Maryland’s most explosive receiving talent since Stefon Diggs. Even though he suffered a season-ending knee injury returning a kickoff in the first quarter of Week 5, Demus finished second on the team with 507 receiving yards. Had he played in enough games to qualify, his average of 18.1 yards per catch would have been second in the B1G.
Jarrett, stuck in double coverage without Demus to help out, still finished 8th in the B1G with 829 yards on 62 receptions. With Demus drawing doubles this year, Jarrett could put up preposterous numbers.
Copeland will enhance both players. He was Florida’s leading receiver last season, then transferred after the Gators’ coaching change.
Tagovailoa should also have ample time to throw. He has his whole offensive line returning.
There is a chance by the end of the season we’ll be asking whether Tagovailoa or CJ Stroud is the better quarterback — if Taulia hits his ceiling. Like Michelangelo, he’s been provided with the tools to reach it.
Can Turtles run?
Maryland was 10th in the B1G last season with 136.5 rushing yards per game, and 8th with an average of 4.04 yards per carry. But there was an inconsistency to the attack — against Ohio State (1.6 ypc), Minnesota (3.4 ypc), Indiana (1.7 ypc) and Penn State (1.8 ypc), the Terps couldn’t get much going on the ground.
With the experienced gained by the offensive line, that figures to improve this year. The question is whether any of the inexperienced backs are up to the task. Sophomore Colby McDonald, redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton and true freshman Ramon Brown may all get the chance to prove themselves.
Is the defense improved enough to compete?
Excited as Terps fans may be about how the defense closed out the season, let’s be real. Rutgers was 120th in scoring, and Virginia Tech was 97th. That’s not very stiff resistance. Making it work against actual dangerous offenses will prove a much tougher task. Progress for the Terps would be being the B1G’s 10th- or 11th-best defense, and I don’t think they’ll get there.
But Maryland can make up for the yards it allows with some timely takeaways. The Terrapins haven’t had a positive turnover ratio in Locksley’s 3 seasons. Change that, and this program can take the next step.
Week 1: vs. Buffalo (W)
Backup quarterback Frank Reich led the greatest comeback in college history while at Maryland, and then the greatest comeback in NFL history with the Buffalo Bills. That has nothing to do with this game. But it is more interesting.
Week 2: at Charlotte (L)
You don’t often see Big Ten teams go on the road for games like this because, well, this can happen. Last season the 49ers beat Duke at home and gave Illinois a run for its money in Champaign. Quarterback Chris Reynolds is already the leading passer in program history, and will add to those numbers this season. The good news is this upset loss will galvanize the Terps moving forward.
Week 3: vs. SMU (W)
Maryland doesn’t lose non-conference games against teams from Texas. Period.
Week 4: at Michigan (L)
Locksley will no doubt impart to his team that this is Michigan’s homecoming game. Which it should be, as Harbaugh has beaten Maryland by an average of 33.3 points per game in 6 meetings. But these are not the same old Terps, and Michigan’s young defense will be untested by the likes of Colorado State, Hawaii and Connecticut. The Wolverines are in for a fight.
Backup JJ McCarthy will come off the bench to rally Michigan, which pulls off the win in 3OT thanks to its advantage in 2-point conversion scenarios.
Week 5: vs. Michigan State (L)
Remember how responding to adversity was an issue for the Terrapins last year? Michigan State will take advantage early with Maryland still thinking about what could have been last week. But the Terps will show some fight late to make it close, proving they aren’t last year’s team.
Week 6: vs. Purdue (W)
Expect the total to exceed 100 in what will be the wildest Big Ten game of the season. Maryland’s receiving corps will be the difference.
Week 7: at Indiana (W)
The Hoosiers will frustrate Maryland’s offense better than most. But Indiana has the rare offense that won’t be able to take advantage of the Terps defense. Maryland wins this one the old-school way.
Week 8: vs. Northwestern (W)
The Terps head into their open week clicking on all cylinders with their most lopsided win since the season opener.
Week 9: Bye
Week 10: at Wisconsin (L)
The Badgers are also coming in off a bye, which erases any advantage in what is already not a favorable matchup for Maryland. Look for Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen to eclipse 200 yards as the Badgers roll.
Week 11: at Penn State (W)
The road team has won 3 in a row in this series, and the Terrapins will make it 4. Penn State is Maryland’s regional measuring stick, and the importance of this game will show.
Week 12: vs. Ohio State (L)
Ohio State is built like Maryland, but with better players at every position. If these teams played 100 times as currently constructed, Ohio State wins 98 of them. So we’re saying there’s a chance. 2%, to be exact.
Week 13: vs. Rutgers (W)
Last week’s humbling will be put in the rearview as the Terps gleefully pummel the Scarlet Knights to clinch a winning record in Big Ten play for the first time ever.
2022 Projection: 7-5 (5-4), 5th in B1G East
Technically it’s a tie for 4th with Michigan State, but the Spartans get the tiebreaker by virtue of the head-to-head win.
But that’s no certainty just because the Crystal Ball sees things that way. There are only 2 certain losses — Wisconsin and Ohio State. Due to its place on the schedule, this is Maryland’s best shot at beating Michigan since 2014. The Terps will certainly be the first team capable of landing a punch on the Wolverines this season, but Michigan has so much offensive firepower returning that an actual win is still unlikely.
If the defense rises to a level beyond expectation and Tagovailoa proves himself no worse than the No. 2 quarterback in the B1G, the Terps have a legit shot at 9-3. But the defense could also be porous enough that Maryland could head into the season finale needing a win to be bowl-eligible. Whether it’s SMU or Charlotte, the Terps have some tests in the non-conference schedule that could mess with their bowl hopes.
In the end, Maryland having the same record as last season or worse would be a much bigger surprise than finishing 3rd in the East. But that’s not a projection the Crystal Ball is willing to make without the defense proving its worth.