Portions previously appearing on WTOP.COM-

No matter when Maryland kicks off its 2018 season, it’s going to be too soon.  Redshirt Freshman Jordan McNair died of heatstroke in June after collapsing during an offseason conditioning drill in May, and the program and school has been dealing with what happened and just as important what allowed that to happen.  This was supposed to be a pivotal year for coach DJ Durkin as he now has three recruiting classes on campus.  Instead, a team as well as a campus and a fan base grieve for a 19-year old and all eyes will be on how the school resolves what was reportedly a toxic program where bullying and abuse from the strength and conditioning staff was commonplace.  There will likely be wins this fall and if we’ve learned anything about the Big Ten East, more than a few losses.  But everything is small potatoes compared to the loss of a young man, and there will be more eyes on the big picture of what happens with the direction of the program moving forward.

That said, Maryland enters its fifth year in the Big Ten with all of the new-conference shine off of the program.  Long gone is the 4-4 league campaign of 2014 where the Terrapins posted their first-ever victories at Penn State and against Michigan.  Facing the Terps this fall is an East Division with four foes in the top 14 spots of the preseason rankings.  Once again the trenches will be tested-last year Maryland offense allowed the second most sacks in the league while the defense ranked 12th in stopping the run.  More than any other conference in the country, contenders are built up front on both sides of the ball.

Once again the major question mark for the Terps on offense will be who plays quarterback and can he stay healthy.  Last year the team lost their #1 and #2 QB’s in the first two weeks, and after more injuries wound up starting walk-on Ryan Brand in a game at Michigan State they needed to win to maintain bowl eligibility.  Whether Tyrell Pigrome or Kasim Hill gets the nod, the key is not only staying healthy but remaining effective.  Since 2003, Maryland has started the same quarterback in all 12 regular season games just twice:  Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and CJ Brown in 2014.  Both were special seasons.  While a making the right choice at quarterback and keeping him in the lineup won’t guarantee a successful season this fall, not being able to do so would likely lead to a result like last year’s 4-8.

While the receiving corps loses the record-breaking DJ Moore, the running game should be in good shape with senior Ty Johnson and junior Lorenzo Harrison back.  Johnson averaged over six yards a carry last fall and Harrison has produced consecutive 600-yard seasons as the team’s “plan B”-and averaged over seven yards per carry as a freshman.  They’ll welcome stability and mobility at the quarterback position:  the offense averaged 315 yards on the ground the first two weeks with Pigrome and Hill at the controls, and managed just 131 per game after both went down with knee injuries.

The defense will be bolstered by the return of senior Jesse Aniebonam; the lineman’s loss for the season last year against Texas severely undercut the pass rush (five of the team’s 16 sacks came in that game).  Also back to contribute will be junior middle linebacker Isaiah Davis (70 tackles in 2017) while junior nickelback Antoine Brooks and senior strong safety Darnell Savage (the duo combined for five of the Terps’ 10 interceptions last fall) anchor the secondary.  Last year’s defense allowed the most points in the Big Ten, the second most yards in the conference and ranked third-worst in stopping the run and the pass.

The schedule doesn’t do the Terps any favors this year as they open up against #23 Texas at FedEx Field September 1st.  Last year Maryland upset the 23rd ranked Longhorns in Austin, and one can imagine Tom Herman’s team won’t overlook Maryland this season.  The “semi-neutral” venue in Landover will allow for plenty of burnt orange in the stands.

The Big Ten cross-over games give the Terps tilts with Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois-only the Hawkeyes are expected to have a winning record this year.  There will be home games against Ohio State and Michigan State plus trips to Michigan and Penn State.  A second bowl appearance in three years is a tall task given the current climate in college park plus the daunting slate.

Penthouse Prediction- somehow the Terps upend an overconfident Texas and enter Big Ten play unbeaten.  While coming up short against Ohio State and Penn State, they’re still able to defeat the conference’s middle and lower class.  An 8-4 campaign leads to a bowl berth.

Outhouse Prediction- a tough loss to Texas precedes a dismal defeat at Bowling Green. October begins with Jim Harbaugh running up the score in Ann Arbor and concludes with a humiliating upset at home to Illinois.  Hundreds of people show up for kickoff as the Terps get torched 75-0 by Ohio State in the home finale.  A 2-10 finish signals another regime change in College Park.

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