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Welcome to another new era of Maryland football.  For the third time this decade a new regime checks in with high hopes.  Following a season where redshirt freshman Jordan McNair died during an offseason conditioning drill and the entire football program/athletic department/university was placed under a microscope, a fresh start will be more than welcomed.  And taking the Terps into the future will be a figure from their past:  Head Coach Mike Locksley previously spent time in College Park as running backs coach under Ralph Friedgen and as Offensive Coordinator under Randy Edsall (before taking over as Interim Head Coach for six games in 2015) and has deep ties to the area, having played high school football at Washington DC’s Ballou before playing at Towson.

He’ll also be the fourth different head coach for some of the fifth-year players in the program.  “We’re all well aware of the things that have taken place here but again we’ve told our players that this team, this 2019 team will be defined in the present.” Locksley said, “Meaning whatever it is we do today that’s how we’re going to be defined by.”  This is also a chance for Locksley to redeem his earlier head coaching career, after he went 2-26 at New Mexico and 1-5 as the Terps’ interim coach.

Even in a new era, the quarterback question is once again a crucial one.  Last year the Terps passing offense ranked 13th in the Big Ten and they lost leading passer Kasim Hill to transfer (Tennessee) in the offseason.  Added to the mix of the oft-injured Tyrell Pigrome and 2017’s leading passer Max Bortenschlager is Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson:  the ex-Hokie threw 20 touchdown passes in 2017 before his 2018 was cut short with a broken fibula suffered against Old Dominion.  “Number one in a starting quarterback for me is a guy who does the best job taking care of the football on the offense side of the ball,” Locksley said, “The next the most important thing is who makes the players around them better. Who gives us the chance to allow all the different weapons we have in our program to be successful on the offensive side of the ball.”  I’m also going to add whoever stays healthy as Maryland’s quarterbacks have been cursed with injuries over the years.  Since 2003, only Sam Hollenbach in 2006 and C.J. Brown in 2014 have started every game for the Terps.

The Terps lost a major weapon when wide receiver Jeshawn Jones tore his ACL during summer workouts.  That means the returning leading receivers (senior D.J. Turner and sophomore Dontay Demus) tallied 13 catches apiece in 2018.  Thank goodness for graduate transfer tight end Tyler Mabry (27 catches last year for Buffalo).  And thank goodness for a running game that will feature sophomore Anthony McFarland, who rushed for 1034 yards last fall.  “I feel like the offense is good, it’s very explosive.” McFarland said, “His (coach Locksley) offense is getting the playmakers the ball in space-and not just me.  We got a lot of guys that are gonna get the ball in space and really show what we can do.” One such playmaker is junior Javon Leake, who averaged 9.1 yards per carry in 2018.  Junior center Johnny Jordan and senior guard Terrance Davis anchor an offensive line that generated 5.7 yards per carry (third best in the Big Ten) but allowed 30 sacks (fourth most in the conference) last year.

The defense returns five starters on a unit that allowed more than 30 points in half of their games last fall, but may be trending upward as for the first time since Maryland joined the Big Ten they allowed fewer than 400 yards per game.  Senior safety Antoine Brooks (68 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception last year) looks to help this unit make the next step, and knows he’ll have to be an active ingredient.  “We gotta play more together, try to talk more and be more into each other as a group on and off the field,” Brooks said.  They’ll get a boost from Ohio State transfer Keandre Jones.  How does the senior linebacker expect to contribute? “Fill in that leadership role, being a leader on and off the field, whether it’s in the film room or outside. Just making sure guys are doing the right thing,” Jones said.  He’ll also be expected to help a pass rush that has sagged the last two seasons (34 combined sacks in 2017 and 2018 after notching 37 in 2016).

The schedule begins with Howard August 31 in College Park.  The other non-conference foes are two teams that went to bowls last year in Syracuse (beat Maryland in their last College Park meeting six years ago) and Temple (routed the Terps by 21 points last year).  The Big Ten campaign kicks off on a Friday night against Penn State and this year’s crossover tilts will be against Purdue, Minnesota and Nebraska (the trio went 17-21 in 2018).  November could be chilly as the Terps face Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State: four schools that are each ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25.  The Big Ten East is once again a gauntlet, but the new coach is more than ready for the 2019 season to begin.  It’s excitement. It’s a lot like Christmas in August,” Locksley said. “We’ve got a lot of great pieces and presents here in our program and I just really want to see these guys go out and exceed where we are.”

 

Dream Scenario- the Terps come out of the gate with Jackson at quarterback and shock ranked foes Syracuse and Penn State in September before bouncing either Ohio State or Michigan in November.  They don’t win the Big Ten East, but the foundation is set for one incredible era.

Nightmare Situation- Josh Jackson catches the injury bug that has bedeviled every quarterback who’s taken a snap in College Park since Sam Hollenbach.  The receiving corps can’t recover from the loss of Jeshawn Jones and the one-dimensional Terps tumble early and often in Big Ten play to stadiums that are either white (Penn State) or blue (Michigan).  They get the benefit of the doubt when Nebraska’s red-wearing fans visit.