Welcome to The Champaign Room Freshman Guide to Big Ten Football! As we’re now a full 15 years from my fall semester on the fourth floor of Allen Hall (pre-air conditioning), it occurs to me that I have a wealth of familiarity with our Big Ten foes that our incoming freshmen simply haven’t accumulated yet. Leading up to our August 27th season kickoff, I’ll be hosting this crash course on each of our conference opponents: what’s their deal, how good are they, who do we need to watch out for, and why they suck. My work at SBNation’s Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire has exposed me to a lot of opposing fandom and information on the rest of our conference brethren.
Today's foe is the...
Maryland football has always been a bit of an odd duck even before their puzzling addition to the Big Ten. They’re a founding member of the ACC, but Virginia is about the closest thing they had to a conference rival on the gridiron. West Virginia is probably their biggest rival. They’ve played Penn State 45 times but won only three of those games. They had an in-state rival in Navy until the Midshipmen canceled the series for 40 years after an incident in which a Maryland player took a cheap shot at Roger Staubach’s intended receiver, drew a penalty, then walked over to the stands and flipped off the United States Naval Academy.
One could easily argue that their history is almost Illinois-like going back to 1950; each school claims a national title from the early half of the decade, but eventually posts a rock-bottom winless season in the late sixties. In fact, the arcs of Maryland coaches Jim Claiborne and Bobby Ross look very similar to those of Illini coaches Mike White and John Mackovic, though predating them by 6-7 years. Post-Ross, they’d spend a while in the wilderness until Ralph Friedgen found success in the 2000s.
He won ACC Coach of the Year in 2010 and was promptly fired, beginning another trip in the wilderness. Since then, under Randy Edsall (fired for incompetence), DJ Durkin (fired for running a program that saw a player die in conditioning) and current coach Mike Locksley, the two things Maryland has most been known for are:
- Being the standard-bearer for Under Armour, who regularly outfits them with ridiculous uniforms often prominently featuring the Maryland flag
- Having obvious NFL talent at receiver. Stefon Diggs and DJ Moore suffered through some horrible seasons putting up incredible numbers, and Dontay Demus was well on his way to that last year.
Unfortunately, over a decade of failure, scandal and instability (including an entire season coached by an interim head coach!) has created a disinterested fanbase. Maryland has routinely put up some of the worst attendance numbers in the Big Ten and it feels like it’ll take years for that to recover, especially given how comfortable they are with throwing their hands up and saying “welp, basketball school!”
My goodness, they really are our long-lost cousins.
History vs Illinois
…which makes it truly bizarre that we never played them until 2018, their fifth season in the Big Ten. It’s not just that we never played them as a conference opponent, we had NEVER played them. We have now played them twice: each has been vomit-inducing for its own reasons. The 2018 edition saw a Terps team that would finish 5-7, whose offense had been shut out the prior week and would score 3 in their next game, torch the Illini for 63 points. Last year’s edition saw a fateful decision to punt on fourth and short from the opponent’s side of the field by Illinois; it backfired with a game-winning Maryland touchdown drive.
Overall, Illinois (5 national championships, 15 conference titles) is 0-2 against Maryland (1 national championship, 11 conference titles).
With expansion looming, it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll get our next shot at them.
Well, we already discussed the Illini game, which was part of a 4-0 start Maryland had before losing 6 of their next 7 in the tougher part of their schedule. Taulia Tagovailoa emerged as a reliable and capable passer, but was overwhelmed by strong pass rushes and lost his top target early in the year. They defeated Rutgers in a battle of 5-win teams to go to the Pinstripe Bowl, where they lit up Virginia Tech 54-10. Ultimately, it was a quietly successful season for Mike Locksley.
Coaching Staff & Identity
Ahhh, where to begin?
It’s our old pal, head coach Mike Locksley, the former Illinois offensive coordinator from the last truly good team the Fighting Illini fielded. He was around from 2006-2008 and was integral to getting Washington D.C. area recruits such as Arrelious Benn, Nate Bussey, Clay Nurse and Travon Bellamy. His 2007 offense featured a lot of read-option action with Juice Williams and superstar back Rashard Mendenhall to set up a vertical passing game, but the 2008 edition couldn’t replicate this rushing success and slung it around more as a result. This created an offense that put up way fewer points than you’d expect for the yardage they gained…and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a similar thing going on at Maryland!
Locksley left Illinois to become head coach at New Mexico, where he was an abysmal 2-22 and got in a fight with a fellow coach on the sidelines. After returning to his native Maryland as an OC and interim HC for the fired Randy Edsall, he was tapped by none other than Nick Saban to be an offensive coach, eventually becoming Bama’s OC in 2018. A desperate and disheveled Maryland reached out to their native son primarily to harness the considerable amount of talent that comes from the D.C. metro area and Locksley went home.
Locksley’s offense, which will be run by former Michigan State quarterback Dan Enos, involves a lot of shotgun sets with 3 receivers and an athletic tight end. In many ways it is similar to what he ran under Ron Zook at Illinois. They’re one of the few teams in the Big Ten that’s going to make passing a major focus.
Speaking of Zook, he was on the staff at Maryland for the last three years before hanging it up this offseason.
Locksley tried to bring in esteemed defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, but was abruptly Diaz’d and instead elevated an assistant in Brian Williams who called the defense for Maryland’s last two wins of 2021.
Dudes To Watch
If the offensive line can do its job a little better this year, Tagovailoa might put up some big numbers throwing to a healthy Demus and former 5* recruit Rakim Jarrett (in his final season before NFL draft eligibility). Tarheeb Still and Jakorian Bennett are next-level players that will make an impact in the defensive backfield, but unfortunately for the defense, rising freshman Demeioun Robinson transferred to Penn State of all places.
Season Prediction & Fan Expectations
I’m not gonna lie, I don’t have much of a sense of what’s going on with Maryland fans. It feels like they’re once bitten twice shy. At Off Tackle Empire, we had to do Maryland Week with other contributors since we couldn’t get a hold of the Maryland folks. Basketball had been the rock of hope around which they could rally, but Mark Turgeon finally flamed out last year.
With the schedule, 6 wins is within reach but the ceiling is set pretty low. If Maryland is to show some staying power under Mike Locksley, this needs to be the year they at least compete with a great team. They haven’t been able to thus far.
Illinois Game Prediction
The only circumstances under which Illinois would play Maryland this year is in what might be the second funniest possible Big Ten Championship Game matchup, and it would be a toss-up where I’d narrowly favor Maryland.
Typical Maryland Fan
Why Maryland Sucks
We only got two people to give us takes for this because everyone is so indifferent to Maryland, and they're not even about football. It's fitting that we've lost both football games to them, since they are oddly the bane of Brad Underwood's existence.
But as far as why Maryland sucks? Firing Ralph Friedgen after a 9 win season is NOT AT ALL the same as firing Ron Zook after going from 6-0 to 6-6. AD Kevin Anderson described it as a "well-thought-out business decision" in a clear allusion to season ticket sales failing to hit targets. Sure, Friedgen was 75-50, but we can do better from a ticket sales standpoint.
Pictured below is the crowd during a primetime Maryland game in 2016 in which they defeated reigning Big Ten champions Michigan State
Alex Orr: There are two types of players that you hate: players that you hate that you would love to have on your team, and players you hate that you also pray never transfer in. Obviously, you hate the players in the latter camp much more than the former. When I think about the Maryland Terrapins, my mind goes straight to Anthony Cowan, a player I still despise that I’m ecstatic never was an Illini.
He Was A High School Quarterback (Off Tackle Empire): I probably should hate Maryland for the exceptionally stupid losses we’ve had to them recently (seriously, I know Damonte was just a freshman, but the only thing you can’t do in that situation is throw the ball so far no one touches it and 2019, whoo, boy, everyone shit the bed in that one) but really I just think it is stupid that they are even in the B1G. The Terps are the ACCiest team that ever ACCed and should just go home.