Maryland football looks to improve in second B1G season

After languishing in its final few sea- sons of football and men’s basketball in the ACC, a new era began last summer in College Park when the University of Maryland, along with Rutgers University in New Jersey, officially joined the Big Ten Conference. In their first season of Big Ten football, Maryland went 4-4 in the conference, and 7-6 overall, despite inconsistent play on offense, especially from starter C.J. Brown. Although Maryland managed to finish .500 in conference play and make a bowl game appearance in their first season in a new conference, the Terps often shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. Turnovers were a major factor in lopsided losses against Michigan State and national champion Ohio State. Penalties proved to be their downfall at Wisconsin. While Maryland didn’t play well in those losses, they had some bright spots in conference play.

Maryland won its first Big Ten game emphatically, 37-15 at Indiana, a perennial bottom-dweller in the conference in football. After committing four turnovers in a 52-24 blowout loss to then-20th-ranked Ohio State at home, the Terps bounced back with a 38-31 win over Iowa, usually one of the stronger teams in the Big Ten. Maryland also came from behind for a 20-19 win at Penn State. The game featured a fight during pregame warm-ups, followed by the Maryland captains refusing to shake hands with the Penn State captains before the coin toss. Kicker Brad Craddock won the game by kicking a 43-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in regulation. Maryland also went into “The Big House” and came away with a 23-16 win over Michigan in a game that proved to be the final nail in the cof- fin for then-Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke. The Terps ended the 2014 season on a down note, blowing a 25-point lead in losing to Rutgers, 41-38 in the regular season finale. They then lost 45-21 to Stanford on a chilly, windy night in the Foster Farms Bowl in the Bay Area.

Randy Edsall enters his fifth season as Maryland’s head coach. This year, he’ll be joined by a pair of familiar faces on his staff. Keith Dudzinski is the new defensive coordinator, and is switching the alignment of the front seven from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Darrell Perkins has been hired as the defensive backs coach. Last year, he was the cornerbacks coach at Old Dominion University in Virginia. Terry Richardson is the new running backs coach. He held the same position for the last two years in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both Perkins and Richardson were assistant coaches on Edsall’s staff when he led Connecticut to an 8-5 record and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl during the 2010-2011 season.

Junior cornerback William Likely will be relied upon by the coaching staff to be one of the team’s leaders this season. Last year, Likely had six interceptions, tied for the most interceptions in the Big Ten, and returned two of those for touchdowns. His 170 interception return yards led the conference, ranked fourth in the country, and set school single-season records for return yards and touch- downs. He also had 83 tackles (66 solo), 496 kickoff return yards with one touchdown (a 100-yard return in the bowl game against Stanford), and 225 yards and two touchdowns on punt returns. His average of 31 yards per kickoff return was fourth- best in the country. This preseason, Likely has been named to the Watch Lists for the Bednarik (Best Defen- sive Player), Nagurski (Most Out- standing Defensive Player), Thorpe (Best Defensive Back) and Hornung (Most Versatile Player) Awards. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun in mid-August, he proclaimed himself to be the best defensive back in the country.

Although Likely will lead the secondary and probably find himself matched up against the opponents’ top receivers, the defensive line will have to overcome some losses to season-ending injuries during training camp. The most recent loss was sophomore defensive end Malik Jones, who was a part of three state championship teams while attending Dunbar High School in Baltimore. Jones suffered an unspecified injury to his lower leg during practice on August 19. A week earlier, junior linebacker Abner Logan was lost to an ACL injury.

On offense, the search is ongoing for a starting quarterback following Brown’s graduation. There are three candidates for the job: redshirt junior Perry Hills, true junior Caleb Rowe, and senior Daxx Garman, who transferred from Oklahoma State. Both Rowe and Hills saw limited playing time last season. Rowe threw for 489 yards and five touchdowns in four games before suffering a season-ending ACL tear. Hills, who was selected to the All-Big Ten Academic Team, played in three games. He came in after Brown was injured against Iowa, and threw for 86 yards and a touchdown. Garman took over the starting job at Oklahoma State after the Cowboys’ original starter was injured. He won his first four starts, and threw for 2,041 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games. His best game was against Texas Tech, when he threw for 370 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for another touchdown. Edsall says he’s still waiting for someone to separate himself from the other two. Meanwhile, there’s still competition among the receivers. Brandon Ross and Wes Brown are also competing to be the top running back.

Maryland will open its season with three straight home games at Byrd Stadium, starting on Sept. 5 against Richmond from the Football Championship Subdivision. That will be followed by games against Bowling Green and South Florida in the following two weeks. The Terps will then travel to play West Virginia on Sept. 26. Maryland will open its Big Ten schedule by welcoming Michigan and new head coach Jim Harbaugh (brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh) to College Park on Oct. 3 as part of Family Weekend. The Terps will play at Ohio State on Oct. 10, and following their bye week, will host Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Oct. 24. Maryland will travel to Iowa to play the Hawkeyes on Hal- loween before returning home to host Wisconsin on Nov. 7 during Homecoming. The Terps will play at Michigan State on Nov. 14, and their final home game will be Nov. 21 for Military Appreciation Day against Indiana. Maryland will wrap up the regular season at Rutgers during Thanksgiving weekend.

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