In its inaugural season in the Big Ten, Maryland enjoyed a moderate amount of success. The Terrapins certainly didn’t take their new conference by storm, finishing 7-6, but there’s a renewed sense of optimism in College Park.
Wins over Penn State and Michigan on the road were certainly program-building accomplishments, but drubbings at the hands of Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State proved that Randy Edsall still has a long road ahead.
The second leg of this gridiron journey began this spring and will continue into the 2015 season with Maryland needing to establish itself as a legitimate program in its new conference rather than a one-hit wonder.
Maryland exceeded expectations a year ago, finishing third in the Big Ten East, two spots ahead of where the Big Ten media had predicted it to place. With an exceptional amount of talent on the offensive end in receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, the success of Edsall’s group wasn’t extremely shocking.
The Terps were a shade better than expected, and it was a pleasant surprise for the Big Ten East. Success in season two, however, seems to be a more daunting task.
Diggs and Long won’t be around in Maryland’s second year in the transition from the ACC to the Big Ten, and neither will last year’s starting quarterback C.J. Brown. The lack of offensive experience, in itself, is enough of an obstacle to get in the way of success
And the absences of playmakers that were vital to the team’s success last year only make things more difficult in a division expected to see plenty of improvement.
Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor and a highly anticipated bounce-back season from Penn State only makes life in the Big Ten East tougher. It creates urgency for Edsall and his coaching staff to establish its program before Michigan and Penn State recover lost ground in the recruiting game.
The implications of victories over the Wolverines and Nittany Lions have an expiration date, and if Maryland doesn’t continue to compete at a high level, those wins will lose their luster.
Maryland doesn’t need to win 10 games next season, finish at the top of the conference or defeat the likes of the Buckeyes or the Spartans to remain relevant in the Big Ten. What it does need, however, is a significant win total and another appearance in a bowl game.
For several teams in Maryland’s position, having a rather light schedule and relatively easy road to the six-win mark, the uncertainty on offense and struggles on defense create a bit of an uphill battle.
In order for Maryland to shock the conference again means it needs to have some answers coming out of spring practice.
Last year’s backup to Brown, Caleb Rowe, appears to be the favorite to take over the starting role heading into 2015. But recovering from knee surgery has left him sidelined for spring practice, leaving an unsettling feeling for many fans.
Even if things are fine under center, who will be Rowe’s biggest target next year? Will Marcus Leak, who caught 20 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns, separate himself? Or can Brandon Ross and Wes Brown establish themselves in the ground attack?
Defensively, outside of William Likely, there are several question marks as well.
The Terrapins had plenty to be pleased about heading into the offseason, and Edsall has some positives for his program to build on moving forward.
But moderate success in one season isn’t the foundation for a flourishing football program. Not in the Big Ten.
That’s why Maryland’s performance in 2015 is important. If the Terrapins struggle, the recruiting ground becomes even more difficult in a division full of football’s most dominant names.