Maryland Football: Bowl Eligible Season Possible for Terps

Jul 26, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach D. J. Durkin addresses the media during the Big Ten football media day at the Hyatt Regency. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 26, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach D. J. Durkin addresses the media during the Big Ten football media day at the Hyatt Regency. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

It is not unrealistic to think that Maryland football finishes with a winning record and plays in a bowl game in D.J. Durkin’s first season in College Park.

The Maryland Terrapins are back on the field and can finally begin to put last season’s disastrous 3-9 campaign behind them. And believe it or not, a quick turnaround is not out of reach.

The Terps are a little over three weeks away from their regular season opener against Howard. Maryland should get off to an easy start against the Bison, a FCS school that finished 1-10 last season. It should result in a blowout win that will hopefully get the D.J. Durkin era off on the right foot.

The Terps routed Richmond, another FCS school, in their regular season opener a year ago. After that, things got ugly for Randy Edsall, and he was ultimately let go in the middle of the season. While he got much of the blame for the Terps’ struggles, the schedule makers did not do him any favors.

Little did we know entering last season that Bowling Green would be one of the top offenses in college football. Following their second win over South Florida, the Terrapins went through a gauntlet of NCAA powerhouses that nearly every team would struggle with. West Virginia, Michigan and Ohio State pounded on a Maryland team alternating through a carousel of quarterbacks.

The rest of the Big Ten schedule did not offer much relief. Road games at Iowa and Michigan State led to more blowout losses, and home defeats to Penn State, Wisconsin and Indiana added to the misery. A road win in the regular season finale was great for the Terps’ confidence, but Rutgers was a terrible team.

Maryland will never be able to escape the stiff competition in the Big Ten with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the East division, but the schedule is much more favorable this season. So much so, a winning record is not out of reach.

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The non-conference schedule offers the most hope for the Terps. You can mark Howard down as a win. The back-to-back road games in Florida in the second and third weeks could ultimately decide Maryland’s fate.

Florida International finished last season with a 5-7 record against lesser competition in Conference USA. The following week, the Terps will face off against a Central Florida team that went 0-12 last season. Both should be winnable games, and if Maryland can get off to a 3-0 start, they are already halfway to bowl eligibility.

Their first Big Ten game is a home matchup against Purdue, the only team in the conference to finish with a record worse than the Terps. The Boilermakers have not had a winning record in the conference since 2006 season, and two conference wins in the last three seasons. As crazy as it may seem, 4-0 is not out of reach.

It is a matter of winning two more games after that. Getting wins at Penn State and Michigan are unlikely, and Ohio State and Michigan State are still the cream of the crop. That leaves Maryland with four games to get the job done.

The two home games are the Terps best chance to at least get to .500. Minnesota struggled in the Big Ten last season, finishing 2-6 in the conference. As I said earlier, Rutgers is a struggling program, and the Terps may have been gifted an easy win in another matchup between the two schools to close out the season.

Maryland will also travel to Indiana and Nebraska, much more favorable options than last year’s road schedule. Each finished in the middle of the pack in the West division, but with losing conference records.

Winning any of those six games would make the Terps bowl eligible for the first time since the 2014 season that ended with a loss in the Foster Farms Bowl. Am I predicting an 8-4 season in Durkin’s inaugural season? No chance. However, the Terrapins will flirt with a .500 record. Anything lower than 5-7 will be a disappointment and a 7-5 record would be incredible for the program.

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This season is about getting the Terps on the path to relevancy in the Big Ten. It might seem crazy that a first-year coach inheriting a team with quarterback controversy can win right away, but the opportunity is there for Maryland football.