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17 Aug 2017 03:32 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Maryland wide out DJ Turner against Florida International. (Image Source: Getty Images)

We continue our Big Ten preview series with the Maryland Terrapins:

Origin of Optimism: The biggest piece in play that has people optimistic about the Terps is the job that head coach DJ Durkin has done thus far. Not only has he brought a level of enthusiasm the stale program desperately needed, but he’s shown he’s up the challenge of being a head coach at a Power 5 program. Durkin has built a strong staff and last season his team was well coached. The Terps played with a passion that comes from the headman on down. This is his program. It showed with the improved defense, a commitment to special teams, as well as a better appreciation for the football on offense. That was all Durkin. In addition, Maryland went from three to six wins, made a bowl, and are making inroads in recruiting. Both the 2017 and ‘18 classes are ranked fourth in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan.

Cause for Concern: The season is just a couple weeks away and there remains significant uncertainty at the quarterback position. The hope was that former four-star prospect and North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson—who was recruited to Chapel Hill by Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell—would take control of the job. That hasn’t happened yet. In fact, some accounts have sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome and true freshman Kasim Hill ahead of Henderson in the race. There is talent in the QB room, but it’s unproven. The same could be said of the receiving corps, a unit that returns just one player with more than two catches. The passing game averaged just 2.2 passes of over 20 yards per game last season, an unacceptable number in 2017.

Breakout Player: Did I mention that only one returning wide receiver from last season’s team had more than two receptions in 2016? Someone has to replace the 43 catches by Teldrick Morgan (497 yards/4 TDs) and 41 grabs by Levern Jacobs (439 yards/2 TDs). The opportunity is there and it appears that sophomore DJ Turner,who saw time on both sides of the ball last season as a true freshman, is a prime candidate. The talented slot receiver was the star of the spring game and he is dangerous with the ball in his hands, which also makes him an enticing option as a punt returner.

Previews: Michigan | Michigan State |  Ohio State | Penn State | Media Days: Michigan QBs | MSU Reboot | New-Look Nebraska | PSU Offense | PSU’s McSorley | Rutgers DBs |

X-Factor: How does coach Durkin mesh a front seven that could feature seven senior starters if linebacker Shane Cockerille gets back into the coach’s good graces with talented youngsters who may be ready to see the field? As productive as MIKE Jermaine Carter, Jr. (110 tackles) and Cockerille (108 tackles) were last season, Maryland still allowed 4.8 yards per carry (12th in the Big Ten) and were gashed for 200-plus yards on the ground seven times. In order for the defense to get better, the Terps may need true freshmen like exciting hybrid edge-defender Bryce Brand, 315-pound tackle Breyon Gaddy, and even linebacker Ayinde Eley to push seniors for playing time.

Schedule: The docket is loaded. Stop me if you’ve heard this before…the Terps have four top-10 teams on their schedule. It’s tough enough that they play in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State, but Maryland will also face Wisconsin from the West (along with Minnesota and Northwestern). They are basically replacing FIU in the out-of-conference and Purdue in conference with road games at Texas (No. 23 in Coaches Poll) and Wisky (No. 10).

Preseason Watch Lists: Bednarik | Biletnikoff | Butkus | Camp | Hornung | Mackey | Maxwell | Nagurski | O’Brien | Thorpe | Unitas | Walker

It’s a Disappointing Season If: They regress back to three wins (or fewer).

It’s a Successful Season If: They can match last season’s win total of six and make it back to a bowl.

Over/Under – 3 ½ Wins: Despite coming off a six-win season, Durkin is still in the beginning of his rebuilding process and as mentioned already, the Terps have one of the most daunting schedules in the nation (outside of Towson, every game is “losable”). Which way to go? I believe enough in Durkin and the talent on this team to have faith they are going to find a way to win at least three games against their non-top-10 FBS foes (at Texas, UCF, at Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Rutgers (Bronx), at Michigan State), but don’t expect many more.

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. 

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