As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its non-conference portion of the 2019 season when it heads down to Maryland to play the Terrapins on Sept. 7.
DURKIN OUT, LOCKSLEY IN
As you’ve probably heard, there was some turmoil at Maryland last year.
The school conducted an investigation into then-head coach DJ Durkin, sparked by the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who suffered a heatstroke during a practice. The school suspended Durkin in August and eventually dismissed him in October.
He was replaced by offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who guided the team to a 5-7 record and nearly into the postseason, but a bid to upset then-No. 9 Ohio State fell one point short in overtime.
Alabama offensive coordinator Michael Locksley was named as the head coach in December and has the tough task of changing a culture that is less than a year removed from McNair’s tragic death.
But Locksley was one of the key pieces of Alabama’s 2017 championship team, and was named the nation’s top coaching assistant last year, so he has a proven history of winning.
Judging from the schedule, he’ll at least have an opportunity to lead Maryland back into the postseason.
There’s no such thing as an ‘easy’ Big 10 schedule, but the Terrapins do host powerhouses Penn State and Michigan along with Indiana and Nebraska, and aside from a road game at Ohio State, their other Big 10 road games include Michigan State, Minnesota, Purdue and Rutgers.
In the non-conference portion of the schedule, Maryland will host Syracuse and Howard and travel to Temple.
An optimistic Maryland fan can see six (or more) winnable games in that group.
WHO TO WATCH FOR
One thing that Locksley was known for at Alabama was his use of a running back by committee to pair with a passing game that aggressively moves the ball downfield, and it appears that he’ll have those options with the Terrapins if the spring game was any indication.
While running back Ty Johnson (drafted by the Detroit Lions) has moved on, both Javon Leake and Anthony McFarland showed why running back is still a strength for the Terrapins.
On the second possession of the spring game, McFarland busted out a 34-yard touchdown run, part of a 57 yard day. Leake also scored on an impressive second quarter run.
As for the quarterback position, Locksley will also have plenty of options to choose from. He landed transfer Josh Jackson from Virginia Tech and also got a commitment from four-star Lance LeGendre.
But neither will show up to Maryland until the summer, and in their places, quarterbacks Tyler DeSue and Max Bortenschlager impressed.
DeSue was named the spring game’s MVP after throwing for 218 yards and two touchdowns while Bortenschlager threw a pair of scores, as well.
On the defensive side of the ball, Locksley will need to sure up a defense that finished a pedestrian 63rd in the NCAA, allowing 390.4 yards per game.
He has given the reigns to new defensive coordinator Jon Hoke, who has nearly 40 years of coaching experience.
The linebacker core will be an immediate area of concern, with linebacker Tre Watson (signed as an UDFA with the Miami Dolphins) gone and Isaiah Davis unavailable during spring after shoulder surgery.
But sophomore linebacker Ayinde Eley looked more than ready to fill in, collecting eight tackles in the spring game. Keandre Jones also took first team reps during the spring game at linebacker, but the Ohio State transfer is waiting on the NCAA to determine his eligibility for the fall.
The Terrapins also return nose tackle Adam McLean, who has been somewhat of an enigma during his time on campus. The junior came to Maryland three years ago as a flip from Penn State and was considered one of the best recruits in his class.
But after an underwhelming freshman season, McLean finally started to catch on at the end of the 2018 season, starting for the first time against Michigan.
In some ways, Syracuse and Maryland are in the same situation. Both teams have new quarterbacks coming in and are trying to shore up offensive lines that each lost three starters.
Defensively, Maryland is looking to shore up a defensive line that was shaky at times last year, while Syracuse is going to need to figure out how to replace interior defensive lineman Chris Slayton, who was drafted in the seventh round by the New York Giants.
It’ll be the first Power 5 matchup for both of these teams, so expect some sloppiness, but I ultimately expect Syracuse to end up on top, 35-31.