The Maryland football team runs onto the field before its Oct. 27, 2018, game against Illinois at Maryland Stadium in College Park, Maryland. (Richard Moglen/The Left Bench)

Early Preview of the 2019 Football Season

By: Evan Lynch

After a season that consisted of unprecedented adversity, the Maryland football program looks to bounce back after a disappointing, yet surprising 2018 season.

Despite the fact Maryland finished one win short of bowl eligibility, there were many bright spots throughout the course of the season, including the shocking season opener win vs Texas (runner up for the Big 12 Championship this Saturday), a record setting performance vs. Illinois and a hard-fought, wire to wire battle with the Big Ten champion and powerhouse Ohio State.

So building off the highlights of this season, here is what to expect for the next.

A New Head Coach

Matt Canada did as good as a job as a coach could have done when given a team who had to endure the death of a teammate and the termination of a coach. He was one two-point conversion away from securing not only a bowl game, but completing one of the biggest upsets of the 2018 season and one of the biggest wins in school history. However, he has proven to be a better offensive coordinator than a head coach. In 2016, he led the University of Pittsburgh to the tenth best overall offense in the FBS, according to Sports Reference, that included talented running back James Conner who was awarded a spot on the All-ACC first team a year after he battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

On Tuesday, the Terrapins announced that they will be hiring Mike Locksley, former Alabama offensive coordinator, as their new head coach. He will be returning to the DMV after two previous coaching stops here in College Park. He was born in D.C. and had two previous coaching stints with the Terps, one from 1997-2002 as the running backs coach and the other from 2012-2015, which included a temporary head coaching position.

In a statement regarding the recent news, Locksley said, “I am thrilled to be returning home and to have the opportunity to lead the Maryland Football program.”

He has an unattractive record as a head coach, sitting at 3-31 with both Maryland and New Mexico, but he will able able to recruit around this area effectively.
During the 2018 season, he helped lead the seventh best overall offense in the FBS, according to NCAA.com, to the No.1 ranking in the College Football Playoff. He’s also had an impact on one of the Heisman finalists: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. On the day he was announced as the Terrapins new head coach, he earned the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistent. If Locksley can apply what he learned from Nick Saban, arguably the best coach ever, Maryland could have a special team and be ready to really compete in the Big Ten

His multi year contract will be in the ballpark of $2.5 million a year, and he will stay will the Crimson Tide throughout their playoff run.

An Explosive and Consistent Offense

Following a year full of inconsistencies and uncertainties on the offensive side of the ball, expect for the offense to be more consistent and competitive. The up and down offense could be attributed to the lack of experience the offensive playmakers had. The Terps are losing a number one receiver in terms of yards produced: Taivon Jacobs; however, Maryland will have freshman standout Anthony McFarland, who was selected to the second All-Big Ten team by the conference media, back for his sophomore year. The team’s second best receiver in Jeshaun Jones will be back for his sophomore season, and both quarterbacks, Kasim Hill and Tyrrell Pigrome, will be returning.

Kasim Hill will be rehabbing once again this offseason after he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during the Indiana game. This is following the previous year where he torn his ACL in his right knee and missed all but three games. If Kasim is not 100% by the time training camp starts, Pigrome looked promising against Ohio State, so he is a solid backup option. We hope for a quick and easy recovery for Kasim.

The experience that this group has gained, especially when dealing through adversity, will prove to be valuable as they will continue to get better and more consistent in the off-season. Do not expect the offense to go off for 63 points one week and then three points the next week. There will be more solid performances and less breakdowns as this team grows and learns from experience.

The hiring of Locksley should provide additional confidence for the fans as he should bring a brilliant offensive playbook from Alabama and hopefully bring the Terrapins back in the B1G discussion.

A Shaky Defense

Following a year when the Terps defense finished 61st in the country in total defense according to NCAA.com, there are going to be a plethora of questions on the defensive side of the ball heading into the 2019 season.

The Terrapins are losing arguably their best defensive player in Tre Watson. He led the team in tackles with 108 and interceptions with five. Maryland will also lose Darnell Savage Jr. who was second on the team with four interceptions. Luckily, Isaiah Davis and Antoine Brooks will be returning to help the linebacker and secondary core.

In addition, there are only four recruits coming in that play on the defensive side. The defense will be tested in many ways against the many great offenses that the B1G has at their disposal.

A Bowl Game

The schedule for the 2019 season is
8/31 – Howard
9/7 – Syracuse
9/14 – at Temple
9/28 – Penn State
10/5 – at Rutgers
10/12 – at Purdue
10/19 – Indiana
10/26 – at Minnesota
11/2 – Michigan
11/9 – at Ohio State
11/23 – Nebraska
11/30 – at Michigan State

The youth provided by this team will prove to be valuable as it will be a similar team, who will grow and get better in the off-season. Additionally, a cemented head coach and a reduction in off-the-field drama will allow for the team to gain momentum and create stability. With momentum and stability, there are at least six winnable games on this schedule. There a lot of unknowns and questions to be answered until these games are played, but I would predict victories vs. Howard, Syracuse, at Temple, at Rutgers, Indiana, and Nebraska, although there definitely could be more.

The Terps had a season filled with as much adversity (death of a player, loss of a coach, lawsuits and lots of questions about player safety) as I have ever seen. Expect them to come out next year with a chip on their shoulder and make a bowl game to prove themselves and ultimately be competitive in the B1G.

Final Notes

Even though the 2018 football team failed to make a bowl game, I expect next year’s team to bounce back from this season’s disappointing, yet uplifting season. The offensive performances vs. Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio State gives fans hope about next year along with the playmakers returning and a favorable schedule. The 2018 season could not have been worse off-the-field and the Terps still found a way to win five games. With a similar team back and less off-the-field issues, expect this team to improve and play into late December/early January.