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July 12, 2014
Better know your foe: Maryland
I think Maryland will outperform people's expectations in their first year as a Big Ten team. They have the talent to give their new conference members some tough games despite having to adjust to playing an entire slate of new teams.
But at the same time they'll have to overcome a stacked division and a loaded Big Ten schedule to improve on last year's seven wins, and while I think they have the talent to win eight games that seems like their realistic ceiling.
We'll see if head coach Randy Edsall has his team ready for a big challenge- they'll need a lot of things to go their way this year, but on the whole they're entering the Big Ten in much better shape than Rutgers.
When you look at Maryland's recruiting map it's easy to see what the Big Ten was going for in adding the Terrapins and Rutgers. Both teams lack any connection to the Midwest and wouldn't be described as football powerhouses, but adding them could allow the Big Ten to tap into one of the nation's biggest population bases.
Before Maryland and Rutgers joined the club, the Big Ten had institutions in nine states that contained an estimated 22 percent of the nation's population. Adding the states of Maryland and New Jersey to that base adds about another 14 million people, but adding the Mid-Atlantic States as a more frequent recruiting base brings another 23 million people into the Big Ten's sphere of influence.
At the very least the Terps are taking advantage of their natural recruiting advantages. You can see on the map that most of their offers go out to players all along the Atlantic coast, with a heavy emphasis on their home recruiting base and in Florida. The only problem with that strategy is that Maryland hasn't had a lot of success recruiting in Florida for how much time and effort they have invested there- they have only landed seven of the 101 prospects they've offered over the last four years.
They've had more success in Maryland, where they've achieved a 32.9 percent success rate. That's a healthy rate considering how often other schools recruit in Maryland, and you'd think that if the Terps make some headway in the Big Ten they might see that rate jump up a bit. I'd also count Washington, D.C., as "home" recruiting territory for the Terps- 7 of the 18 D.C. natives they've offered have ended up signing with them.
Maryland has also recruited Pennsylvania a little better than I expected them to. They've been able to sign nine of the 53 players they've offered since 2011, so that could be a little extra kindling for a potential rivalry between the Terps and Penn State as the years go by.
From a talent standpoint Maryland is actually entering the Big Ten in pretty good shape. The Terps finished ranked No. 53, 33, 35 and 43 in Rivals.com's final recruiting ranking over the last four years.
And while a series of injuries hamstrung Maryland in both 2012 and 2013, they've been able to refine some of that talent with early playing time. The Terps are set to bring back eight offensive starters and nine defensive starters from last year's team, which suggests that we could see Maryland make statistical progress on both sides of the ball.
To do that, they'll have to avoid the same kind of injuries that have hamstrung them in the past and avoid struggling to adjust to an entirely new slate of in-conference foes, which is no easy task.
Again, assuming that everyone stays healthy, Maryland has a chance to give their new Big Ten foes headaches right away in the passing game. Quarterback C.J. Brown is back for his senior season after he completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards as a junior. He's a good rushing threat as well: Brown rushed for 576 yards last year and scored 12 rushing touchdowns.
The Wisconsin Badgers have a right to be jealous of Maryland's number of weapons at wide receiver, too: all five of their top receivers are set to return in 2014, with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long both making their way back from broken legs they sustained last year. Including Amba Etta-Tawo, Levern Jacobs and Nigel King, Maryland's top five receivers averaged just over 15 yards per catch last year. If everyone stays healthy that's easily the best wide receiver corps in the Big Ten.
Defensively the Terps run a base 3-4 scheme, giving the Badgers some company in that respect. Last year Maryland finished ranked No. 58 in defensive S&P+, largely boosted by a relatively strong rushing defense that finished ranked No. 42.
The Terps also performed pretty well on standard downs, and can reasonably expect to keep up that level of performance with six of last year's seven starters up front expect to return to the team- including their three defensive line starters. That stat in particular could help the Terps beat expectations for themselves in their first year as a Big Ten team- to be successful you generally have to stop the run, and the Terps were able to do that last year.
Three of four starters in the secondary are expected to return as well, which could help boost a passing defense that wasn't able to keep pace with last year's rushing defense. The Terps performed poorly on obvious passing downs, in part because they rolled out a young unit last year. But cornerback William Likely broke up seven passes as a true freshman and recorded 4.5 tackles for loss, on top of some stellar special teams performances, and this unit could take a step forward in 2014.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.