If the Maryland football program is to seriously challenge for a Big Ten championship any time in the next five years, we'll know it by Friday.
Whoa, you might be thinking. What a scalding take that was to start an article about Randy Edsall's team. You may well be right. But Friday is the announced commitment date for four-star local quarterback prospect Dwayne Haskins – a Bullis (Md.) School product whose pocket vision and passing ability have made him the most attractive signal-caller to come from this area in roughly a generation. Maryland is considered the favorite to land him.
Haskins is a star in high school, and he's probably going to be a star in college. He plays quarterback, which is a mildly important position. Maryland has a few intriguing quarterbacks on its roster now, but Caleb Rowe, Shane Cockerille and Gage Shaffer are most certainly not Haskins. Only Haskins is Haskins, and only Haskins gives Maryland a credible starting point on a theoretical pathway to someday winning the Big Ten.
But don't take my word for it. Here are the last 10 Big Ten champions and their starting quarterbacks:
|2014||Ohio State||J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones||0.9348/0.8704|
|2013||Michigan State||Connor Cook||0.8367|
|2012||Wisconsin||Joel Stave/Curt Phillips||Not Rated/.8715|
|2010||Wisconsin/Michigan State||Scott Tolzien/Kirk Cousins||0.7926/0.8083|
|2009||Ohio State||Terrelle Pryor||0.9996|
|2008||Ohio State/Penn State||Terrelle Pryor/Darryl Clark||.9996/High three stars (Rivals)|
|2007||Ohio State||Todd Boeckman||High three stars (Rivals)|
|2006||Ohio State||Troy Smith||0.9|
|2005||Ohio State/Penn State||Troy Smith/Michael Robinson||.9000/.9663|
All recruiting rankings come via the indispensable 247Sports Composite.
Stave (who was benched for Phillips down the stretch in Wisconsin's 2012 run) wasn't rated, and Boeckman is too old to have a grade here. But other than that, you'll note that virtually every Big Ten quarterback to lead his team to a league title in the last decade has come highly regarded. Jones and Cook are both likely top-10 picks in next year's NFL Draft, and Barrett will eventually join them in the league. Smith was a Heisman Trophy winner, Pryor was a Rose Bowl champion and Wilson has a Super Bowl. Cousins and Tolzien are solid NFL backups. This is a good quarterback group.
Here, it's tough to compute an exact average recruiting rating since Boeckman, Clark and Stave weren't included, for various reasons. But eyeballing things and estimating, let's say the average Big Ten-winning quarterback comes to college with something like a 0.85-0.95 247Sports rating. That assumes not much hype for Stave and a high-three-star grade for Boeckman and Clark. It's the best I can do.
Now, let's look at the quarterbacks currently in Maryland's program:
First, these ratings make it clear that Maryland hasn't just been recruiting warm bodies to play quarterback. Everybody here came to College Park with serious prospects of developing into a solid-enough college quarterback. Moreover, everybody still has that potential. Rowe and Hills have dealt with injuries, and Cockerille's taken two years of necessary development without playing at all. Shaffer hasn't taken a snap yet. But all of these guys are scholarship-worthy quarterbacks.
Now, here's a hypothetical Maryland quarterback depth chart in 2016, with Haskins onboard:
Note that Haskins's number is a mile higher than everybody else's. That's because he's better. In fact, he's a better bet as a recruit than all but two of the quarterbacks who've been involved in Big Ten title wins in the last decade: Pryor and Robinson. He's rated higher than Barrett, Jones, Smith and Cook. He's a star. Look at what he can do.
Here's how Rowe – the presumptive starter on the current roster – and Haskins stack up against the rest of the current Big Ten East. Let's call Jones the starter at Ohio State and LSU transfer Hayden Rettig the starter at Rutgers:
|Penn State||Christian Hackenberg||0.9925|
|Ohio State||Cardale Jones||0.8704|
|Michigan State||Connor Cook||0.8367|
Cook and Jones weren't chopped liver as recruits, but that they've become such well-rounded professional prospects is, first, unusual and, second, a credit to their skills and the developmental help they've gotten from coaches. Maybe Rowe could take the same kind of leap in the two years of play he has left, but it's not likely. Conversely, Morris was regarded as a superstar in high school but ran into injury problems in Ann Arbor and still hasn't developed to where the Wolverines thought he'd be. With quarterback-whisperer Jim Harbaugh helping him, he still might. Remember that if Jones isn't the starter at Ohio State, blue-chipper Braxton Miller or Barrett will be, instead.
This division has some serious quarterbacks. Maryland, in all likelihood, will have the worst statistical quarterback play in the division next year, for a second season in a row. The Terps might be able to overcome that if they had a superb defense with top-end prospects sitting in the pipeline there, but they don't. The only way to beat it is at quarterback.
Recruiting ratings aren't everything, but they're a good indicator of how productive a player is likely to be. There's no smoking gun here that says Maryland can never win without a quarterback like Haskins. But there's clear evidence that the Terps need a high-end quarterback to win in the Big Ten, and Haskins is a lot more likely than anyone Maryland has now to reach that outcome. Maybe Rowe or Cockerille will get there, too, but programs need to deal in probabilities. And Haskins will probably be the best in show.