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Maryland football mailbag: answering your questions during the Terps’ bye week

The editors review the readers’ questions about Maryland football.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 22 Northwestern at Maryland Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

You asked, and we answered.

Since Maryland football is on a bye this week, the editors took your questions about the Terps and gave their answers on a variety of topics including this year’s team, recruiting, uniforms and the athletic department as a whole.

In order of preference, what are the top 3 bowls that we could realistically attain and why would we want them? Location, money, fan attendance, exposure, etc.

This is a packed question, and one that will be answered with the Terps’ performance in their final four games. A wide range of current projections send the Terps to the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte (CBS Sports and Action Network), the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium (Bonagura, ESPN) and the Music City Bowl in Nashville (Schlabach, ESPN). Other Big Ten tie-ins include the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix and the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.

For starters, Terps fans can throw out Rose Bowl expectations. The ReliaQuest Bowl – formerly known as the Outback Bowl – is likely unfeasible as well. The Guaranteed Rate Bowl could be possible, but the most popular projections don’t foresee that for Maryland. I doubt that Maryland would want to go back to the Pinstripe Bowl for the second consecutive year, and that seems unrealistic despite the projections. The worst Big Ten bowl-eligible team will also likely be sent to the Quick Lane Bowl – a bowl the Terps lost in 2016 – but the season likely will have to go awry for that to happen.

Maryland fans should have both the Music City Bowl (Dec. 31) and the Duke’s Mayo Bowl (Dec. 30) circled as hopeful destinations. Nashville and Charlotte are both lively cities, and neither bowl should cost an exuberant amount of money to attend. With the Music City Bowl, there is another exciting element of playing on New Year’s Eve. Exposure shouldn’t be a worry for either bowl, but fan attendance is a bit complex. Maryland’s most-packed crowd at SECU Stadium this season barely scraped 67% capacity. The die-hards will follow the team wherever it goes, and either destination should attract more Terps fans as the program searches for its second straight bowl victory. – Ben

With addition of 2 new west coast schools, and the potential for up to 20 teams in the conference in the near future, there is rumor of going away from the division structure and into the 4-team pod structure for future conference football scheduling. What three other teams make the most sense to be included in our pod? What three other teams would be the ones we would want in our Pod? (i.e. who do we want to become our football “rivals”?)

First of all, eliminating divisions would be a great (and perhaps long overdue) move for both the Big Ten and college football as a whole. As it relates to Maryland, the elimination of divisions would be undoubtedly beneficial for the Terps. Maryland’s struggles of getting over the hump in the Big Ten East have been vastly documented. Even with this year’s Maryland team being potentially its best since joining the Big Ten, the reasonable ceiling is probably an 8-4 record with four regular season games remaining.

So what would the new structure look like? That’s up in the air. Scott Dochterman of The Athletic recently reported that the Big Ten would be keeping its divisions in 2023, so the move likely won’t happen until 2024. The logistics of the division-less format remain complicated – for both geography and competitive purposes – but let’s take a look at BulletTerp’s suggested four-team pod structure. Seemingly, Maryland would play each of the other three teams in its pod annually, with matchups against a different two teams from each of the other three pods every season. Rutgers would almost surely be an annual opponent for Maryland, which would be to the Terps’ liking. Geography would point to Penn State as well, but who knows if the Big Ten would want to keep its bluebloods (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State) together in this hypothetical situation.

I would like to see a format with no divisions that includes a few permanent opponents each year then just a simple rotation among the rest of the conference. But if the Big Ten decided to go through with pods, Terps fans would probably want one with at least Rutgers and Penn State. – Ben

What is the TT staff assessment & performance review so far of our AD Damon Evans?

Damon Evans deserves positive reviews in his few years as athletic director at Maryland. When he was hired there were warranted questions about him given his history and how things ended at Georgia, but he has done a very good job at Maryland thus far. The biggest indicator of an athletic director’s job performance is who they hire to lead their football and men’s basketball programs, because those sports are the largest revenue drivers. Evans was tasked with making the right hires to build programs that were in complete disarray. Maryland football had been considered a joke since it moved to the Big Ten in 2014 and in 2018, it was a program riddled with controversy. Evans hired Mike Locksley to build the program back up and make it relevant in the Big Ten. In year four, the Locksley hire appears to be a phenomenal one. He has turned Maryland into a spot for top talent and has the Terps on the verge of their best season in well over a decade. Four years later, Evans was again tasked with finding the right person to build its once prominent, but now struggling basketball program. It remains to be seen if Kevin Willard was the right choice, but the early returns are positive as he’s made it an emphasis to recruit DMV players and his first recruiting class is one of the best in the country. Evans also finally secured the funding for a much-needed new basketball practice facility that is expected to be built in the coming years. – Sam

Which Terp program has the best shot at hardware in this athletic year?

Field hockey. Missy Meharg’s program is the No. 2 team in the country and is looking to build on its Final Four appearance from last season. The Terps are certain to make a deep run in the postseason again. Men’s soccer is also a top 10 team in the country after getting upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, so it has a good chance of making a deep run in the postseason this fall. – Sam

Also wanted to add that the spring season looks like it could be a really special one for Maryland once again. Men’s lacrosse has a good case as the preseason No. 1 team in the country and the women shouldn’t be too far behind. Baseball is also getting buzz as a potential top-15 or so team, so it should be another fun time for Terps fans. – Emmett

What is the timeline for facilities improvements?

The timeline for the basketball practice facility has been moved back many times but presumably reached its $40 million fundraising goal recently. The athletic department’s goal is to have it done by mid-2024, but construction is yet to begin and probably won’t for a few more months.

The athletic department prioritized the construction of Jones-Hill House before anything else, and that facility’s hefty price tag certainly set the relatively small group of donors that regularly contribute vast sums of money to Maryland athletics back in terms of their willingness to give a lot of money for big projects, hence the delay on the basketball practice facility. The Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex should be done sometime in 2023, however.

Because of its recent success, the baseball program should be getting a nice new player development center in place of the indoor batting cages in left field of the stadium. Softball, golf and track & field have planned facility upgrades for the future as well. There is a push to get a new soccer stadium too, but that seems pretty far off considering the high price tag and variety of other facilities to catch up on too. The new Big Ten media rights deal might help speed these projects up, though. Emmett

Why are we not getting more remarkable impact with more disciplined, challenging, and quick downfield plays from what was hyped as a remarkable receiving corp? Lia mostly is connecting with our RBs and TEs, who are solid but limit his yards per catch. Most downfield passes seem to result from broken plays, with Lia running for his life. Are Enos and Gunter working more on WR route running skills, play calling, or play routes?

The Terps’ wide receivers have been pretty disappointing this year from a production standpoint. While their play has certainly been lacking at times, other teams have been keying in on them and adjusting their defenses accordingly. This takes away the deep ball for the most part and has made life tough for the wideouts, although a group as highly touted as Maryland’s should still be able to make plays while being focused on by an opponent. It seems like Dan Enos’ play-calling has reflected the team’s struggles to connect on deep passes, throwing a lot of screens and avoiding plays that have a deep man as the first read for the quarterback. These haven’t been too effective, though, so that could change as the final month of the season arrives.

The running backs and tight ends have been getting so much action in the playing game for these reasons. When opponents sell out on guarding downfield passes, that opens up checkdown routes. It also opens up the running game, and Roman Hemby’s success this season can be partially attributed to that. – Emmett

Maryland is on the rise. Mike Locksley took over a program in shambles and has made progress in the rebuilding of the program. What is the outlook next year with so many seniors on the current team?

There is a lot of mystery surrounding Locksley’s 2023 team. It all starts with the quarterback. Taulia Tagovailoa has been Maryland’s best quarterback in decades and is on pace to shatter almost every record in Maryland’s quarterback history. Tagovailoa is a redshirt junior and has eligibility remaining for next season. The question is: will he use it? The NFL does not seem like a realistic option for Tagovailoa next season. As a current prospect, he does not grade well as an NFL player, mostly due to his size and questionable accuracy. It’s unlikely he would get drafted, and if he did, it would be in one of the last rounds. With the ability to make money in college through NIL, it would make sense for him to stay for another year and attempt to increase his NFL stock. I would be shocked if Tagovailoa even considered transferring to another school given his close relationship with Locksley.

The flip side is there would be a ton of roster turnover, particularly on the offense, for next year’s team and it may be an adjustment for Tagovailoa in his fourth year at Maryland. Wide receivers Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett and Jacob Copeland have all been public with the fact their goal is to play in the NFL next season. Wide receiver Jeshaun Jones has also exhausted all eligibility, so the Terps’ top four weapons will likely be out the door next season.

Offensive lineman Jaelyn Duncan and Spender Anderson are both highly-touted NFL prospects, particularly Duncan, so Maryland will lose multiple guys on the offensive line as well. The good news is Locksley has recruited well in previous seasons and has created depth at those positions, which will be beneficial for next year’s team with a lot of new faces seeing the field.

Maryland has also found gems in running back Roman Hemby and tight ends Corey Dyches and C.J. Dippre, who are expected to stick around next season. Given the nature of the transfer portal, it is hard to predict next year’s roster because it is never certain someone is staying and key contributors could come to College Park through the portal for next season.

On the defensive side, Jakorian Bennett will go to the NFL Draft, which will be a big loss. But Maryland has had a lot of young players step up and take on huge roles in the secondary this season, which is encouraging for the future of this defense. Maryland will also lose a few starters on the defensive line — such as Greg-China Rose — and in the linebacker room. However, Maryland has young guys they are confident in, like Jaishawn Barham, who is having an incredible freshman season. Maryland just needs to keep him and others around. – Sam

There were a lot of questions about Maryland’s fan attendance at football games this season and why it appears so poor.

Over the years, Maryland football stacks up among the worst in attendance in the Big Ten. I do not know the numbers for this season so far, but I do believe there has been an increase in attendance over the last few home games. The reality is that the best way to attract fans is to win games, and Maryland hadn’t done a lot of that until last season. The other part is that you have to compete with the best and give fans a reason to come — and stay. Maryland is finally taking that step this season. But, for whatever reason, fan support isn’t what it should be. The students have shown out this season, and while the student section may empty out before the game ends, they are doing their part. A large portion of Maryland fans have not rallied behind this Maryland team that is among the best in the Big Ten and has shown it can compete with anyone. They also play an exciting brand of football when Tagovailoa is under center.

It does make sense that sustained success over many years is how to build a consistent fan base that gives the Terps a real home field advantage, but that will come with time. Locksley has proven he is the right guy guiding the ship and hopefully the entire fan base will recognize that soon.

There are a couple of other factors as well. The University of Maryland simply just does not have a football culture. It has never been, and likely will never be considered a football school. The enthusiasm around the football program, even when they are winning, isn’t close to what it is for basketball. Again, long-term success can change that, but as of now, that’s the reality. A part of this is location. Maryland is very close to both Baltimore and Washington D.C., which means fans and residents have an array of sporting options to attend. This is where a bunch of other Big Ten schools have an advantage because they are the only attraction based on their location, so they garner a lot of support and consistent fan attendance. – Sam

There were also many questions about the Terps’ recruiting, specifically why the 2023 class seems to rank lower than many of Locklsey’s previous ones. Here are a few of the most commonly-asked questions:

What’s going on with Maryland’s NIL program?

Compared to most schools in its weight class, Maryland’s NIL situation was lagging far behind. Until recently there was no real collective to help distribute NIL funds to players, and the Terps’ recruiting suffered as a result. As I’ll get into next, NIL isn’t the only thing that matters in recruiting, but how far behind Maryland truly was in that space was often understated. It was a massive disadvantage, and not only led to high school players committing elsewhere, but also players on the roster transferring.

Recently, though, the establishment of the new The Best is Ahead Foundation has given a bit of hope to the Terps’ NIL ambitions. Headlined by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, the collective should have a few million dollars (likely not to all be dispersed at once) reserved for Maryland football players.

It’s important to keep in mind that schools like Texas A&M, Tennessee and Miami that are willing to throw tens of millions of dollars at football players are an anomaly even in modern-day college football, and there’s just simply not a strong enough donor base nor a real urge to put together top-ranked recruiting classes for Maryland to even come close to their NIL collectives. But, the TBIA Foundation is certainly a big step forward for a program that desperately needed it. – Emmett

How much does NIL play into recruiting for Maryland?

Sure, there are the Rakim Jarretts of the world that aren’t worried about NIL too much — Jarrett turned down six figures from SEC schools to stay at Maryland — but realistically speaking, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a 17-year-old football player to understand the situation. Imagine yourself as a high schooler choosing between playing at Maryland and the types of programs it has to out-recruit for four- and five-star players. At Maryland, the pitch is that you can get early playing time, play in the Big Ten with great facilities and stay close to home if you’re from the area. At these other schools, they can offer similar facilities and conference affiliation and also mix the fact that they can offer large sums of money. If you’re a young kid, especially if you don’t come from a financially stable background and already plan to make money playing football one day, it isn’t hard to see why you’d choose to take the offer from the school offering cash. Recruiting isn’t solely based on who’s offering the most, and to some local players the proximity to home outweighs everything. But in order to get highly-ranked players, Maryland needs to beat out top-ranked programs, and it’s hard to one-up them when they already have a natural recruiting edge and then add money to the equation. – Emmett

Why isn’t on-the-field success translating into better recruiting classes?

Like I mentioned before, getting the nation’s best recruits means winning recruiting battles against elite programs.

While this year’s team is 6-2 and is certainly one of the most talented Maryland has had in a while, it hasn’t yet put together a signature victory that it can hang its hat on and use to show that it can truly compete with the nation’s best. Four- and five- star recruits only plan to be in college for three, maybe four years, so selling them on the vision Locksley has for the future is hard if it hasn’t come fully to fruition yet. Still, he’s done a good job of that in his tenure at Maryland, so it is a bit unusual to see the recruiting results (at least from a rankings perspective) in the 2023 class. – Emmett

Should fans be worried?

Recruiting rankings can be a bit of a crapshoot and there’s reason to believe some of the lower-ranked recruits that Maryland has received commitments from will outperform their high school ranking and become productive at the college level. Roman Hemby and Beau Brade are just two of the Maryland players on this year’s roster that have vastly outperformed their three-star ratings and have unexpectedly been key contributors. Dontay Demus Jr., Jeshaun Jones, Spencer Anderson, Sam Okuayinonu and Chig Okonkwo are a few more three-stars that blossomed at Maryland — not all of which came in to play for Locksley, but the point still stands. Blue-chip players have the highest hit rate, but great players can come from anywhere. Locksley is as good a talent evaluator as anyone — especially in the DMV — so he deserves the benefit of the doubt from a recruiting perspective until proven otherwise. There is also a bit of time before December’s early signing day, and the Terps’ improved NIL situation and Locksley’s track record could definitely lead to a few flips from players currently committed to other schools. – Emmett

Uniform question. I really like the White Ops uniform and was wondering if that went into the vault never to be seen again. Not for everyone but I thought they were cool.

I can’t speak specifically to the White Ops uniforms (although I agree they were great) but I can answer this one in a more general sense. We all have seen Maryland’s helmets become a topic of discussion recently with fans clamoring for the throwback “script Terps” look. Most (me included) would say that those, paired with the throwback jerseys, are the team’s best uniform combination, and there has been a lot of discontent that they haven’t been made the primary uniforms yet. I don’t have any actual intel as to whether or not that’s in the books, but I can say that people within the program — players and coaches included — love the script uniforms. That’s not to mention that every recruit that comes to town poses in them. I believe there is a contractual agreement preventing them from making the script permanent but I would not be surprised in the slightest if they do once that’s over. The basketball teams are getting new uniforms next year so perhaps it’ll coincide with that. – Emmett

We are having an awesome season! 6-2 in October is unheard of. But let’s look at this year’s schedule. Could it be said to be easier than in year’s past?

Life is never easy in the Big Ten. Maryland’s schedule may have shaped out favorably, though, not having to face both Penn State and Ohio State until the last three weeks of the season. Last year, the Terps had to face two top-seven opponents (Iowa and Ohio State) in the first two weeks of October. But it’s hard to say whether or not this year’s schedule is easier. The approach that I would take is that the Terps are just better.

It’s crazy to say, but Maryland has been favored in every game of its season except its week four game at Michigan, where it went toe-to-toe with the reigning Big Ten champs. The schedule did play out nicely — Michigan State went from No. 11 to below .500 and Wisconsin went from Big Ten favorite to disarray — but these Terps are just better than years past.

Part of taking the “next step” as a program is to beat the teams you are supposed to beat, and Maryland has done that (for the most part). The Terps have historically had trouble putting away Michigan State but dominated the Spartans on Oct. 1. A road trip to Indiana could have served as a trap game, and Maryland could have made excuses once Taulia Tagovailoa went down — but the Terps picked up a gutsy win. Maryland probably wishes it could have its heartbreaking 31-29 home loss to Purdue back, but the Terps didn’t let the loss spiral and picked up two straight wins over teams they were supposed to beat.

The last four games of the season will tell us a lot about where Mike Locksley has his program, and it starts at Wisconsin after the bye week. The Terps will be underdogs in Madison, but it is certainly a winnable game. The argument can be made that Maryland has had an easier schedule to start the season, but the Terps shouldn’t be discounted whatsoever.

Going 6-2 for the first time since 2010 and reaching bowl eligibility at its earliest date since 2001, the Terps have conquered no small feat. – Ben