Maryland football kicks off its season in just eight days on Sept. 3 against Buffalo. With preseason camp winding down and the season right around the corner, Testudo Times’ editors and football beat reporters gave their predictions on the season.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Maryland’s over/under win total this season is 5.5. We give our predictions on Maryland’s record, offensive and defensive MVP and much more.
Offensive MVP: QB Taulia Tagovailoa
This is a no brainer. After years of uncertainty and disappointment at the quarterback position, Maryland has finally found a reliable and ultra-talented guy under center. Tagovailoa broke a plethora of single-season program records last season and entering year three with the Terps, he should continue to climb.
Maryland’s offense will certainly be centered around a heavy passing attack, meaning how far this group can climb will depend on the shoulders of Tagovailoa. With playmaking receivers and an improved offensive line, the road to another remarkable season for Tagovailoa is as clear as ever.
Defensive MVP: DB Jakorian Bennett
It’s the predictable pick to go with Bennett as the team’s defensive MVP this season, but finding a more talented player on the Terps’ defense is a challenge The strength of the defense is the secondary even with the losses of starters Nick Cross and Jordan Mosley. Bennett is great in coverage and had 12 pass breakups last season, according to bigten.org, by far the most on the team. There were times he dropped easy interceptions but he said that was the biggest area he focused on this offseason. So if Bennett can convert some of those pass breakups to turnovers, his game will elevate to a whole new level.
X-factor: Kicker Chad Ryland
It may be unconventional to have a kicker as an X-factor but Maryland has one of the best statistical kickers in the country in Eastern Michigan transfer Chad Ryland. Ryland has impressed in preseason camp, including knocking in a 58-yard field goal in one of the scrimmages, according to head coach Mike Locksley.
Maryland struggled to have a consistent kicking game last season, but Ryland should bring range and consistency, which can take Maryland’s offense to new heights. If offensive coordinator Dan Enos knows he has a reliable leg warming up to provide scoring, it can change the dynamics of play calls when Maryland enters the opponents half of the field
Freshman of the year: LB Jaishawn Barham
Maryland was in an intense recruiting battle with South Carolina for the highly touted prospect Jaishawn Barham. After much commotion, he landed with the Terps, a huge win for Locksley and his staff. Maryland has seen departures from some talented young linebackers the last couple of seasons, so this is a position group that was in desperate need of depth. That also means there will be a ton of opportunity for Barham to prove himself. He is an athletic defensive playmaker who can fly across the field. The Terps need playmakers who can get to the quarterback and they hope Barham serves that role.
Record prediction: 7-5
I expect Maryland to have one more regular season win than last years squad. While I think the Terps have significantly improved in crucial areas from last season, they still are in the Big Ten East and are forced to play a brutal schedule.
Maryland’s three nonconfernece opponents are Buffalo, Charlotte and SMU. While SMU may pose a challenge, I expect the Terps to be 3-0 heading into conference play. Maryland will likely be favored against Rutgers, Northwestern and Indiana when they face off. The Terps took take of opponents they were supposed to beat last year and I expect them to do the same this year. That gets Maryland to six wins which would make them bowl eligible. I believe this is finally the year Maryland has a big upset win over an opponent it is not favored against. Who that is remains to be seen, but a win over Michigan State, Purdue, Penn State or Michigan is not out of the question.
According to DraftKings SportsBook, Maryland’s over/under for season win totals is at 5.5. A seven win season would comfortably cover that line.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa
Tagovailoa is the easy choice for Maryland’s offensive MVP. If the Terps are to take the next step as a program, it starts with him. Outside of an abysmal five-interception performance against Iowa last October, Tagovailoa was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Tagovailoa threw for 3,860 passing yards — the 10th-most in the nation — setting one of several single-season school records. This season, he has the keys to an offense that has a chance to be special. Maryland’s entire starting offensive line returns, and it also has one of the best wide receiver rooms in the entire country. Tagovailoa not only has a chance to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, but he could make a national name for himself as well. Maryland’s success this season will start and end with Tagovailoa.
Defensive MVP: Defensive back Jakorian Bennett
One would be hard-pressed to find a more impactful player than Bennett on the Maryland defense. Cornerback is one of the more experienced positions on the defensive side of the ball, and Bennett leads the room. Tarheeb Still and Deonte Banks have also shown flashes to lead Maryland’s secondary, which will have two new starting safeties, but Bennett has especially shined. Bennett led all Power Five players in pass breakups in 2021, and if he turns a few of those into picks, he can singlehandedly give Maryland the turnover advantage in games. Bennett will prove to be an integral part of a Maryland defense that needs to improve in the turnover battle to win more ballgames.
X-factor: Wide receiver Jacob Copeland
Copeland is about as talented as an X-factor there is. Florida’s leading wide receiver in 2021 has had a full offseason with the Terps and adds to a wide receiver room that features other proven stars in Dontay Demus and Rakim Jarrett. Copeland came to Maryland to be “with the guys” instead of “the guy,” and that mentality will only help the team win games this fall. His arrival forces the defense to pick their poison, and if Copeland gets the opponent’s third cornerback week in and week out, Maryland’s offense should feast. Tagovailoa has a lot of mouths to feed, but it is a good problem to have. Copeland adds an element to Maryland’s passing game that few teams can claim to have.
Freshman of the year: Linebacker Jaishawn Barham
Locksley told the media Wednesday that Barham has had a “good camp” for them, and he is certainly someone that is expected to make an impact as just a true freshman. The No. 119 player in the class of 2022, Barham chose to stay home and play for Locksley, and it is a move that should pay dividends for both sides right away. At six-foot-three and 240 pounds, Barham provides both the size and athleticism that can contribute to playmaking early. If he evolves into a starter on Maryland’s defense, he will run away with this “freshman of the year” superlative. He and fellow freshman linebacker Caleb Wheatland are both young guys to look out for.
Record prediction: 7-5
Can Maryland capitalize on its first bowl win in 11 years? A one-win improvement in the regular season may not suggest that exactly, but life in the Big Ten is rigorous.
I expect the Terps to breeze through their first two nonconference games against Buffalo and at Charlotte, respectively. Maryland should complete a 3-0 start, though SMU (+1000 to win the American, per DraftKings) is a tougher task than people might imagine. I foresee the Terps losing back-to-back games with games at Michigan on Sept. 24 and vs. Michigan State on Oct. 1, though the latter of those two games is a prime opportunity to compete and upset a potential top-10 foe.
Purdue poses a coin-flip game on Oct. 8 in College Park, but if the Terps can defeat Aidan O’Connell and the Boilermarkers, there is no reason they should not win three games in a row. A road trip to Indiana and a home game against Northwestern should be must-win contests, and the Terps have a very real chance to reach bowl eligibility before November. Maryland’s true Big Ten gauntlet continues after the bye week with road trips to Penn State and Wisconsin and a home game against Ohio State, though I expect an 0-3 stretch in those games. The Terps should give themselves a chance to compete and win at Penn State, though, a team that is unranked in the preseason. Finally, Maryland should take care of Rutgers at home in the regular-season finale, a game that it hopes doesn’t serve as its last chance to bowl eligibility for the second straight season.
Offensive MVP: QB Taulia Tagovailoa
It’s a boring selection to pick the starting quarterback as the offensive MVP, but Tagovailoa is the key to the engine that is the Terps’ offense. Without him, Maryland’s offense becomes handicapped. Tagovailoa is the best quarterback Maryland has had in years and proved it last season, setting single-season program records for passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions, completion percentage and 300-yard games. He is widely considered one of the best signal-callers in the Big Ten. If Tagovailoa successfully decreases the number of turnovers he commits, his game could take another great leap and improve his stock for the professional level — something that couldn’t have been realistically said about any Maryland quarterback in at least a decade.
Defensive MVP: DB Jakorian Bennett
Jakorian Bennett returns for his third season at Maryland following two at Hutchinson Community College after establishing himself as the Terps’ most reliable cornerback last season. Bennett ranked first Power Five players and sixth in the FBS with 16 pass breakups and added three interceptions, the most of any returning Terp. He was a preseason Second Team All-Big Ten selection by Athlon Sports & Phil Steele and was ranked as the 60th most freak-like athlete by Bruce Feldman of The Athletic because of his remarkable athleticism. Bennett will have the opportunity to prove himself against some of the nation’s top receivers, like Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba or Michigan State’s Jayden Reed.
X-Factor: DB Dante Trader Jr.
The safety position is one of the weakest on Maryland’s roster this year and it’ll need solid play from that group in order to compete against some of the high-powered offense on its schedule. After the departures of starters Nick Cross and Jordan Mosely, Trader looks to be in a good position to start at safety this fall. He is an incredibly athletic and hard-working player that has all the tools to emerge as a really good player for the Terps. Trader’s play at safety could be the most important of anyone on the Maryland defense when defending the pass.
Freshman of the Year: LB Jaishawn Barham
For me, this decision came down to a pair of linebackers: Barham and Caleb Wheatland. Both have impressed as early enrollees and will likely start the season opener, but Barham’s ceiling seems higher. The Terps’ highest-rated recruit in the 2022 cycle, Barham has legitimate NFL prospects and could blossom into one of the best players on Maryland’s defense early in his career. According to his coaches and teammates, Barham has exceeded his lofty expectations thus far and seems poised for a huge first season in College Park. He was included on both 247Sports and ESPN’s True Freshman Preseason All-American teams.
Record prediction: 7-5
This year’s Maryland football team is assuredly the most talented since Mike Locksley has been the head coach and probably the most talented since the Ralph Friedgen era. The unfortunate reality of being in the Big Ten East, however, is that a noticeable talent upgrade doesn’t necessarily show itself in the win column because of the gauntlet of teams Maryland has to play on a yearly basis.
I expect Maryland to be 3-0 after its nonconference slate against Buffalo, Charlotte and SMU, although the SMU game may be a shootout. Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State — all road games — are plausible but unlikely wins. Ohio State is almost certainly a loss, barring something stunning resembling the 2018 overtime classic. I predict Big Ten wins at Indiana, home against Northwestern and Rutgers, and a fourth against either Michigan State or Purdue.
Seven regular season wins and a trip to a bowl game for the second consecutive year should be enough to prove that Locksley has the program moving in the right direction. Fewer than six wins would be disappointing; eight or more would be a resounding success.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.