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Music City Bowl offers an early look at Maryland’s quarterback competition

Maryland is looking for Taulia Tagovailoa’s successor, and that position battle will be prevalent during the team’s bowl game.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Maryland Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

When Maryland football head coach Mike Locksley stepped up to the podium to address the media last Tuesday, he didn’t talk long to address what he described as the elephant in the room: quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa won’t play in the Music City Bowl.

Locksley rightfully thanked Tagovailoa for his contributions to the program, but then turned the page.

“You kind of look at this game almost like a preseason game leading into next year,” Locksley said. “Gives us an opportunity to evaluate our quarterback situation going into the next year.”

This offseason will be Maryland’s first since Tagovailoa arrived in 2020 with uncertainty as to who will assume the role of starting quarterback — the most important position on the field. Tagovailoa’s legacy will be nuanced, as he helped elevate Maryland back to national relevancy while simultaneously falling victim to those heightened expectations.

What’s undeniable is the consistent presence that Tagovailoa brought to the team, more specifically the fact that Maryland hasn’t had to hitch a ride on the quarterback carousel of modern college football. The number under center hasn’t been of note in years, with intrigue instead focused on if No. 3 can elevate his game.

That changes this offseason.

On Saturday, the pressure will fall primarily on the shoulders of Billy Edwards Jr. to showcase why he’s worthy of assuming starting duties.

Edwards, the Terps’ backup over the last two seasons, has limited, but notable experience. He’s frequented the field in short-yardage scenarios as a running threat and even started a game last year when Tagovailoa was sidelined. According to Locksley, Edwards Jr. has been the recipient of 40% of first-team reps in practice over the past two seasons, preparing him for this stage. What he can do in an expanded role, and more specifically what he can bring in a game situation with his arm, will be crucial to gauge.

“I’m excited to go out there and, you know, showcase the body of work that I’ve been putting in over the last year and and take advantage of the moment,” said Edwards.

“At the quarterback position, you have to know the offense and know what’s going on,” left tackle Delmar Glaze said. “And, you know, when Billy comes in, you can see him picking up where Taulia left off… I have no doubt that he’s gonna come in and do what he needs to do.”

Cam Edge, a four-star high school recruit who redshirted last year, is in the team’s plans to play Saturday as well. Edge has only appeared in mop-up duty this fall, usually seen wearing a neon cap on the sidelines to help signal play calls to the offense.

He’ll be in the mix for the starting job next fall along with NC State transfer MJ Morris. Morris has been able to arrive on campus early and work with the team, but the first look fans will get of him in a Terps uniform will be in the spring.

The competition for Maryland’s starting quarterback position is open, and it kicks into full gear on Saturday. Auburn’s defense won’t be at full strength, but nothing comes easy in college football.

“Competition breeds excellence,” Edwards said. “… [In] college football, you never know when your opportunity’s going to come, and right now I’ve got a big one in front of me.”

“Over the course of the last couple of bowl games we went to, you saw a lot of freshmen and players that maybe didn’t have an impact on this season kind of have coming out parties,” Locksley said. “… You’ll see a precursor to what, hopefully, our future looks like.”

Tagovailoa facing Auburn on a national stage would’ve been a fitting send-off for the accomplished quarterback, and it surely would’ve helped Maryland’s chances on the field. That’s not to mention the name recognition he possesses and the audience that could’ve brought.

But what turning over the reins to the next class of Maryland quarterbacks provides is something potentially more valuable to the program: an early chance to assess its most pressing position battle next season.