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How Maryland football made it to a bowl game

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The Terps recorded six wins against a pretty easy schedule, as expected.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Maryland Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to a three-score win over Rutgers on Saturday, Maryland football is officially bowl-eligible. The Terps doubled their win total from a season ago, and will play in the postseason in DJ Durkin’s first year at the helm.

Maryland’s been through a lot in the past 12 months. Durkin was hired a year ago this Friday, and he quickly assembled a respectable staff and patched together a decent recruiting class after some kids flipped to another school in the division. The program secured late commitments—perhaps most notably Tyrrell Pigrome on Signing Day—and landed key transfers in Teldrick Morgan, Trey Edmunds and JC Jackson during the spring and summer.

Once the football started, the injuries piled up. Will Likely missed the second half of his senior year, and Denzel Conyers didn’t see a snap in conference play. Perry Hills and several others were banged-up seemingly all season. Maryland didn’t have the depth to overcome these injuries, so at times the team looked worse than even last year’s train wreck.

And yet, the Terps still rode an easy schedule to a 6-6 record. That’s right around the number most fans predicted (pretty much everyone was between five and seven wins). For all that took place, the wins and losses stacked up pretty much as anticipated.

Maryland only played two close games

Two contests were decided by six points: the 30-24 double-overtime win at UCF and the 42-36 loss to Indiana (which was a 12-point game until an absolute last-second, garbage-time touchdown). Every other game was decided by at least 11 points.

The Terps were tied with Michigan State at halftime and behind through three quarters before ultimately winning by 11. They trailed Penn State by three points late in the first half, but without Hills they simply couldn’t keep up. A full-strength Maryland team probably plays Minnesota close as well, but the Gophers won that game handily.

Every other outcome was pretty much expected from the onset. Maryland breezed past Howard, FIU, Purdue and Rutgers, but was demolished by Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska in consecutive weeks. Looking back, each game makes sense. The Terps didn’t pull off any upsets, but they didn’t lose to anyone significantly worse than them, either. And that’s all they needed to do.

Things that went well and allowed this to happen

1. The out-of-conference slate was a cakewalk. Howard is a bad FCS team. FIU is a bad FBS team. UCF rebounded well from an 0-12 campaign last year, but the Terps still beat them in Orlando. Starting the season off with three wins was a welcome change for a program that went 2-2 in nonconference play last season, losing to Bowling Green and getting drubbed by West Virginia.

2. Michigan State had a serious down year. After making the Playoff in 2015, the Spartans evidently lost too much talent to graduation and/or the NFL. Their performance in College Park was lackluster, accentuated by a bizarre fake field goal attempt at the end of the first half and a stagnant fourth quarter on offense. This wasn’t the “toss-up win” fans thought Maryland would nab when the year began, but it ended up being the one the Terps got.

3. Maryland slashed its turnovers in half. After giving the ball away 36 times last year (dead last in the country), the Terps only had 15 turnovers all season (tied for 27th). A lot of that is on the new, simpler offense installed by Walt Bell, and a lot of it is on Perry Hills for having his best season yet: 10 touchdowns, just three picks and 66 percent completions. (For what it’s worth, Hills’ backups threw just three touchdowns and five picks, with a tick above 50 percent completions).

4. The Terps torched bad teams on the ground. Maryland rushed for over 200 yards seven times, including outbursts of 400 yards against Purdue, 318 against Rutgers, 315 against Howard and 269 against Indiana. Ty Johnson finished the regular season with 845 yards on 8.9 yards per carry; Lorenzo Harrison picked up 633 before his suspension. Maryland’s rushing attack was stopped cold by the best teams on the schedule, but was explosive against everyone else.

5. D.J. Moore was always there to bail everyone out. If there can be highlights from a losing streak, look no further than the sophomore wideout. He made an absurd touchdown catch to give Maryland a first-half lead against Indiana, then broke an 11-quarter touchdown drought with a 92-yard catch-and-run that featured several shaken defenders. He’s a bright spot in Maryland’s future, but also a budding star right now.