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Maryland football mailbag: wins, investigations & everything in between

Answering some questions about a 2-0 Terps team.

NCAA Football: Texas at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football is 2-0 after beating Texas and Bowling Green to start the 2018 season. The Terps, who are inching toward the AP top 25, are heavily favored to improve to 3-0 with a home game against Temple next on the slate.

Saturday, Sept. 15, was also the announced expected completion date of the Walters, Inc., investigation into the safety procedures in place at the time of Jordan McNair’s death this summer. The aftermath of McNair’s death in June turned ugly in August, and Maryland has been covered in a cloud of uncertainty since.

With all this (and more) in mind, we thought we’d answer some reader questions. Here goes.

Let’s start here, shall we?

DJ Durkin has been on administrative leave for exactly a month now. He was placed there one day after ESPN’s explosive report on a “toxic culture” within the football program, rampant with verbal abuse by coaches. Maryland president Wallace Loh announced an investigation into the program’s culture three days later. That one might be complete slightly later than the Walters investigation, but it’d presumably have a more direct impact on Durkin’s future.

Under no circumstances will it be easy to bring Durkin back and explain it to the public. But if both investigations say he did nothing wrong, it might be just as difficult to swallow up to $6 million and fire him anyway.

That’s the decision university officials will have to make if Durkin comes out of the two investigations unscathed. It’s not an easy one, and I’m not sure if one choice is more likely than the other (the more information found that backs up ESPN’s report, the easier it’ll be to eat less money by firing him). Once the investigations’ results are public, the answers to this question could be a lot more clear.

Assuming Durkin has indeed coached his last game at Maryland makes this an audition season for Canada, who was hired to be the new offensive coordinator in January. He’s never been a head coach and says he doesn’t consider himself one now, but the early results suggest he’s put himself in good position to take charge full-time if that becomes necessary.

The only other name I’ve heard discussed publicly is Mike Locksley, who was Maryland’s interim coach after Randy Edsall was fired in 2015 and is now Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama. If the job opens in earnest, then some more names might come up. I wouldn’t expect a splash hire, though (whether you view Bielema as a splash is up to you).

Well, it’s mostly Durkin’s players—just about everyone on the squad either committed to play for him or bought in when he came to Maryland. The back-to-back top-30 recruiting classes are translating into talent across the field.

But with Durkin on leave, the players have rallied around each other. Canada has done as well as one could hope at steering the ship, and his offense has been solid through two games, but the whole staff deserves credit for taking on a little more without a traditional head coach around. The unifying factor has been playing for and honoring McNair, and that would be the case no matter who was coaching.

On our season preview podcast, Matt did a pretty good job of separating Maryland’s schedule into four quadrants. Here they are (I’ve added fun titles):

Must-wins: at Bowling Green, Temple, Illinois
Should-wins: Minnesota, Rutgers, at Indiana
Could-wins: Texas, at Iowa, Michigan State
Lol nah: at Michigan, Ohio State, at Penn State

I pegged the Terps at 6-6, which simply meant winning all the games in the top two groups or maybe dropping one of those and winning one of the others. With Maryland knocking off Texas, I’ve shifted my prediction to 7-5. If you stayed up late to watch Michigan State lose at Arizona State on Saturday and had a little too much Kool-Aid to drink, maybe you could talk yourself into 8-4.

This, of course, assumes health and morale stay positive throughout the season. Given that this is Maryland football, we can’t know for sure until we see it.

I’d say this has more to do with the depth of the running back group than anything wrong with Javon Leake, although a couple people have posted in our comments sections have said he was banged up at the end of fall camp. He wasn’t on the participation sheet for the Texas game but got in the mix with a 36-yard touchdown against Bowling Green. It’s too soon to know for sure what the team’s plans are with him, but he’s shown he’s a potential gamebreaker both in the backfield and on kick returns.

A handful of reporters more plugged into this than me have said that if Loh doesn’t survive this, it’s more likely he “retires,” even if he gets forced in that direction. It’s certainly telling that the Board of Regents took control away from him in overseeing both investigations, and any dirt that comes out on athletic director Damon Evans could also be reflected on Loh, who’s long had a good relationship with Evans and hired him as permanent AD less than two weeks after McNair’s death. So while I’d say it’s unlikely Maryland’s president gets fired, there’s a real possibility his days in the position are numbered.

Too soon to tell, but this is definitely something to keep an eye on as the week continues and forecasts become more reliable.

Anyway, here’s the most important question we got:

That’s actually my choice as well.

Crush would surely lose a fight to Gamera, who’s basically a turtle version of Godzilla who’s appeared in various media over the past few decades, but likability matters more than size and power here. As a team, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles probably overtake Crush, Squirt and the rest of the East Australian Current squad, but Crush is the biggest individual star on either side. I’m also partial to Franklin from Franklin the Turtle, a children’s book series that was adapted into an animated show in the late ‘90s but never into a movie, thus disqualifying him from consideration.

If I ever direct a movie, though, I’m finding a way to cast Testudo. That way we’ll have a new No. 1 on this list.