Watching Caleb Rowe and Maryland's offense last season wasn't easy. Being Caleb Rowe was in some ways harder, as Maryland's redshirt junior quarterback fell on the worst stretch of his career. He threw six touchdowns against 15 interceptions in nine games, posting career-worst marks in every major statistical category as the Terps stumbled both before and after firing head coach Randy Edsall at midseason.
Maryland's historically bad passing game wasn't just the fault of Rowe or fellow quarterback Perry Hills. But Rowe wasn't nearly good enough, and he knows it. In the program's 15 spring practices this month and next, Rowe is moving ahead.
"Just mentally, all of last year, it was a pretty hard year, personally and for the team," Rowe said after spring practice last Tuesday. "But I think just working hard is all you can do. When things don't go your way, all you can do is work hard and do your best, and things will turn out the way you want them to."
Bright spots were few for Rowe last season, but he closed his season on a high note. He threw for 239 yards and no interceptions in a comeback win against Rutgers in Maryland's finale, and while he was just 16-of-32 passing and didn't toss a touchdown, everything in life is relative.
Rowe's season piled interception atop interception and Maryland's piled loss atop loss, but the season-ender, even against a dismal Rutgers team, was a happier story. Maryland could use more of that this season.
"There was a lot of stress put on the quarterbacks last year, and my picks," Rowe said. "But that's all behind me. It's my senior year, trying to make it the best I can."
For the second season in a row and the third time in five seasons, Maryland will enter the season with a quarterback competition. It's ostensibly one between Hills and Rowe, with Hills currently taking more of the first-team repetitions in practice. (Rising redshirt freshman Gage Shaffer is also in the quarterback picture, and three-star true freshman Tyrrell Pigrome will get to campus in the summer.)
But Hills and Rowe competing for the top job is nothing new. Hills beat out Rowe for the starting position after C.J. Brown tore his ACL right before the 2012 season and then won a three-way battle with Rowe and graduate transfer Daxx Garman a year ago. Now, Hills and Rowe are back at it again.
"They've got obviously a ways to go, but they're doing well with it," head coach DJ Durkin said. "Perry's had a couple good days. Caleb had a good day [last Tuesday]. We did third downs and he made some nice throws. All those guys. Shaffer's done well. They're all in their own way having better days than others as we keep going, but that's indicative of learning a new scheme."
Schematically, it seems like Hills is the better fit in Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell's offense. Bell ran a spread while he was the coordinator the last two years at Arkansas State, and Hills has thrived in a read-option run game and can execute short throws.
But Durkin told us in February that Bell wouldn't just pick players who fit a preconceived scheme, so there's reason to think the more complete overall quarterback will take the job - whoever that turns out to be. So far, the quarterbacks have put an emphasis on conditioning with new strength coach Rick Court and otherwise getting acclimated to the offense's new feel.
"Coach Court did a great job in our winter workouts," Rowe said. "They were pretty tough, and I think guys are ready for this high-tempo offense and ready to score some points."