Maryland Football: Is a bowl bid within reach?

Sep 9, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Maryland Terrapins teammates sign the school fight song after defeating the FIU Golden Panthers 41-14 at FIU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 9, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Maryland Terrapins teammates sign the school fight song after defeating the FIU Golden Panthers 41-14 at FIU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

The Maryland football program didn’t exactly get the returns that they were promised during the Randy Edsall era.

When D.J. Durkin took the job in December, he brought a new attitude and energy to College Park. After a 3-0 start to the 2016 season, is a bowl bid within reach?

First of all, a lot of the same parts returned with the exception of Sean Davis, Quinton Jefferson, and Yannick Ngakoue. All three players were selected in last spring’s NFL Draft.

Add a very talented recruiting class to the returning group and a bowl bid could certainly be a viable option.

What We Know

The Terrapins started off the campaign with a convincing 52-13 win over Howard. It was the debut of Maryland’s new-look offense under Walt Bell and it certainly looked impressive in the early going.

Maryland raced out to a 45-0 lead behind a phenomenal running game. True freshman Lorenzo Harrison made an instant impact as he rushed for a team-high 67 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries.

Fans also got their first look at highly-touted freshman quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome. The former Clay-Chalkville (Ala.) standout completed four-of-six passes and rushed for 53 yards on seven carries.

Just six days later, Maryland hit the road for a matchup with Florida International. The two teams met on the gridiron in the 2013 season opener, which ended up being the C.J. Brown show in a 43-10 rout.

Quarterback Perry Hills was nearly flawless as he completed 13-of-18 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore wideout D.J. Moore chipped in with a career night in which he caught six passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

The spark plug proved to be a 14-yard interception return for touchdown by linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. in the first quarter. Prior to that, Hills and the Maryland offense didn’t have a ton of success.

Maryland’s first true test came against Central Florida on Sept. 17.

The Terps came out extremely flat in the first half. In fact, Maryland was forced to punt on their first four drives and found themselves trailing the Knights 7-0 in the opening quarter.

Maryland added a Harrison rushing touchdown and a field goal to take a 10-7 lead at halftime. Neither team lit the world on fire in the second half and the teams were knotted at 17 after four quarter.

Each team scored in the first overtime period with Hills punching it in for the Terps. The second overtime period produced quite a bit of drama.

The Knights were driving on a collision course for the end zone, but a backwards pass from McKenzie Milton was recovered by Kingsley Opara.

On the ensuing possession, Hills ran the ball on the first play, but hurt his shoulder and had to come out of the game. Pigrome entered the game and ended it on just one play.

He took it on a quarterback draw for the game-winning 24-yard touchdown.

Big Ten Schedule

Maryland has a relatively easy start to the start of Big Ten play.

Two of their first three conference games take place at Maryland Stadium. The Terps have Purdue at home this Saturday and Minnesota at home on Oct. 15. They’ll travel to Happy Valley on Oct. 8 for a date with Penn State.

It’s the last six games that are not so kind to Maryland.

It starts on Oct. 22 when Michigan State comes to College Park for a game under the lights. The Terps have dropped their first two Big Ten contests against the Spartans.

Maryland gets a bit of a reprieve with Indiana on Oct. 29. Currently, the Hoosiers are 2-1 with a loss against Wake Forest last weekend.

Three of the final four games are against some of the elite programs in the Big Ten.

Maryland faces Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska on three consecutive weekends. They’ll have to travel to Ann Arbor and Lincoln while the Buckeyes come to College Park.

The Terps close out the season by hosting Rutgers.

It’s definitely not a favorable slate during the month of November. However, there are plenty of winnable games early on.

The Verdict

Maryland obviously already has three wins in toe, so they’re halfway there.

It’s very possible for the Terps to go 3-0 over their next three games. Getting pressure on quarterback David Blough is going to be key along with slowing down star running back Markell Jones.

It could be close depending on what Maryland team shows up, but a win is definitely doable.

The wild card out of the next three contests is easily Penn State.

This is the rivalry game that all Maryland fans circle on the calendar since the move to the Big Ten. It’s also a big deal to go into Happy Valley and win, which is what happened two seasons ago.

The Nittany Lions have had an up-and-down year up to this point. They’ve lost to the likes of Michigan and Pittsburgh, but have managed to defeat Kent State and Temple.

Star running back Saquon Barkley holds the key to the Penn State offense. If the Terps can slow him down, a win is attainable.

Maryland certainly did just that a season ago in Baltimore when he was held to just 3.2 yards-per-carry.

Minnesota is off to a 3-0 start, but the question every year seems to be if quarterback Mitch Leidner can ever put it together. Maryland has a pretty strong pass rush, so I’d expect that to be another win.

Even if the Terps get just two wins out of those three games, it would leave just one win short of a bowl bid. Obviously, four of the remaining games are against the heavyweights in the Big Ten, but they also have Indiana and Rutgers left.

The Terps will beat one of those two if not both. The Scarlet Knights are pretty brutal to be honest and we really don’t know what the Hoosiers are after their loss to Wake Forest.

Next: Wes Brown returns to the backfield

If I was a betting man, I’d say that Maryland football wins at least seven games. If the offense can continue to run the ball at a high rate, it’s hard to see the Terps not playing a 13th game in December or January.