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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Maryland’s resurgence has added more juice to the powerful Big Ten East

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The upstart Terrapins have a new quarterback, new O-coordinator, new head coach and a fascinating new spin on the concept of lightning-fast football.

The most astute viewers of ESPN’s vaunted College Gameday program might have noticed something humorous last Saturday, amidst the scrum of Texas and LSU fans grappling for TV time in Austin.

An LSU supporter randomly holding up a sign saying, “We Want Maryland!

At first blush, the LSU fan was poking fun at Texas for getting swept in a recent home-and-home series with Maryland — the same Terrapins who posted only nine total victories for 2017-18.

However, upon further inspection, perhaps LSU privately views Maryland as a scary-good team, when fully healthy. (Injuries were daunting in the previous two campaigns at College Park.)

Along those lines, perhaps the Tigers players and coaches have begun to realize — after surveying mountains of video prep for LSU — the Terps could be formidable national challengers for years to come.

Even in the big, bad Big Ten East division.

That’s an easier leap to make after observing Maryland’s two-game demolition to launch the season, blanking Howard (79-0) and then executing the most complete dissection of any ranked club to date — last Saturday’s 63-20 rout of No. 21 Syracuse.

If you’re not deciphering the short- and long-term merits of Maryland’s Syracuse shakedown, remember this:

When the college football experts were breaking down Clemson’s schedule in August, in terms of possibly repeating as national champions in 2019, the two biggest upset contenders were pegged as Texas A&M (last week) and at Syracuse (this weekend).

Well, so much for that narrative … unless these same experts are now treating Maryland’s contention for a Big Ten East title or New Year’s Day bowl quite seriously.

MARYLAND’S REMAINING SCHEDULE
Sept 14 @ Temple
Sept 27 vs. Penn State
Oct 5 @ Rutgers
Oct 12 @ Purdue
Oct 19 vs. Indiana
Oct 26 @ Minnesota
Nov 2 vs. Michigan
Nov 9 @ Ohio State
Nov 23 vs. Nebraska
Nov 30 @ Michigan State

THE IMPACT OF JOSH JACKSON

During the 1980s, the Terrapins struck gold with the back-to-back-to-back trio of quarterbacks Boomer Esiason (future NFL MVP), Frank Reich (piloted the greatest single comebacks in college football and NFL history) and Stan Gelbaugh (productive NFL starter) — three pocket-friendly, drop-back passers who operated vertical, but conventionally static offenses, reminiscent of that ball-controlled era.

Fast forward to the present: These Terrapins do EVERYTHING at a break-neck pace, regardless of how many yards the previous play landed; and for the opposing defenses, there’s simply no time to celebrate a great play or even lament a bad sequence.

And the way things are progressing, business is booming for the Maryland offense, which leads all Big Ten teams in total yards per game (637) and points per game (71).

Transfer quarterback Josh Jackson (541 yards passing, 7 TDs) has quickly found his comfort zone within the Maryland offense, in terms of pushing the lightning-fast tempo, managing abrupt play-call changes and making successful decisions on the field; and that’s a stunning transformation to fathom, considering the following:

This time last year, Jackson lagged from behind on the Virginia Tech depth chart, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was humbly honing his craft at East Carolina and head coach Mike Locksley was knee-deep into helping Alabama capture the SEC title and rummage its way to the College Football Playoff championship game (losing to Clemson).

That’s a lot of change to absorb in such a short period. And yet, it bears the look of a seamless transition.

PORTRAIT OF A TURNING POINT

Maryland stole the national headlines twice last season — the rematch takedown of Texas (future Sugar Bowl champs) and the crazy, last-second defeat to Ohio State (52-51).

For those with short memories, the epic Ohio State-Maryland clash might have pushed Urban Meyer over the proverbial edge, in terms of confirming his eventual decision to retire from coaching.

Throughout the telecast, the ESPN cameras captured how the stress of the game had exacted a tremendous toll on Meyer’s psyche, from the head trauma (reported cyst near his brain) to the ever-changing shades of facial color, reflective of exorbitant internal pressure to succeed.

The Terrapins raced to a 17-3 lead in the first quarter, on the strength of tailback Anthony McFarland Jr.’s long touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards. The Buckeyes would rally to force a 45-all tie in regulation, setting up the surreal events of overtime:

**Ohio State scored on the opening possession, a 5-yard touchdown run from quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

**Tayon Fleet-Davis responded quickly on the Terrapins’ ensuing drive, scoring a 1-yard touchdown.

**Nixing the notion of another overtime, Maryland attempted the go-for-broke 2-point conversion. On the potential game-winner, quarterback Tyrell Pigrome rolled right and barely missed a Terps receiver in the end zone.

A heartbreaking occurrence for all to see.

It could have been the school’s greatest upset of this century.

Instead, it served as a window to Maryland’s tangibly bright future, featuring McFarland (298 rushing yards vs. Ohio State), a powerful offensive line (bookended by blue-chip tackles), an experienced defensive front seven and the prolific recruiting acumen of Locksley, working his third different coaching stint at Maryland.

Put it all together … and the days of opposing fans carrying “We Want Maryland” signs may soon become a thing of the past.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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