Are the Maryland Terrapins CFB’s darkest horses for 2023?

Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports /

The Maryland Terrapins had a decent run in 2022, but the potential is there for them to be one of the Big Ten’s strongest powers next season.

The Maryland Terrapins are one of the Big Ten’s newest squads, with their history in the conference only dating back to the mid-2010s. After almost a decade since their move, they have greatly struggled to find footing—and that should come as a surprise to no one.

Entering 2022, Maryland football had only seen two winning runs as a Big Ten power: 2014 (its first in the league) and 2021. In both instances, the team’s final record was 7-6. However, this last season saw the Terps finally hit a new high as they finished at 8-5.

But while managing to hit the 8-win threshold is a noteworthy improvement, it’s still far from great. With that in mind, the question of what makes the Maryland Terrapins a team to watch in 2023 must be asked.

Such a question arises from multiple observations, but none of them involve the aforementioned win count. Rather, they rely on the context surrounding Maryland’s 2022 struggles and just how easy it makes 2023 look. So what all did said struggles entail?

For starters, the Big Ten is a difficult conference for any team to succeed in (hence the Terps having so much trouble finding a rhythm within it). Just how hard succeeding depends on which half of it you’re sitting in.

If you’re in the West division, you’re guaranteed to encounter physical teams like Wisconsin and Iowa while names like Northwestern and Minnesota come and go with some surprisingly menacing runs. But if you’re in the East division, you’re at risk of suffering one of the sport’s harshest fates.

The Big Ten East is consistently one of college football’s toughest divisions, with it arguably being the toughest not named the SEC West. The East’s mightiest programs include Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and…Maryland? How in the world could the Terps possibly establish themselves as a contender in there? Well, just ask last season’s squad.

How good were last year’s Terps?

The 2022 Maryland football team went 1-3 against the four other East teams mentioned, which would normally leave a horrible taste in the mouth. However, of the three losses, only one was decided under convincing circumstances (30-0 at Penn State). The others unfolded quite differently.

Michigan could only manage to escape the Terps by a single touchdown (despite the meeting taking place in Ann Arbor) while Ohio State needed to return a fumble for one whopping yard to beat them by 13 instead of just six.

Next season will have Maryland football hosting two of these battles instead of just one, and while the school will be losing some useful talent to the NFL, its opponents will be as well.

Simply put, if the 2022 Terps were already doing enough with what they had to scare Michigan and OSU—both of which just made the CFP—then the 2023 Terps certainly have the potential to at least do the same.

But hold on a minute, we can’t tie a bow on this fairytale just yet. What about the other two losses that Maryland football suffered? Who were those to, and how can we be so sure that they won’t negatively impact the team’s next run?

The last two of Maryland’s 2022 defeats were dealt by Purdue and Wisconsin. Both were winning teams (Purdue even won its division), but neither was strong enough to remotely compare to the status of Michigan, Ohio State, or even Penn State. In other words, the losses were understandable, but harder to swallow than the other three (especially the Wisconsin one, as it was decided by a double-digit margin).

Luckily for the Terps, they have an excellent chance of avoiding losses to both the Boilermakers and Badgers in 2023—mainly because they don’t face them. This time around, instead of facing those two with a trip to Madison, Maryland will take on Illinois and Nebraska with a trip to Lincoln.

Now that is far from an “easy” pair of battles to endure, as the Illini won eight games last year while the Cornhuskers can give visitors a very hostile environment to play in. But still, it’s an easier ride than the two West powers from 2022.

The rest of Maryland’s Big Ten schedule consists of nothing but teams that it beat last season (each of which failed to make a bowl game): Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern, and Rutgers. As for out-of-conference play, the best of the bunch is the Virginia Cavaliers. While they may be historical rivals, they have recently established themselves as one of the ACC’s sorriest squads.

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Going solely by face value, the Maryland Terrapins do not look like a team that could go the distance in college football. However, their 2022 selves didn’t look like they could scare two playoff teams. If we can see them compete at that high of a level more consistently (especially when at home), there is no reason why they can’t finish their 2023-24 stretch with at least 10 wins. With that said, it would be wise to keep your eye on the Terps once the fall months roll around.