MARYLAND TERRAPINS (0-0)
at TEXAS LONGHORNS (0-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Line: Texas -18.5, Total: 56.0
#23 Texas’ road to redemption starts with a visit from Maryland as the Tom Herman Era kicks off.
D.J. Durkin’s tenure started promisingly for Maryland in 2016, with six wins and a bowl game berth (they lost to Boston College by six in the Quick Lane Bowl). The Terps are 8-17 in conference in three years as a Big Ten team, but Durkin has brought in a highly-touted recruiting class and Maryland may be just a year or two away from being able to compete with the conference elites. The underrated RB duo of Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison will pace the offense, but the quarterback position remains an issue and the offensive line was awful in pass protection last year. Plenty of playmakers return on Durkin’s defense, including an excellent linebacking group and plenty of edge-rushing talent. After three losing seasons under Charlie Strong, Texas turns to former Houston head coach Tom Herman to right the ship. His offensive aptitude should pay immediately dividends for sophomore QB Shane Buechele and his talented receiving group. New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who helmed Houston’s 13th-ranked D last season, takes over a unit with plenty of athleticism and potential that never got it together under Strong. These teams haven’t met since the 1978 Sun Bowl, and in their three all-time meetings, Texas has outscored Maryland 102 to zero. Maryland was 2-4 SU & 1-5 ATS on the road in Durkin’s first season, including four-straight SU & ATS losses to end the year. Since 2011, Texas is 14-0 SU & 10-4 ATS as a double-digit home favorite.
Maryland’s offense sputtered in the middle of last season, scoring 14 points or fewer in five conference games and finishing tied for 88th in the nation in scoring (25.8 points per game). The Terps figure to go run-heavy as much as possible, with their top two rushers from last season, RBs Ty Johnson (1,210 yards from scrimmage, 7 total TD, 9.1 yards per carry) and Lorenzo Harrison (633 rushing yards, 5 TF), returning. With Perry Hills gone, the starting QB gig is up for grabs going into Week 1. The offensive line gave up 49 sacks last season (almost double the 25 allowed in 2015), and no inexperienced quarterback will be effective in the face of constant pressure. WR D.J. Moore (41 receptions, 637 yards, 6 TD) is a playmaker, and WR Taivon Jacobs (21 receptions, 264 yards in 2015) hopes to stay on the field after his second injury-redshirt season in three years. Maryland’s defense collapsed against quality competition last season, giving up 36.2 points per game in their last nine games. They allowed 29 first-half points to Boston College’s tenth-to-last scoring offense in the Quick Lane Bowl! DLs Jesse Aniebonam (9 sacks, 14 TFL), Kingsley Opara (3 sacks, 11.5 TFL) and Cavon Walker (3.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL) will take on bigger roles after impressing as rotational players last season, and coordinator Andy Buh’s aggressive scheme produced 15 sacks in the Terps’ last three games. Rangy inside LB Jermaine Carter (110 total tackles, 6 sacks, 9 TFL), who has led the team in tackles the past two seasons, is the centerpiece of the defense. He and LB Shane Cockerille (108 total tackles, 3 sacks, 8 TFL) will be one of the conference’s best duos if Cockerille can stay out of trouble (he was suspended for last year’s bowl game). LB Jalen Brooks, a starter in 2015 and a standout this spring, is a capable replacement if Cockerille misses time. Former Florida transfer CB J.C. Jackson is the top coverage man after an up-and-down debut season in College Park, and hard-hitting S Darnell Savage returns to anchor a secondary that needs to create more turnovers in 2017.
New head coach Tom Herman inherits plenty of offensive talent at Texas. The Longhorns ranked 16th nationally in yards per game (491), but 46th in points per game (31.9). The disparity was largely due to red-zone inefficiency, as UT scored just 4 points per red-zone trip (110th in FBS). RB D’Onta Foreman and his 2,028 rushing yards are gone, but RB Chris Warren (366 rushing yards, 3 TD, 5.9 yards per carry) is a capable replacement. QB Shane Buechele (2,958 passing yards, 21 TD, 11 INT) performed admirably as a freshman, and should thrive in Herman’s system. Six of Texas’ top eight receivers are back, including Buechele’s three most productive targets, WRs Armanti Foreman (34 receptions, 420 yards, 3 TD), Devin Duvernay (20, 412, 3) and Dorian Leonard (29, 397, 3). The offensive line returns four starters. New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has quietly put together an impressive resume, including successful runs as a coordinator at UConn, FIU, Utah State and Houston. 300-pound DLs Poona Ford (54 total tackles, 5.5 TFL) and Chris Nelson (45 total tackles, 6 TFL) should help improve the Longhorns’ 88th-ranked rush defense, while DE Malcolm Roach is expected to shine as he moves into a starting role. The linebacking corps returns the top three tacklers from last year, junior LBs Anthony Wheeler (65 total tackles), Breckyn Hager (64 total tackles, 6 sacks, 13.5 TFL) and Malik Jefferson (62 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL). Safeties DeShon Elliott and Brandon Jones ascend into starting roles with plenty of promise, while versatile nickel DB P.J. Locke may end up starting in a hybrid LB/DB role.