When the Maryland football team got a commitment from four-star local quarterback Dwayne Haskins last spring, it was an unusual departure from a trend that makes up an existential threat to the Terps’ future. Haskins picked the Terps over (among other teams) Penn State, which was very exciting for Maryland. The problem is, at least for now, that not enough other players in Maryland’s geographic area are making the same decision. Penn State is a big reason why.
You wouldn’t know it by their 2-4 record or recent coach-canning, but the Terps have actually made strides in the last few years. For one thing, they’re a Big Ten team now, with all the associated advantages that come from that. For another, they’ve started to recruit much better: In fact, newly exiled coach Randy Edsall assembled what should be the best Maryland class in recent memory for 2016.
And yet, Maryland’s still been badly out-recruited by much of the Big Ten. The Terps presently place No. 35 on the 247Sports class rankings for next year, behind a whopping seven other conference teams and a full 31 spots behind No. 4 Penn State. State College is just more than three hours from College Park, making Penn State by far Maryland’s biggest recruiting rival for top-end talent in the greater Maryland, Washington and Virginia region. And for too long, the Nittany Lions have been eating part of the Terrapins’ lunch in their own backyard.
Consider next year’s class. Maryland has Haskins, and Maryland fans have (probably unfairly) tended to paint this twelfth-grader into a program savior. Meanwhile, the rest of Maryland’s best high school players seem more interested in wearing other Big Ten uniforms. Arbitrary endpoints and all, but right now Maryland has commitments from two of the state’s top 11 prospects, while Penn State has four – defensive end Shane Simmons, defensive tackle Ellison Jordan, linebacker Cameron Brown and cornerback Zechariah McPherson.
The Terps are the only major college football program anywhere in Maryland, and they’re losing out to a geographical cousin for nearly as many of the state’s best players as Maryland keeps for itself. Last year, Maryland kept two of the state’s top 10 players, while Penn State took one. Maryland won 2-1 the year before that and didn’t get a single top-10 player in its own state in 2013 (neither did Penn State, to be fair). Maryland hasn’t been able to meaningfully out-recruit Penn State in its own neighborhood, and that’s been a problem.
Of course, the far bigger problem is Penn State’s general superior recruiting ability. Maryland hasn’t had a top-five recruiting class of its own since, uh … and the Nittany Lions have managed to accumulate a roster that’s much deeper than Maryland’s right now – and Maryland wasn’t ravaged by years of scandal-induced sanctioning, either.
Penn State has lots of problems. Your offense is brutal to watch despite the delightful Saquon Barkley, and James Franklin has single-handedly cost Christian Hackenberg millions of dollars by letting him be repeatedly driven into the turf by a negligently horrific offensive line. But Penn State’s roster-building – to say nothing of Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State – will make it effectively impossible for Maryland to win the Big Ten East unless something cataclysmic changes. The best metaphor for Maryland’s uphill battle here is probably this:
Penn State’s quarterback has had his promising college career almost totally derailed by an inept coaching staff and laugh-out-loud offensive line, and he’s still going to have the best passer rating on the field on Saturday by 18 points. Until Maryland can be better than Penn State at its worst, the Terps will be relegated to Rutgers territory in a brutal division.