BY JEFF SLADE
Note: All recruiting statistics and rankings in this story are from 247Composite, which averages the four major rankings across the industry .
University of Maryland football is on the rise – or so University of Maryland fans will tell you.
Their first season in the Big Ten went better than many expected, with a 7-6 record and going 4-4 in the conference. The season included highlight wins over traditional powerhouses Michigan and Penn State, winning on the road on both occasions.
They were also surprisingly competitive against the other two East Division powers, battling Ohio State and Michigan State early in the first half before they eventually pulled away.
If they pulled out other tight matchups against West Virginia and Rutgers, it could have been one of the best seasons for Maryland football in a very long time.
The success last season did not go unnoticed; with head coach Randy Edsall signing a new three-year contract extension that’ll take him through the 2018 season in College Park.
But, was this season a true indication of a rise to prominence, or simply an anomaly against teams getting their first looks at the Terrapins? Unfortunately for Terps fans, it may be more the latter, a large part of which due to recruiting, and the lack thereof in the talent-rich DMV.
The DMV has plenty of players.
Just in the past three recruiting cycles (2013-15), there have been 11 five-star and 49 four-star prospects in the area, not to mention a bevy of three-star prospects to join them.
The point being – it’s possible for the Maryland and Virginias of the world to have success with the players in their own backyard. The problem – they aren’t staying.
Over the course of those same three years, there have been 160 DMV prospects to commit ranked in the top-20 of their respective states (top-15 for DC). Just 12 of those players have chosen to play football at the University of Maryland, coming to less than one out of every 13.
Yes, the Terrapins have had their victories, like 2014 five-star offensive tackle Damien Prince and recently 2016 four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Even Haskins though, a prized Potomac, MD recruit and ranked the 5th pro-style quarterback in the country, said he'll take an official visit to Florida just in case "something happened" at Maryland (ahem - coaching change). Read - there lacks confidence of stability in College Park, even among recruits already committed.
To add to the problem, the Terrapins have not signed a single top-20 prospect from the state of Virginia in the last six years, which happens to be the most talent-ridden state in the DMV.
The Big Ten East is beginning to develop into one of the toughest divisions in all of college football, joining the ranks of the SEC West and the PAC 12 South. Ohio State just won a National Championship; Michigan State has developed into a perennial national contender; James Franklin is pulling in top-10 recruiting classes in Happy Valley; and Super Bowl coach Jim Harbaugh has taken the reigns at Michigan, a sleeping giant likely about to wake up.
That leaves Indiana, Rutgers, and yes, Maryland, to regularly compete with these four programs. In order to do so, they simply need talent. Luckily for them, it exists right outside their doorstep, but they need to bring it in.
Good recruiting does not guarantee success, but it is very hard to have success without great recruiting.
Teams winning the National Championship in the last decade like Alabama, Florida State, and Ohio State, continually average top-10 recruiting classes.
There will always be cases of teams that have great recruiting classes but fail to convert it to the field, like the University of Texas as of late or Tennessee.
But, it’s extremely hard to find the case of a regular national contender that doesn’t regularly pull in top-15 recruiting classes.
Though not all five-star prospects pan out, it’s been shown the average five-star prospect is far more likely to be drafted into the NFL than a four-star, and drastically greater than a three-star.
Player development and coaching are extremely important, but so is recruiting, as any college football expert would agree.
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM AND HOW DO YOU FIX IT?
One of the largest problems facing Maryland right now is that, even with the recent success of the team, recruits still do not see the Terrapins as an elite program, a place where they can win championships and develop into an NFL prospect.
We’ve seen this become troublesome for Maryland in the DMV, as schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State, and Alabama have made the area a priority.
Right now they’re winning the recruiting battles, and it’s why they’ll likely win on Saturdays as well.
It’s a hard problem to fix, and one that needs time to correct itself. But, it is absolutely essential for Maryland to keep its homegrown talent home if it ever wants to compete with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State consistently.
To fix it requires wins, which will be tough if the recruiting woes continue.
It also requires the desire – to transform from merely a “basketball” school into one where football Saturdays aren’t just an excuse for a party.
It’s not as if College Park resides in some secluded corner of the country, or they face immense competition from other local Universities. In fact, as the only power-5 school in the state, the Terrapins should be able to dominate the area on the recruiting trail.
And, if they can just keep the majority of their own stars home, and begin to annually poach a few prospects across the border in DC and Virginia, they’ll have themselves the talent they need in College Park.
And suddenly there might be five powers in the Big Ten East…