Big Ten season preview: Maryland Terrapins

Nobody has a better understanding of what exactly Maryland is up against than DJ Durkin.

The Maryland coach has worked for both Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, so he's well aware that nothing is going to come easily for the Terrapins as they try to catch up to the league's powerhouse programs.

Of course, Maryland is also obviously planning on that previous experience working in its favor as Durkin applies those lessons from Meyer and Harbaugh in an effort to try to reel in the Buckeyes and Wolverines.

"As coaches we're always stealing stuff from other guys we've worked with or for," Durkin said last month. "And so that's been a tremendous benefit for me.

"Playing in the same conference is great, because you know there's always going to be focus and attention on what's going on in our conference and the games we're playing in and those guys, they bring the competitive level up as well."

Can Durkin raise Maryland's game in a hurry? Time will tell as he gets set for his first season, which is broken down here in the latest of our Big Ten team previews.

2015 record: 3-9 (1-7 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB Brandon Ross, OL Ryan Doyle, OL Evan Mulrooney, OL Andrew Zeller, DB Sean Davis, DB A.J. Hendy, DL Quinton Jefferson, DB Anthony Nixon, DL Yannick Ngakoue.

Key returners: CB William Likely, DL Azubuike Ukandu, LB Jermaine Carter Jr., DL Roman Braglio, OL Damian Prince, WR Malcolm Culmer, TE Avery Edwards

Instant impact transfer: The secondary returns its most important piece in Likely, but he's the only defensive back starter returning. That leaves no shortage of playing time available for a group of untested defensive backs, and J.C. Jackson could be poised to help fill one of those voids. The former Florida cornerback and juco transfer didn’t waste much time after reporting to the team to turn heads and could form a dynamic tandem with Likely.

Most important game: Some bad blood with Penn State has already been on prominent display since Maryland joined the conference. And considering the importance of establishing a presence right away for Durkin, his first shot against the Nittany Lions might be the most critical game on the schedule. That trip to Penn State on Oct. 8 obviously won't be easy for a team that has to replace so many key contributors, but Durkin will have had four games to work out the kinks and get the Terps ready for a game that could set a tone for the rest of the season.

Key stat: 29 interceptions thrown. There's really no secret as to why the Terrapins struggled so mightily to win games a year ago with that number of turnovers from the quarterback position. Some level of improvement seems like a given in that department, which should make Maryland more competitive right away. But cutting down on the giveaways isn't the only area where the passing game must improve -- the Terps completed just 47 percent of their attempts last season, a number that is nowhere near good enough in today's game.

Best-case scenario: If Durkin is able to work some magic with the defense and the quarterback play takes a leap forward, the Terrapins could pull a few surprises with a schedule that shouldn't be overwhelming. The overall roster still needs some recruiting work, but Maryland has some first-string talent to work with and gets the benefit of playing five conference home games. If everything goes Durkin's way, the Terrapins could get back into the postseason and potentially spring an upset or two to get to 8 wins.

Worst-case scenario: If the issues at quarterback aren't resolved, all bets are off and Maryland could be in trouble in any game it plays. While those five league home games are useful, two of them come against Michigan State and Ohio State in matchups that won't be favorable for a team in transition. And road trips against Michigan, Penn State and Indiana could make it tougher to climb many rungs in the rough-and-tumble East Division. Potentially the Terps might find themselves missing a bowl game again as Durkin builds for the future.