Maryland faces difficult odds in its debut Big Ten season. The Terrapins suffered numerous disappointing finishes over the last decade, which sends them now limping into a loaded division. As members of the Big Ten East, Maryland is up against Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
And that limp is both figurative and literal, as the injury bug has bitten no team worse than Maryland in the last two seasons. For example, its quarterback situation in 2012 was so dire, a linebacker started behind center.
Among those lost to injury in 2013 was dynamic wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who appeared in just seven of the Terps’ 13 games. His impact and potential were both readily apparent in the portion of the season wherein he was available.
Diggs caught 34 passes for 587 yards, and Maryland won five of its first six games. The Terrapins even cracked the Top 25 before running into the Florida State buzzsaw.
Eight of his receptions came in his final appearance, which—not coincidentally—was the first of five losses Maryland suffered on the back-end of its 2013 schedule. Without Diggs or running mate Deon Long in the lineup, the Terrapins went 2-4.
Now, it’s certainly arguable that Maryland’s poor second half was as much the result of a significantly more difficult schedule. Diggs did much of his damage against FIU, a team competing with Idaho and UMass for distinction as the worst in FBS; Old Dominion, a transitional program in its first year removed from FCS; and Connecticut, which was an utter dumpster fire as Paul Pasqualoni’s time there came to an end.
Aside from national champion Florida State, Maryland’s two best opponents with Diggs in the lineup were West Virginia and Wake Forest, which finished 5-7 and 4-8 respectively—and the Terps accounted for one of the Demon Deacons’ four wins.
However, the uncertainty of Diggs’ ability against top-flight opponents, playing with a roster at full strength, is what makes his 2014 season so intriguing.
Stefon Diggs was well on his way to 1,000 yards receiving last season before breaking his leg. He finished not far from that milestone as a freshman with 848 despite Maryland
The coming year should be his breakout campaign, the coming-out party expected of him when Mike Locksley scored the most surprising recruiting coup of the 2012 cycle. The 5-star, local product Diggs was signed to be the cornerstone of head coach Randy Edsall’s rebuilding project.
With Diggs leading a crop of 17 returning starters—most in the Big Ten save Indiana—2014 is the time to ramp up construction.
Wide receivers are not often in the Heisman conversation. A wide receiver from a middling team has an especially formidable road to New York City.
But if Stefon Diggs meets his lofty potential, the Terrapins should be much more than middling.
Dare I say Maryland can play spoiler in the Big Ten East? Certainly divisional partners Ohio State and Michigan State are more complete and frankly better. But the Terps get both at home. Upsetting one of the two with Diggs having a big performance would bolster his candidacy.
Realistically, Maryland needs nine wins with one coming against the Buckeyes or Spartans to get Diggs on the radar. And of course, Diggs must hold up his end by producing the necessary numbers.
With quarterback stability and Long there to help alleviate some pressure, Diggs should have no difficulty clearing the 1,000-yard mark.
The last wide receiver to contend for the Heisman, former Texas Tech star Michael Crabtree, hauled in 1,165 yards—albeit with 19 touchdowns.
Stefon Diggs is unlikely to be anywhere near that mark, given he’s not playing in Mike Leach’s almost pass-exclusive offense. Moreover, Maryland scored 18 passing touchdowns as a team in 2013.
But Diggs will see opportunities in multiple phases. His breakaway speed and ability to burst through the smallest of gaps resulted in a 28.52 yards per kickoff return average in 2012. He ran two kicks back for touchdowns that season.
Diggs has also been used as a ball-carrier on jet-sweeps and other reverses, which is another outlet for him to show off his wheels.
The prospects for Diggs in 2014 are exciting. From his team’s new conference affiliation, to the roster around him, there is so much unknown that could develop into positive attention both for Stefon Diggs and the Maryland football program.
And few things could match producing a Heisman Trophy candidate.