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ESPN ranks Maryland 13th in Big Ten in 'way-too-early' power rankings

The Alabama players were still frolicking in the confetti at University of Phoenix Stadium late Monday evening, fresh off their fourth national title since 2009 after a 45-40 win over Clemson. So it was pretty early to start thinking about next year — Maryland's scheduled season opener against Howard is 234 days away on Sept. 3 — but ESPN has got us covered with its "way-too-early 2016 Big Ten power rankings."

And when the 2016 season kicks off, it doesn't look like much is expected of the Terps under first-year coach DJ Durkin.

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Maryland checks in at No. 13 in the rankings, the last ranked team in the Big Ten Conference East Division and one spot ahead of last-place Purdue.

The explanation is brief, terse and true: "The DJ Durkin era begins. Up first: finding a consistent, turnover-averse quarterback."

The play of Maryland's signal-callers in 2015 was historically bad, and it's hard to win games when quarterbacks turn the ball over 29 times through the air alone.

ESPN's early power rankings are also yet another indicator of how difficult Maryland's path through the East will be. The top three teams are Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State, and Maryland plays those three teams in a four-week span in late October and early November.

Where the Terps do catch a bit of a projected break is in their cross-division opponents. In their first two years in the Big Ten, Maryland played Iowa and Wisconsin, both of which won the West division. The Hawkeyes check in at No. 4 and the Badgers are at No. 5 in ESPN's ranking. In 2016, with the Big Ten moving to a nine-game conference schedule, Maryland gets Nebraska (No. 7), Minnesota (No. 9) and Purdue (No. 14).

The Cornhuskers and Golden Gophers each went 5-7 in the regular season before winning bowl games and the Boilermakers went 2-10.

As for the rest of the East, Penn State checks in at No. 8, Indiana is tied for No. 10 and Rutgers slips into the ESPN ranking one spot ahead of Maryland at No. 12.

ESPN also released a "2016 Way-Too-Early Top 25" right after the championship game that featured four Big Ten teams (including three from Maryland's schedule): No. 4 Michigan, No. 12 Ohio State, No. 14 Michigan State and No. 16 Iowa.

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