Maryland coach DJ Durkin faces an uphill climb with the program he took over at the beginning of December. The Terps are in one of the nation's toughest divisions -- the Big Ten Conference East -- and though they reside in one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the nation, they have to square off with the nation's top programs again. That's a difficult task.
But according to ESPN.com, Durkin's tenure could get off to a smooth start on the field. The website ranked Maryland's nonconference as the third-easiest in the country, and well, it's not that far off. The Terps open the season by hosting Howard on Sept. 3 before traveling to Florida two weeks in a row to play at Florida International and Central Florida. Those three teams went 6-29 in 2015.
Fellow Big Ten teams Indiana, Purdue and Iowa also make the list, which is topped by Baylor.
In 2013 -- well before Maryland officially joined the conference -- Big Ten teams agreed to stop scheduling Football Championship Subdivision teams during nonconference play, and last July, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany announced new scheduling criteria that included nine league games, no FCS teams and one game against a team from another Power Five league.
Teams that already had agreements in place to play FCS teams would be allowed to honor those agreements. According to FBSchedules.com, Maryland has Towson on its schedule for 2017 and Iowa is scheduled to play Northern Iowa in 2018.
But in 2016, Maryland will play an FCS team and two non-Power Five teams in its first three games. And ESPN.com's characterization of the Terps' schedule appears to be deserved.
Howard went 1-10 last fall and lost to Boston College -- a team that ranked 120th in scoring offense and 125th in total offense -- 76-0.
Florida International, which traveled to College Park in 2013, 2010 and 2006 and hosted the Terps in 2007, went 5-7 last season. The Panthers had two chances to reach bowl eligibility but lost their final two games to high-powered Marshall and Western Kentucky by a combined score of 115-7. They haven't had a winning season since 2011.
Central Florida was one of three schools in Division I to go winless in 2015 with an 0-12 mark. The Knights were just two years removed from going 12-1 and winning the Fiesta Bowl in 2013, but coach George O'Leary resigned in October. In late September, an Orlando bar announced it would give out free beer until Central Florida won a game. The Knights did not.
Despite the paltry nonconference schedule -- and the fact opening kickoff at Maryland Stadium is still about eight months away -- there are still a few storylines to make these early season games interesting. Central Florida hired former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost as its coach in December, and Frost was a potential candidate at Maryland. And with Durkin and Frost on opposite sidelines, it's a matchup of a young defensive mind against a young offensive mind.
Maryland has also made recruiting Florida a priority, with seven pledges from the Sunshine State inking with the program on national signing day, and the Terps will play in Florida on consecutive weekends in Miami and Orlando. It's an opportunity to be seen by recruiting targets in the South while also turning in an impressive performance.
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Maryland's schedule is going to be tough in 2016. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State will make sure of that. But after his first three games as Maryland's coach, Durkin could be 3-0.