Maryland football wants to ‘close the gap’ between the Big Ten’s elite. No. 4 Michigan is the first test.

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland football improved to 3-0 for the second straight season after defeating SMU, 34-27, on Saturday night, but coach Mike Locksley wasn’t satisfied. He made his players rewatch all 15 penalties they committed and read Twitter posts and news stories that criticized the Terps’ discipline.


Maryland continued its recent dominance over nonconference foes, improving to 9-1 in those matchups since Locksley took over in 2019 while averaging 46.2 points per game, but that success hasn’t always carried over to the rest of the season.

As the Terps prepare for their Big Ten Conference opener at No. 4 Michigan on Saturday, the question remains if they can finally upset — or even compete with — the top teams in the league.


“Maryland doesn’t always get the credit,” said sophomore safety and former McDonogh standout Dante Trader Jr. “A win like this would give us confidence going into next week.”

Maryland took a big step as a program last year by securing its first bowl victory in more than 11 years while finishing above .500 for the first time since 2014. With that confidence boost, some players entered the 2022 campaign with their sights on nine wins and the Big Ten championship.

They first have to prove they can hold their own against a team like Michigan.

“That’s going to be hard in that division,” ESPN senior college football writer Adam Rittenberg said. “I think it’s a program where, talent-wise, they’re getting closer. But can they take that step to start beating Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on a regular basis? That’s the next step for Mike.”

Since the Terps joined the conference in 2014, they have gone 0-28 against Big Ten teams ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. Last season, Maryland went 2-6 in its final eight regular-season games, including losses to ranked opponents Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa. The Terps allowed 41.5 points per game during that stretch and gave up 50 or more to the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Hawkeyes.

They will head into Ann Arbor with a 1-9 record against Michigan, with their only victory coming in 2014 when the Wolverines were unranked and finished the season 5-7.

“We’ve been trying to prove ourselves,” Trader said. “‘Go try and win a game that you’re not supposed to win.’ You always hear that in the media.”

Locksley, who is 6-17 against Big Ten opponents, understands what a win against the reigning conference champions would mean for the program. He said coach Jim Harbaugh’s team sets the standard for the league, and with a healthier and more experienced group at his disposal, he thinks Saturday will be a litmus test for the Terps to see where they fit in the league’s hierarchy.


“As we talk about trying to close the gap,” Locksley said, “this year affords us the opportunity.”

Locksley, however, doesn’t want his players to ramp up the intensity or treat this week any differently from the last one. While he was offensive coordinator at Alabama under coach Nick Saban, Locksley learned that the key to building a winning program is to treat every opponent the same way.

“I used this a week ago with them and asked about grandma’s macaroni and cheese,” he said. “When she makes it on Christmas, is it any better than when she makes it on a normal Sunday dinner? They all said no. Well, who we play doesn’t change. It’s the consistency of how we prepare to play.”

Maryland running back Roman Hemby celebrates a touchdown run against SMU on Saturday in College Park.

Locksley said the Terps’ losses to the Big Ten’s elite under his watch have been marred by self-inflicted mistakes and penalties. Going into Saturday, both he and the players sense a different mentality within the team.

The number of penalties against SMU would have cost them the game two years ago, Locksley said. But this time, the Terps figured out a way to win anyway. “The culture [that] we are creating showed, and that was unique,” Locksley said.

Said Trader: “That’s the biggest thing this year: our ability to get back to neutral and grind through four quarters.”


Junior wide receiver Rakim Jarrett said a win over Michigan would mean “a lot,” but to him, it’s just another game.

“We beat Penn State two years ago,” said Jarrett, referring to Maryland’s 35-19 victory in 2020 when the Nittany Lions were unranked. “And that doesn’t mean anything because you have to do it year in and year out.”


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