In the Big Ten East, rebuilding a football program takes plenty of time and patience

COLLEGE PARK — Maryland coach DJ Durkin will never concede that a game — let alone a season with nearly half a schedule left to be played — is lost before his Terps take the field. Still, as hard as it is for him to stomach, his Terps are in the midst of one of college football's toughest rebuilding jobs.

A combination of the schedule his team has faced and the injuries his team has suffered, particularly at quarterback, has made it difficult for the Terps to get any consistent momentum in his second year running the program. Being a wannabe in the Big Ten East isn't easy.


"It's a painful process to go through, but it's one we're going to benefit from in the long run," Durkin said Tuesday. "We're building this thing the right way, for the long term. This is a part of it. No one planned on the injuries we had happening, but that's part of the game. It happens.

Coach DJ Durkin's Maryland team has lost three straight games after a 2-1 start.
Coach DJ Durkin's Maryland team has lost three straight games after a 2-1 start. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

We’re building this thing the right way, for the long term.

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"There's certainly things we can look back on that we could've handled and done better. But that's part of the learning process. That's the exciting thing to me. We've got a team full of guys that play hard for one another and it really matters to them."


Asked how he gauges the progress his program has made when faced with these obstacles, Durkin said: "Progress is measured individually, and every circumstance is its own. With the players, every unit. I think there's a lot of progress going on.

"When you look at the grand scheme of things … and the adversity we've been hit by, it's going to make us better in the long run. It certainly is. There's a lot of guys now that are in positions they haven't been in before in terms of mentally and having to fight through things."

If there's any solace for Durkin, it's in the fact that several other Big Ten teams, including the one Maryland will face Saturday on homecoming, are going through the same kinds of growing pains the Terps have endured.

Maryland coach DJ Durkin said that his team is making progress despite recent losses in the Big Ten.

Indiana has lost all four of its Big Ten games this season — each to ranked teams. In the past two weeks, the Hoosiers were beaten by then-No. 17 Michigan, 27-20, in overtime and failed to hold a late lead before falling Saturday at then-No. 18 Michigan State, 17-9.


First-year coach Tom Allen, who previously was the team's defensive coordinator, said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference Tuesday that rebuilding a program in the East Division is much the way it was in the Southeastern Conference when he was defensive coordinator at Mississippi.

"It a very difficult challenge for sure because who you're playing against on a weekly basis," Allen said. "Physically from a size perspective, and talent and speed, you don't usually have the same at the stage that we are in our development.

"The numbers don't match up. Depth becomes a really big issue. But you have to go through it and focus on the things you can control. To me it's about changing the mindset. Recruiting is huge. You've got to convince guys to come and help you do something special."

Penn State coach James Franklin did something comparable when he was at Vanderbilt, when he took the perennial SEC doormat to a 6-7 record his first season and followed it with back-to-back 9-4 seasons before heading to Happy Valley.

To a lesser extent, he has done the same with the Nittany Lions, who after back-to-back 7-6 records won the Big Ten championship last season and finished an 11-3 season a year ago ranked No. 5 after a 52-49 loss to Southern California in the Rose Bowl.

Asked how difficult it is to rebuild in the Big Ten East, Franklin said: "It's brutal. It really is. That's why you don't see too many people do it multiple times. And the guys that have, it's impressive. It takes everything from a staff perspective, from a family perspective.

"It's a challenging thing to do and it's probably magnified in the climate and culture that we have now in college athletics and specifically college football, because you just don't get a whole lot of time to do it. In years past, you would have five years. … Now you get three years to do it."

Franklin, whose No. 2-ranked team plays at No. 5 Ohio State on Saturday in a game with national championship implications, said rebuilding at a place like Penn State is both harder and easier than at a place such as Maryland.

"Obviously having the tradition and the history is helpful," said Franklin, a former assistant coach and offensive coordinator under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland. "I would also make the argument that those traditions and history also create very high expectations."

Durkin has not changed his own expectations since coming to Maryland after the 2015 season from Michigan, where he served one season as defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. He believes the Terps will one day contend in the Big Ten East.

But not now, and probably not for a while.

"What you've got to do is get to work and develop guys. You have and recruit to the level that you need to be at, which is what we're doing," Durkin said. "It just doesn't happen overnight. Trust me, I have the least amount of patience of any human you'll meet."

What we learned in the Big Ten: James Franklin's mind-control act actually works for Penn State; Saquon Barkley makes quite a decoy

The opening-game upset of then-No. 23 Texas in Austin and the 3-1 start — with the last win coming Sept. 30 at Minnesota after quarterbacks Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill suffered season-ending torn ACLs — have been followed by three straight defeats.

"Us at full strength was probably a little ahead of the curve of where we thought we would be," Durkin said. "That's not where we are right now. That's OK. We've just got to keep developing, improving. … We just got to play to our capabilities and not let our circumstances affect us or define us, and just go.

"That message has been delivered in different ways over the past couple of weeks, and I think it's finally resonating with the team. I have seen a difference. I think there's been a breakthrough right now of, let's put aside all the 'Woe is me' and go play. That's what we've got to do. It's a great lesson in life, a great lesson in football."

One more thing.

"I wouldn't want to go through it with anyone than the group we have," Durkin said.

Big Ten East conference records

Ohio State 4-0, Penn State 4-0, Michigan State 4-0, Michigan 2-2, Rutgers 2-2, Maryland 1-3, Indiana 0-4

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