The Big Ten is set to grow by two teams in 2014. Rutgers and Maryland will officially join the conference on July 1, expanding the Big Ten to a 14-team league and changing the divisional alignment once again.
Rutgers was arguably one of the biggest winners in this round of conference expansion, moving from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights add a valuable market in the New Jersey/New York area and have improved their on-field product in recent years.
Adding Maryland also helps the Big Ten expand its reach on the East Coast, and the Terrapins are capable of competing in their new league after finishing 7-6 in the ACC last year.
Looking ahead to 2014, neither program is expected to challenge for a Big Ten title. However, Rutgers and Maryland both have potential to play for a bowl, especially with a good chunk of talent returning for the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins.
Athlon Sports’ preseason magazines are set to hit the newsstands in late May/early June, and it’s time to settle some of the biggest debates for 2014. Over the next few weeks, AthlonSports.com will dive into some of the key topics by conference and some of the debates that will shape preseason predictions for this year.
Maryland or Rutgers: Which Big Ten Newcomer Will Have a Better Record in 2014?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The answer to this question seems to be pretty clear: Maryland. Rutgers made a nice addition by hiring Ralph Friedgen as the offensive coordinator, and this team has a handful of young talent, including linebacker Steve Longa, tackle Darius Hamilton and receiver Leonte Carroo. But the biggest concern for the Scarlet Knights is quarterback play, and a schedule that features non-conference games against Washington State and Navy. Rutgers also went 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference last year, while Maryland was 7-6 in a tougher league (ACC). There’s a lot to like about the Terrapins for 2014, as Randy Edsall has improved Maryland’s win total in each of the last two years after a 2-10 debut in 2011. The Terrapins return 16 starters, and the offense will get a boost with a return to full health by receivers Deon Long and Stefon Diggs. The defense has plenty of promise with nine starters returning, including end Andre Monroe, linebacker Cole Farrand and cornerback William Likely. Maryland’s schedule is also more favorable in 2014, as it hosts Rutgers and Iowa, and the non-conference slate features winnable games against Syracuse, West Virginia and South Florida. With the changes on the staff, Rutgers should be a better team than it was last year. However, I think the Terrapins are also due to take a step forward and should go to a bowl in their Big Ten debut.
Brent Yarina, (@BTNBrentYarina), BTN.com Senior Editor
This is a really tough question. Both are coming off similar seasons (Maryland, 7-6, ACC; Rutgers, 6-7, AAC), both return a lot of starters (Maryland, 20; Rutgers, 17), both are members of the loaded East Division, and both draw grueling cross-division foes (Maryland, vs. Iowa, at Wisconsin; Rutgers, at Nebraska, vs. Wisconsin). Add it all up, and it’s hard to expect either team to match last season’s mediocre record.
All that said, I’ll take Maryland in a close race that could come down to the season finale vs., you guessed it, Rutgers. The Terps have the tougher nonconference slate of the two, which could hurt their case, but they’re working with more talent and played in the better conference a year ago.
Dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, who finished tied for fourth in the ACC with 12 rushing scores, is back, and so, too, are his five returning receivers, including the dynamic Stefon Diggs, who is recovering from a leg injury. The defense, while it wasn’t anything special, returns nine starters from a unit that totaled 37 sacks.
Maryland will enjoy more success in its first year in the Big Ten than Rutgers and I don't think it will be close. The Terrapins went 7-6 in the ACC in 2013, while the Scarlet Knights were 6-7 in the American Athletic Conference, but I think the former is in much better shape for 2014 than the latter. Maryland returns 16 starters from a team that possesses quite a bit of talent, it just needs key playmakers, namely quarterback C.J. Brown and wide receiver Stefon Diggs, to stay healthy. Rutgers returns 14 starters from a team that struggled mightily on offense last season and in certain defensive areas and doesn't appear to have much in the form of reinforcements on the horizon. Consider that Maryland's incoming recruiting class was ranked seventh in the Big Ten and 43rd overall by 247Sports' Composite team rankings while Rutgers' class was 12th in the conference and 60th overall. Rutgers has some talented players, like wide receiver Leonte Carroo and running back Paul James, but from an overall roster standpoint Maryland looks much more like a Big Ten team to me than its fellow newcomer. Rutgers lost to the top four teams in the AAC last year - UCF, Louisville, Cincinnati and Houston - by 24, 14, 35 and 35 points respectively. What do you think is going to happen this fall when the Scarlet Knights take on Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan or crossover foes Wisconsin and Nebraska? Welcome to the Big Ten Rutgers. I hope you enjoy languishing in the basement of the new-look Eastern Division.
Listen to our staff discuss every team in the Big Ten as they start to look to 2014.
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’ve certainly been skeptical of the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the Big Ten, both from the perspective of the league adding two mediocre teams and the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins being able to compete. Maybe it’s that stage of the offseason where every team has reason for optimism, but Maryland might be a competitive Big Ten program in 2014. I’d be shocked if Maryland can win the division, but a .500 record in conference play seems possible. With 16 returning starters, the Terps have plenty of experience, in part by a handful of players getting thrown into the lineup due to injuries. The Terps’ defense returns nine starters from a group that was above average in the ACC (5.1 yards per play, fifth in the league). And the offense has to be better with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long healthy. This team has had so much bad luck under Randy Edsall, sooner or later things have to start to even out, right?
Kevin McGuire, (@KevinonCFB), CrystalBallRun.com and CollegeFootballTalk.com
While I do not think either team will do considerably well in their first season in the Big Ten, I think Maryland is better equipped to put together a better debut season in the new conference if they stay healthy. Maryland has a wide receiver unit that could be the best in the Big Ten and they have some winnable games at Indiana and home against Iowa and Rutgers. Neither team is going to come away with a winning record against division foes Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan this year, but Maryland avoids Nebraska in the cross-division match-ups. With the more talented offense and a slightly more favorable schedule (home against Rutgers in what could be the deciding game), Maryland gets the edge in year one.