The college football season, like none other in the modern era, takes another turn Saturday with the beginning of the Big Ten football schedule — in theory.
Contending with the coronavirus pandemic has added the automatic phrase “at this time” and “as far as we know” to just about every story, with multiple schedule swaps and shifts happening in every sport.
In a world where one cannot be 100% prepared for every possibility, University of Maryland Head Football Coach Mike Locksley has been doing the best to prepare his program in these circumstances.
“As we’ve seen across the landscape of college football, it’s something that is not going away. And so what we’ve all got to do is our part.” Locksley said.
“Our players have all embraced it and understand that it’s what we have to do and how we have to live, if we want to have a successful 2020 season.”
Instead of focusing on “what isn’t,” they’re focusing on “what is.” And that means a season when there wasn’t one as recently as Sept. 15.
“We’re embracing the uniqueness of playing through COVID. As I’ve said from day one, the teams that have the ability to adjust and ride the wave and understand that it’s very unique … dealing with and playing through COVID will be the teams that have the best chance to be successful,” said Locksley.
“We’ve prepared our team from a mental standpoint to do just that.”
This is Locksley’s second year at the helm, and after referring to 2019 as “Year Zero,” he feels that with no spring practice in 2020 said jokingly, “I would count this year as Zero-Point-Five.”
He’s going to have a new starting quarterback, as well as a new primary ball carrier while also putting together a reshuffled offensive line and a defense that’s minus last year’s biggest playmakers.
And in a year where we’ve seen Virginia Tech play games with less than 20-plus players multiple times this fall, Locksley said he knows that he needs to build program depth.
“You’re going to need your roster from one to 110 to all be prepared to go out and play,” Locksley said.
“Because you never what’s in store for you tomorrow when you wake up and who’s available and who’s not.”
There’s been quite a bit of developing and teaching in the pre-full contact portion of preparing for 2020.
“We’ve spent a lot of time fundamentally developing our team by position,” Locksley said.
“And now that we have the target (of a season opener), we’ve gotten back into the schematic piece all three phases (offense, defense and special team). Then, also now trying to evaluate our roster and put the pieces together, to figure out who gives us the best chance to be successful.”
And this fall, it won’t just be the fans who might need a program to tell the players apart from one another.
“We’ve got 56 new faces of people in our program out of 110 who have never been in a Terp uniform,” Locksley said.
“So trying to make sure we have the balance of developing size and strength, as well as conditioning, while at the same time ramping up to Oct. 24.”
The season kicks off at Northwestern, and while the Wildcats went 3-9 last year, Pat Fitzgerald’s team is only two years removed from winning the Big Ten West.
The Action Network projects the Terps to be underdogs in their opener and every game this fall. That also includes playing at home against Rutgers on Dec. 12.
This might not turn out to be an ideal season, but at least there’s a season to be played.
Currently. At this time. In theory.