INDIANAPOLIS — Last year, when Maryland football coach Mike Locksley heard about Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, he wondered how the Big Ten would react.
Locksley got his answer in late June when the Big Ten announced Southern California and UCLA will join the league in 2024 after spending decades in the Pac-12.
Unlike the rest of the sports world, Locksley wasn’t surprised by the move. And even though the fourth-year coach views himself as a traditionalist who enjoys classic rivalry games, he called the Big Ten’s decision “a win for the conference.”
“Kudos to Commissioner [Kevin] Warren for being able to attract and bring in two teams that I think make us better as a league,” Locksley said Tuesday during Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium. “They’re very like-minded and add great value to the Big Ten brand.”
Warren said the addition of USC and UCLA allows the Big Ten to leave a footprint in three major media markets: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. And unlike previous conference additions Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, Warren said USC and UCLA will get a full share of conference revenue as soon as they join.
Warren did not shy away from the idea of future expansion, saying “it will be done for the right reasons at the right time.”
Terps junior receiver Rakim Jarrett didn’t think much of USC and UCLA joining the conference since he plans to enter the NFL draft after the season. However, the former five-star recruit thinks players will get better exposure playing on the West Coast.
“There’s a lot of connections and resources out there,” he said. “I think if you put on a show, people will notice.”
Maryland redshirt junior quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who tends to stay away from social media, said Tuesday was his first time hearing about the move. His first thought was how the Terps would match up with the Trojans and Bruins this season.
“I thought it was gonna happen like this year when they told me that,” Tagovailoa added. “I was like ‘Did our schedule change?’ And they were like ‘No, this is for the future.’”
Growing up, Tagovailoa said he thought of USC like Alabama, the national powerhouse where he spent his freshman season after following his older brother Tua to play for coach Nick Saban. He thinks playing at the Rose Bowl and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will give the players a lot of motivation.
“Getting to play in a stadium of the Rose Bowl and just being in California, I think that’d be a great experience for everyone,” he said.
Locksley said senior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. is “ahead of schedule” in his recovery from a knee injury he suffered last season and expects him to play in the season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 3, barring any setbacks.
“[I’m] really impressed with how he’s returned,” Locksley said. “Our training staff, led by Brian Simerville, has done a tremendous job of getting Dontay back. I think last week he broke 21 or 22 [mph] on the Catapult [fitness tracker], which means he’s got that explosiveness back.”
Demus, who was considered a potential mid-to-late-round draft pick last season, caught 28 passes for 507 yards and three touchdowns in five games before injuring his knee during a kick return in Maryland’s loss to Iowa in October.
Demus’ return will be huge for the Terps, who are poised to have one of the best passing units in the conference. Demus, a three-time All-Big Ten honorable mention, currently stands second in program history in career 100-yard games (seven), sixth in career touchdowns (13), eighth in career yards (1,775) and 12th in career receptions (106).
The Terps will also have Jarrett, who was named to the 2022 Biletnikoff Award watch list after totaling 62 receptions for 829 yards and five touchdowns in 2021, and Florida transfer Jacob Copeland, who was the Gators’ top receiver last season with 41 receptions for 642 yards and four touchdowns. Maryland redshirt senior receiver Jeshaun Jones, who Locksley called one of the best route runners on the team, is also expected to return after suffering season-ending lower-leg injury against Ohio State in 2021.
Tagovailoa called Demus the leader of the receivers room and an important motivator.
“For us to have him back healthy is amazing,” he said.
Warren said the league is finalizing its media rights deal and expects to make an announcement “sooner rather than later.”
In 2017, the Big Ten signed a six-year, $2.64 billion media deal with ESPN and Fox Sports that’s set to expire in 2023. According to Sports Business Journal, the league was expected to be the first college conference to eclipse $1 billion in annual media rights fees even before the addition of legacy programs USC and UCLA.
Warren also hinted at the possibility of adding new media partners.
“Regardless of the size of the deal, the thing that I’m most excited about during these negotiations [has] been the creativity that we’ll be able to deliver to our fans, student-athletes and families,” Warren said.
>> Warren said the Big Ten is the only Power Five school to have all its coaches return for the 2022 season.
>> Locksley thinks Tagovailoa, who earned All-Big Ten honorable mention last season, is one of the most underrated players in the nation. “I’ll continue to say it, as he’s a guy that has really been the catalyst to making us go on offense,” Locksley said.
Tagovailoa is coming off an impressive 2021 season in which he set program records in single-season passing yards (3,860) and completions (328) while tying former Maryland signal caller Scott Milanovich in passing touchdowns (26). Tagovailoa also played a big role in Maryland’s win over Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl, as he went 20-for-24 with 265 yards and two touchdowns to earn Most Valuable Player honors.
>> Locksley believes the Terps’ offensive line, which is returning all five starters, is the most improved unit on the team. He said redshirt senior tackle Jaelyn Duncan, a potential first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft, has elite athleticism.
“He’s a -pound guy that moves like he’s 220 pounds,” Locksley said of the former St. Frances star. “I would venture to say there are very few tackles throughout the country that have the type of athleticism he has with change of direction, balance and body control.”