When Billy Edwards Jr. entered the room, pulled out his chair and sat down at Maryland football’s bowl media day last week ahead of Saturday’s game, he was surprised to see the number of people there for him. The backup quarterback isn’t used to being the center of attention.
“This is a little bit different,” he joked as he got comfortable.
Fielding a barrage of questions and taking first-team reps in practice is all new to Edwards, who will start for Maryland in the Music City Bowl against Auburn after Taulia Tagovailoa opted out of the contest.
The former starter’s decision allows the Terps to get an extended look at their possible future at the position. The quarterback room will grow even more crowded when NC State transfer MJ Morris arrives, making Saturday Edwards’ first chance to fend off the newcomer and earn a role that’s open for the first time in five years.
“That’s the nature of college football now,” Edwards said. “Competition breeds excellence … You never know when your opportunity is gonna come. Right now, I got a big one in front of me.”
Tagovailoa said he planned to play in the bowl after Maryland beat Rutgers on Nov. 25. Coach Michael Locksley said on Dec. 3 he thought his quarterback would play. Instead, the redshirt senior decided that his record-breaking 42-24 regular season victory would be his last game with the Terps.
Now, the coach will get a glimpse at what 2024 could look like. Edwards, Tagovailoa’s backup for the last two seasons, appeared in 14 games over that stretch, mostly to relieve the starter late in lopsided games or in special goal line packages. His lone regular season start was a 31-24 win over Northwestern in 2022 when Tagovailoa was out with an injury.
“We know who Billy is,” Locksley said. “Billy throws the ball really well. He’s a traditional pocket quarterback. But he also has some sneaky athleticism that I think catches people off guard.”
Redshirt freshman Cam Edge will also play in the bowl, Locksley said. The Delaware native is a former four-star recruit but has attempted just three passes in his career — all of which came against Towson on Maryland’s final drive of the game earlier this season. Saturday is also an opportunity for Edge to make the Terps’ competition at the position a true three-man race entering the spring.
Both quarterbacks will benefit from new helmet technology that will give them direct communication with coaches on the field before each play. Locksley and Auburn coach Hugh Freeze agreed to use the technology, which is being debuted across college football this postseason and could be implemented permanently in 2024.
Five Maryland players will likely have the communication device in their helmets, Locksley said. He plans to give them to two players on offense, two defenders and the personal protector on the punt team.
Edwards and Edge patiently waited behind Tagovailoa knowing the position would inevitably open. But as soon as it did, Locksley turned to the transfer portal for a potential solution.
Morris, who threw for 1,367 yards in nine games over the last two seasons for the Wildcats, can begin practicing with Maryland immediately but can not play in the bowl. He joins the Terps with three years of eligibility remaining.
It’ll be an open competition for the starting spot between Morris, Edwards and Edge entering 2024, Locksley said. Edwards and Edge have until Jan. 2 to enter the transfer portal, giving them a chance to practice alongside Morris and play in the bowl before making a decision on their future.
But Edwards isn’t shying away from the additional obstacle. He’s stood by for two years for an opportunity like Saturday, perhaps the only one he’ll get to show he’s capable of taking the reins from one of the program’s best quarterbacks ever.
“I’m a pretty fierce competitor,” Edwards said. “I’m excited for that part of me to get brought out.”
Outside of Tagovailoa, the Terps figure to have most of their key contributors available for Auburn.
Tarheeb Still, who declared for the NFL Draft, will not play. All of Maryland’s 10 outgoing transfers — a group headlined by linebacker Jaishawn Barham, tight end Corey Dyches and running back Antwain Littleton II — will also be unavailable.
Receivers Kaden Prather, Tai Felton and Jeshaun Jones, who are all draft eligible, will play, Locksley said. Beau Brade said he considered opting out but will suit up on Saturday.
“I’d say at least 80 percent of our starters are practicing, doing all the things necessary to prepare,” Locksley said.