For Maryland QB Billy Edwards Jr., Music City Bowl looms as audition for 2024 starting job

For Maryland QB Billy Edwards Jr., Music City Bowl looms as audition for 2024 starting job

This past fall, Maryland quarterbacks Taulia Tagovailoa and Billy Edwards Jr. roomed together the night before each of the team’s 12 regular-season games. It was Edwards’ job to select the music that the players could enjoy.

“He would come in there, and he would be like, ‘Play me a song,’ and I would set the vibe for the night,” Edwards said. “I think I was probably 11-for-12 with hitting the right genre for the night. We bonded a lot on those away trips, those hotel trips. So I’m very grateful for the friendship I had with him.”

Edwards has another opportunity to set the tone, but this time for the entire team — and perhaps for the near future. With Tuesday’s news that Tagovailoa, the Big Ten’s all-time leader in passing yards and the school’s career leader in touchdown passes, was opting out of the Terps’ game against Auburn in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee, on Dec. 30 at 2 p.m., Edwards is poised to make just the third start of his career.

Edwards, a redshirt sophomore, understands what awaits him — and how he can write the script for next season.

“In college football, you never know when your opportunities are going to come, and right now, I have a big one right in front of me,” he said. “So I’m just trying to focus on that.”

Redshirt freshman Cameron Edge and freshman Champ Long might see some playing time under center, too. But coach Mike Locksley expressed his confidence in Edwards.

“I’m excited to see what Billy’s able to do,” he said. “You kind of look at this game almost like a preseason game leading into next year. It gives us an opportunity to evaluate our quarterback situation going into the next year. But we’ve got a lot of faith in Billy, we’ve got a lot of faith in Cam, that both those guys have the ability and skill set to operate our system.”

Edwards, whose older brother Kyle was a quarterback at Alabama in 2017 and 2018 when Locksley was the offensive coordinator there and is currently a graduate assistant working with the offense, transferred from Wake Forest during the summer of 2022. Any reservations about being the new kid on the block dissipated when he joined a crowded quarterback room headed by Tagovailoa.

“When I came in, he kind of took me under his wing,” Edwards recalled. “I remember it was probably my third or fourth fall camp practice last year in my first year here, and I was having a rough day. He put his arm around me and said, ‘You’re good, man. Days like this happen.’ I think ever since then, we’ve roomed together, we’ve had a lot of meetings together, we’ve bonded a lot. We’ve definitely pushed each other. I tried to make him better, and he’s tried to make me better by giving each other advice and tools.”

Edwards made his first career start in a 31-24 victory against Northwestern on Oct. 22, 2022, connecting on 18 of 28 passes for 166 yards and one touchdown and carrying the ball 16 times for 66 yards. That occurred one week after Edwards — replacing Tagovailoa after he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in the fourth quarter — led the Terps on a touchdown drive to cement a 38-33 win at Indiana.

In seven games this fall, the 6-foot-4, 219-pound Edwards has been employed primarily in obvious rushing situations, running 16 times for 41 yards and six touchdowns. By comparison, he has dropped back only 10 times, completing four throws for 2 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.

Despite that history, Edwards said he thinks the offensive ideas under Tagovailoa won’t change drastically with him at the helm.

“I feel like it’s pretty much the same,” he said. “How I’ve been used this year, I’m a bigger body guy. So I’m sure they’ll try to run me a little bit more, but I like to think the scheme overall doesn’t change too much and that we’ll be able to pretty much run everything we’ve done all year.”

Locksley acknowledged that the game plan against Auburn’s defense will try to emphasize Edwards’ strengths under center.

“You do what your quarterback allows you to do,” he said. “We kind of know who Billy is. I think sometimes because of how we used Billy, maybe you guys think, ‘Oh, Billy is just a runner.’ But 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. So I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Billy.”

Junior wide receiver Tai Felton said Edwards’ reputation as a mobile quarterback masks a strong arm that can deliver darts from the pocket.

“He’s got some heat on it,” he said. “His [throws] zip a little faster, and you can hear them coming through the wind. But it’s still very catchable.”

Senior linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II said Edwards commands the same amount of respect as Tagovailoa did among his teammates on both sides of the ball.

“He knows how to control the room,” he said. “I’m close with Billy as well. So we talk about this every day as far as getting opportunities to play and stuff like that. So he’s ready to go. We’re all confident in his ability, and he’s going to do what he needs to do.”

With a quarterback room that includes Edge, Long, redshirt freshman Jayden Sauray and MJ Morris, a sophomore who has committed to transferring from North Carolina State to Maryland, the bowl game looms as an audition for Edwards. Locksley said no one has been promised next season’s starting job.

Edwards said he welcomes the challenge from his teammates and the opening to prove himself.

“Competition breeds excellence,” he said. “[Locksley] brought me in two years ago, and you could say the same thing when I came in. But the room took me with open arms, and we competed against each other, and we made each other better, and I think the room as a whole was better for that. That’s college football nowadays, and I’m excited for the opportunity to compete.”


One of the pillars of the Southeastern Conference with eight league championships, Auburn has discovered that success doesn’t always extend to bowl games. In fact, the Tigers have lost in each of their past three bowl appearances, including falling to Big Ten opponents Minnesota in the 2019 Outback Bowl and Northwestern in the 2020 Citrus Bowl. Auburn has a chance to become the 13th NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision program to reach 800 wins as the team is 799-466-47 in 131 years. Unlike the Tigers, Maryland is riding a two-game winning streak in bowl games after defeating Virginia Tech in the 2021 Pinstripe Bowl and North Carolina State in the 2022 Duke’s Mayo Bowl. A victory would give the Terps a three-game streak in the postseason and back-to-back eight-win campaigns for the first time since the 2002 and 2003 teams rolled to 11 and 10 victories, respectively.

Key for Maryland

The offense’s success boils down to whether redshirt Edwards can run the unit in place of Tagovailoa. Edwards will make only the third start of his career, but he is in his second year in Locksley’s system. “He’s very familiar with what we do,” Locksley said.

Key for Auburn

Three defensive players also elected to skip the bowl game for to prepare for the NFL draft. Senior Marcus Harris, who leads the Tigers in sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (11), and senior cornerbacks D.J. James, who leads the unit in pass breakups (10) and is tied for second in interceptions (two), and Nehemiah Pritchett, who had three pass breakups and one interception, opted out, and Auburn coach Hugh Freeze acknowledged that their absences could be significant. “I just told these young guys they’re going to get thrown in there,” he said. “It’ll be fun to watch them.”

Music City Bowl

Maryland vs. Auburn

Saturday, Dec. 30, 2 p.m.


Radio: 105.7 FM

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