Sep 08, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Maryland Terrapins wide receiver Stefon Diggs (1) carries the ball during the first quarter against the Temple Owls at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
While joining the Big Ten is an exciting time with anyone associated with the Maryland football program, being in a division with powerhouse schools like Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State isn’t being to be a cakewalk. The odds are definitely stacked up against the Terrapins in their inaugural Big Ten season, being that they face a “murder’s row” six-game stretch towards the second half of the season. With that being said, what will Maryland need to do to reach a second consecutive bowl game and have a strong season? It all starts with James Madison. The Terps have to come out and make a statement. However, that may not be as easy as some might think. The Dukes have Georgia Tech transfer quarterback Vad Lee at the helm, and could play Maryland tough. Lee is eligible immediately, and rushed for eight touchdowns for Georgia Tech last season. The Terps will need to be aware of where Lee is at all times. This is honestly the only gimme game on Maryland’s schedule. It will also be the first Terps game to be televised on the Big Ten Network. While the rest of Maryland’s non-conference slate may not seem incredibly daunting, it’s far from an automatic undefeated record heading into Big Ten play. The second game has a very strong possibility of being a victory. Maryland will travel to South Florida to face the Bulls. South Florida was a bad football in 2013, and will likely be the very same this coming season. The Bulls finished last in the American Athletic Conference in total offense (255.5 yards-per-game), team passing (completed only 46.5 percent of their passes), and receiving (166.8 yards-per-game). That’s pretty bad for a conference that isn’t one of the premiere conferences. The AAC has a strong top tier in Cincinnati, Louisville, and Central Florida, but not much else. This could be used as strictly a recruiting trip for coach Randy Edsall and his staff. We know how well the Terps have been doing in the state of Florida recently. A 2-0 start is obviously is a very strong possibility, but the next two games are far from slam dunk wins. Two tough matchups round out the non-conference slate with West Virginia coming to College Park and a pesky Syracuse squad on the road. Last season’s game against the Mountaineers was an absolute bloodbath, resulting in a 37-0 Terps victory. As impressive as that win was, West Virginia hadn’t figured out their quarterback situation at that point. Once former Florida State signal caller Clint Trickett got the nod under center, things improved from an offensive perspective. Trickett threw for 1,605 yards and seven touchdowns in his final seven games as the Mountaineers starter. Consistency definitely gives West Virginia a chance in this one, and isn’t an opponent that the Terps can afford to take lightly. If Maryland is able to start off with a 3-0 mark, the Syracuse contest could be a trap game. The Terps struggled with the Orange in 2013, and was likely their worst loss of the season. Quarterback C.J. Brown had his worst game, and only threw for 211 yards and a pair of interceptions. Syracuse signal caller Terrel Hunt is a dual-threat quarterback that could give the Terps fits if he has his way. Maryland’s linebackers will have to be on their toes if they want to slow down the senior quarterback. After the Terps are finished with their non-conference schedule, they need to have a minimum of three wins and potentially even four. As everyone has come to know, Maryland’s Big Ten schedule is an incredibly tough one. They do avoid teams like Nebraska and Northwestern, but get just about every other powerhouse in the conference. It all starts off with a trip to Bloomington, Ind. to face the Hoosiers. This one Big Ten contest that I would expect the Terps to win. Getting off on the right foot in the Big Ten schedule is a must. The Hoosiers lost star wideout Cody Latimer to the NFL Draft, and that is some tough production to replace. If Maryland can stay at home on defense, they should walk away with the easy victory. Following the Indiana game, we should find out just how good Maryland really is. The Terps face a six-game stretch that features trips to Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin. Not to mention the fact that Iowa, Michigan State, and Ohio State will all be coming to Byrd Stadium. Maryland will need to win a minimum of three games and honestly could use four wins in order to get a decent bowl game. Iowa and Penn State are definitely winnable, but the rest will be incredibly tough. The best chance for that third win may come against the Wolverines. Michigan features a dual-threat quarterback in Devin Gardner, who the Terps defense may be prepared for since they will be facing the elusive Brown in practice every day. The Wolverines also don’t have the same stellar receiving core from a year ago, since Jeremy Gallon is gone to the NFL. While the Terps will face the Buckeyes and Spartans at home, that is an incredibly difficult task. Braxton Miller and Connor Cook are two of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten and even the country. Now Maryland’s defense is extremely underrated (21st in the nation in total defense in 2013), and will be returning nine starters on that side of the football. It’ll come down to guys like Andre Monroe and Darius Kilgo getting in the backfield, and causing these two terrific signal callers to feel the pressure. If the Terps are able to stay competitive and maybe even win one of these games, we will know that these Terps are for real. To finish out the season, Maryland will face fellow Big Ten newcomer Rutgers at Byrd Stadium. Quarterback Gary Nova had his fair share of struggles in 2013 as he tossed 14 interceptions. The Scarlet Knights do have an impressive rushing attack to rely on with sophomore P.J. James, who rushed for 933 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman. Shutting down the New Jersey native will be the key to ending the season with a win. In conclusion, if Maryland is able to win at least three non-conference games, the Indiana and Rutgers games, and at least three of the murderous six Big Ten games, that would put them at eight wins. The Terps should easily be able to get to six, and likely will need to only win one game after Indiana to reach the six-win plateau to gain bowl eligibility. In order for their first Big Ten season to be a success, I believe that the Terps need at least seven or eight wins. Now if they’re going to do that, they will need to pull off an upset or two. Many Big Ten experts believe that Maryland is certainly capable of surprising a lot of people. Welcome to the Big Ten ladies and gentlemen, it’ll be far more exciting than any ACC schedule!