As we enter into a new season of college football for the Maryland Terrapins, everything is going to feel different this year. New conference, completely new opponents, and new road trips litter the schedule. Maryland has a lot to adjust to, there’s no questioning that. But this is an experienced group, one that should be able to draw on their experiences to help them acclimate to the situation as quickly as possible. Their sixth year quarterback at the helm, a head coach who has been with him his entire career, and an offensive scheme that will mimic the one from a year ago should certainly ease the transition.
But the one thing Maryland’s got to bring over from the season prior should they want to be successful is one that you wouldn’t necessarily expect: road wins. Coach Edsall has proven to be surprisingly adept at grabbing a road win or two after not winning a single one his first year in College Park. In 2012, he stole games against Temple (with Steve Addazio) and Virginia, but finished 2-4 on the road. In 2013, he got revenge at Connecticut, shocked at Virginia Tech, and excised demons at N.C. State for a 3-2 road record. A one win improvement in fewer games isn’t a major stepping stone or anything; it’s progress in the right direction though.
The relationship between playing well on the road and being a successful team can’t be overstated. In 2011, sportswriter L. Jon Wertheim wrote a book called “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports are Played and Games Are Won” and in that book showed some revealing statistics concerning home advantage. Between 1869 and 2009 in college football, the home team had a winning percentage of 63 percent. Those are unforgiving numbers for any team.
Next year Maryland has six road games, a lot of which are in venues that are both notoriously hostile and a clear advantage for the home team.
At South Florida
At Penn State
If we rank them in order of best home field advantage according to Phil Steele’s homefield edge, here are the power rankings (nationally):
#13 Penn State
#94 Maryland (for good measure)
#94 South Florida
These results shouldn’t shock anyone. It’s well known that Wisky, Penn State, and Michigan comprise some of the toughest venues any team has to play in. What is more surprising is that Maryland has about as much of an edge statistically at home as South Florida and Indiana.
And just to put into perspective Maryland’s accomplishments from the last two seasons, here are the teams they beat according to those same rankings:
#3 Virginia Tech
#23 NC State
Maryland won two solid games last year against NC State and Virginia Tech, and regardless of how good those teams were in that given year, a win is a win.
But Maryland is going to get three of the toughest opponents they’ve ever faced during the Edsall era this year. Rather than simply replace Clemson and Florida State on the schedule, they added a third difficult road game to the schedule in addition to those two. The likelihood of a victory at Penn State, Wisconsin or Michigan is very low statistically.
That said, Edsall has done it before. He and C.J. Brown have proven they can go into one of the most hostile environments short-handed and come away with a victory. That monkey is officially off the team’s collective back, and moving forward we should see better efforts on the road out of this team. The tougher job is going to be preparing properly for the easier games.
Maryland absolutely has to be prepared for Syracuse this time around. The same motivational tactics Edsall used against Connecticut last season ought to be employed against Syracuse this year. And they’ve got to be prepared for South Florida regardless of the caliber of team played; they’re 3-7 against teams from Florida over the past five years. And they’ve got to know that Indiana has every intention of “breaking them in” as they face off in the Terps first ever Big Ten conference game. Think they want to start a trend of being consistently worse than Maryland?
The best part about Maryland’s schedule is that they can realistically look at being 3-0 on the road before heading into two of the toughest venues in college football. The confidence boost that comes from having already played in one Big Ten venue and experienced success in it could go a long way to keeping this team prepared for Penn State (the most likely upset location). Looking at a game like Wisconsin, it’s hard to envision the Terps winning there in late October. It’s equally as difficult seeing it against Michigan in late November. While suggesting Maryland could be going out with a 4-2 road record to start the season is optimistic, it isn’t unreasonable. It’s just progress in the right direction.