Maryland’s inaugural Big Ten football season was an overall successful one, as the Terps finished with a 7-5 regular season record and won four of eight conference games in 2014.
There were ups and downs throughout the season, though the Terps unquestionably ended the season on a down note. Maryland blew a 25-point lead to Rutgers in the final game of the regular season then got waxed by Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl. However, the positives included impressive road wins at Indiana, Michigan, Penn State, and Syracuse.
Though the Orange struggled through the 2014 season (3-9 overall, 1-7 in the ACC), the Terps avenged their embarrassing 2013 home loss to Syracuse by beating them at the Carrier Dome 34-20 on September 20. Maryland followed up this road win with another as they impressively defeated the Indiana in the Terps’ first inter-conference contest as members of the Big Ten. Maryland’s defense played well, holding the seemingly unstoppable running back duo of Tevin Coleman and D’Angelo Roberts to a combined 165 yards rushing and one touchdown on 36 total carries.
After getting drubbed by the Badgers 52-7 at Wisconsin a month later, the Terps responded the following week by earning a hard-fought victory against Penn State in Happy Valley. Lou Groza Award winner Brad Craddock kicked a 43-yard field goal with under a minute to play to give the Terps a 20-19 win against the Nittany Lions. After a bye week and a home loss against Michigan State, the Terps defeated the Wolverines of Michigan in Ann Arbor, adding one more crack to the thin ice under then-coach Brady Hoke’s feet.
All in all, the Terps won five of six games on the road in 2014, greatly contributing to Maryland’s 7-5 overall regular season record. None of these teams were pushovers, including the win against South Florida. The Terps needed a blocked punt and recovery in the end zone to overcome six offensive turnovers for a 24-17 win.
The 2015 schedule on its face, however, does not appear to afford the Terps many opportunities for wins on the road. Especially in a rebuilding year following the player turnover from 2014.
Maryland’s first away game of the season comes in the fourth week of 2015 against none other than West Virginia. The Mountaineers have always proven a tough opponent for the Terps, including a heartbreaking loss in College Park last season. After falling behind by as much as 22, the Terps clawed their way back before the Mountaineers kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired for a 40-37 win over Maryland. Quarterback Clint Trickett, who threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns in that game, gives way to Skylar Howard, who completed 56-of-110 passes for 829 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in place of Trickett last season.
West Virginia is also in a transition period after losing Trickett and star receiver Kevin White, but returning running back Rushel Shell (98 yards and a TD on 22 carries against the Terps) is more than capable of carrying the load for the Mountaineers. This could be another close game between these two teams, but playing in Morgantown has never been an easy feat for the Terps. Since 1996, the Terps have lost seven of eight against the Mountaineers in Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Terps second road game of 2015 comes in the sixth week of the season against defending national champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes pounded the Terps in College Park last year, and starting quarterback C.J. Brown struggled to the point where Edsall replaced him with Caleb Rowe after the half. Rowe couldn’t provide the spark Edsall was hoping for, as he tossed three interceptions including one returned by the OSU defense for a touchdown. J.T. Barrett started for the Buckeyes, but the country caught a glimpse of the athleticism of Cardale Jones, when he tucked the football and hurdled over the Terps’ Anthony Nixon while picking up a first down. It likely won’t matter whether Barrett, Jones, or Braxton Miller is quarterbacking for Ohio State in Columbus on October 10; this is going to be a difficult game for the Terps to keep close. Throw in the return of elite running back Ezekiel Elliot, and Maryland’s chances of pulling off the upset are next to none.
The next two away games, at Iowa (October 31) and at Michigan State (November 14), will not be quite as challenging as upsetting the defending national champions. However, winning either of these games away from home will be no easy feat. The Terps took down the Hawkeyes in Byrd Stadium last season by a final of 38-31 behind a Will Likely 45-yard interception return, a 53-yard catch and score by wideout Stefon Diggs, and two rushing touchdowns from close range by Wes Brown. Hawkeye quarterback Jake Rudock has transferred to Michigan, but junior C.J. Bethard is experienced (played in nine games last season) and has a better arm than Rudock.
The Spartans return Big Ten leading passer Connor Cook, who will likely become the winningest quarterback in program history this season, but will need to fill voids left by wide receiver Tony Lippett and running back Jeremy Langford. Though relatively untested, Michigan State has a talented corps of players at both positions. The Spartan defense held Maryland to a measly six rushing yards in their meeting in College Park last season en route to a 37-15 win over the Terps.
Perhaps Maryland’s best chance at winning an away game this year comes in the final week of the regular season against Rutgers. Who could forget the Scarlet Knights colossal comeback against the Terps in the final home game of 2014. The Rutgers offense, led by offensive coordinator and former Terrapin head coach Ralph Friedgen, rallied after falling behind 35-10 to steal a victory away from the Terps by a final score of 41-38. Craddock missed his only kick of the season from 54 yards out, and coach Randy Edsall decided to try to pick up a first down on a 4th-and-1 instead of kicking a game-tying field goal. Running backBrandon Ross was stuffed, and the biggest comeback is Rutgers history was complete.
Of course the Terps always have a chance to pull out a few road wins this season. Aside from their matchup with Rutgers, it’s also not entirely absurd to think they could defeat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Additionally, Maryland trailed 12th-ranked Michigan State by a score of 9-7 late in the first half of their meeting last season in College Park before the floodgates opened. Though the Spartans were shaking off the effects of a crushing defeat by Ohio State the week before, the Terps still showed they could hang with one of the Big Ten’s elite.
With that being said, the Terps unfortunately seem poised for a down year, as they transition from an offense that lost several key players from 2014. If Maryland is going to come close to their seven win total from a year ago, they will need to take care of business at home. The road slate this upcoming season is not an easy one to say the least.