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Brutal Mid-Season Stretch Will Define Maryland’s Season

It’s safe to say that the Maryland Terrapins surprised a lot of people during their first full season the Big Ten.

Though the Terps weren’t exactly the most explosive team in the nation (their 28.5 points-per-game average ranked 68th nationally) and while they weren’t exactly the most defensively sound team in the nation, either (they gave up 30.2 points per game, which put them a lowly 89th nationally), they were a scrappy bunch who managed to string together enough good results early, and then a couple mild upsets late (they won at both Penn State and Michigan) to finish the regular season with a completely respectable 7-5 mark—including a more-than-decent 4-4 record in the Big Ten.

Considering what most expected out of this program—and considering its placement in the ever-more-daunting Big Ten East—the 2014 season must be considered nothing short of an unqualified success. No, the Terps didn’t look like they were anywhere near ready to compete with the league’s big boys (they lost 52-24 to Ohio Sate, 52-7 to Wisconsin and 37-15 to Michigan State), but by season’s end they at least proved that they weren’t going to be pushovers, either).

They weren’t the biggest team in the league, or the fastest team, or the most innovative. They were just really scrappy. And in 2014, being scrappy was enough.

In 2015, that may not be the case.

The Terps have neither improved dramatically nor gotten worse dramatically over the last few months, which means the team that coach Randy Edsall brings into the 2015 Big Ten season would, in theory, be able to replicate the successes of the 2014 team. That is, they would be able to do so provided that nothing else in the Big Ten has changed.

But of course, things have changed. By virtue of the arrival of Jim Harbaugh alone, Michigan is already better. With another impressive group of recruits added in February—and maybe an offensive line that edges closer to “competence”—Penn State is better, too. Ohio State and Michigan State? Well, we know what they’re about.

And here’s the bad news for the Terps: They’ve got to play all of these teams.

More specifically, they’ve got to all of play them during a particularly brutal mid-season stretch that will line them up against not only the best of the Big Ten East, but also a couple of heavyweights from the West, as well. The gauntlet begins on Oct. 3 with an 8 p.m. home kick against Harbaugh’s Wolverines, and if the Terps have any hopes of going bowling this year, they had best win that one—because afterward, things get really dicey until a Nov. 21 home game against Indiana.

Following Michigan, the Terps head to Ohio State on Oct. 10, take on Penn State at home on Oct. 24, trek to Iowa City to face a potentially improved Iowa team on Oct. 31, welcome Wisconsin on Nov. 7 and then travel to East Lansing to face the Spartans on Nov. 14. It’s a tough, tough run—potentially the toughest that any team in the Big Ten will face this year. And it will push this team to the limit.

Can Edsall navigate that minefield and pick enough wins both early (the Terps play Richmond, Bowling Green, USF and West Virginia to start the year) and late (they close with a home date against the Hoosiers and then a road game at Rutgers) to get his team back to a bowl game?

I’m not so sure.

But if he can—if can deliver another winning season to Maryland, when so few expect that he can—he would probably be deserving some of coach-of-the-year attention. Failing that, at the very least, a bowl bid would prove that, no, Maryland’s 2014 season was no fluke—and that, yes, this program fully intendeds to compete, and win, in their new conference home.

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