The silver lining over the rough past few weeks for the Maryland Terrapins: hey, at least it hasn't been against conference opponents! At 1-0 in the ACC, Maryland's still, technically speaking, a contender for the ACC title. By that measure, we've really just been waiting for the ACC season to begin again.
Well, it's here, but it's a good example of why you should be careful what you wish for. Maryland hasn't exactly been playing the Little Sisters of the Poor through the first four weeks - not many teams had a tougher opening two weeks than a conference opponent followed by a top 20 team - but things are about to get really real for the Terrapins, who will face Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Florida State over the next three weekends.
A quick inventory of those three: each are ranked in the top 25, and have a combined record of 13-2, with both of the losses coming to top ten opponents (and one of them coming from one of the other two). Clemson and Georgia Tech are both in the top 15 in the country; Florida State is #23 and may have more talent top-to-bottom than anyone else in the conference despite a few early stumbles. In other words, these guys aren't exactly Temple or Towson. Given Maryland's performance against those foes, that's ... well, it's not good.
First up is a road trip to Atlanta to face #13 Georgia Tech, whose offense has been scary through the first five games. They're #1 in the country in yards per play, #2 in scoring offense, #1 in rushing offense - and hey, they're even passing well, going for 17.7 yards per attempt, far and away the #1 number in the country. Offensively, there may not be a better team in the country, which spells trouble for Maryland's 91st-in-the-country defense. Strangely, though, I'm most afraid of WR Stephen Hill, a very tall downfield threat averaging over 30 yards per reception through five games. They're a little more suspect defensively, particularly on the ground, but Maryland is going to have to score at an extraordinary rate to keep up with the Jackets' triple-option.
Then there's #8 Clemson in College Park. Maryland has been Clemson's kryptonite in recent history, winning two of the last three despite being favored in none of them, though after last year's loss the mojo seems gone. The Tigers have been fantastic this year, with a top 20 total offense and QB Tahj Boyd already approaching 1500 yards passing. They had slow starts in their first two games against cupcakes Troy and Wofford, but have won three straight games over ranked opponents, including the 23-3 beatdown they gave to Virginia Tech in Lane on Saturday. Chad Morris' offense is doing what we all hoped Gary Crowton's would.
And things finish up with a trip to Tallahassee to face Florida State. The Noles are only 2-2 on the year after falling to #1 Oklahoma and getting nipped in a close loss at Clemson, but those losses happened without quarterback E.J. Manuel, who was injured in 3rd quarter of the Sooners loss. Given that and the quality of the opponents, the relatively close manner of the losses are actually kind of impressive. Clint Trickett has been surprisingly great in reserve, but he's still a relatively inexperienced freshman; Manuel will almost certainly be back in the fold by the time Maryland makes its journey to the Florida panhandle.
Things will get a little easier after that, with well-timed games against Boston College - the first ACC team in decades to lose to Wake Forest and Duke in the same season - and Virginia, who just
lost to Idaho nipped Idaho in overtime last week. If you're wondering where any more possible wins are on Maryland's schedule, there's a good shot at two right there.
But if Maryland has any real aspirations for this season, they'll need to have strong performances over the next few weeks. In truth, though, I'd be happy - actually, just about ecstatic - with a 1-2 record over the next three. I have no idea where that win comes from, but given where things now, you'd take something like that every day of the week. While 0-3 wouldn't be disastrous given the opposition, the potential snowball effect of losing momentum would be potentially very harmful for the rest of Maryland's season.
Either way, the ACC season is back, ready or not.