The ACC football schedule was finally released yesterday, and while we knew the Terps' non-conference slate, we can now take a look at the whole picture. Maryland has a tough stretch in November, as Ben G. pointed out, but get to miss Virginia Tech and Miami. Will that be enough to get to the magic six-win bowl plateau? Let's take a look at the schedule, game-by-game, to find out. Today we'll look at the first half of the Terps' schedule.
WEEK 1 vs. William and Mary (9/1) - Maryland struggled against their FCS opponent last year (Towson), but all signs point to a fairly easy victory here. The Tribe went 5-6 last year, lost at home to the Tigers by eleven, and graduate their only two effective offensive players from last year in running back Jonathan Grimes and wide receiver D.J. Mangas. They have a great linebacker in rising senior Jabrel Mines, but this looks like the definition of a warm-up game for the Terps.
Ridiculously Early Projection - Maryland 27, William & Mary 6.
Chance of a Maryland Win - 95%.
WEEK 2 at Temple (9/8) - One of the happiest moments for me this offseason was when Bernard Pierce announced he was heading to the NFL. After he torched the Terps for 149 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-7 rout, I had no need to see that again in his senior year, this time in Philly. The bad news is Matt Brown is nearly as good (he also ran for 75 yards that game), and he's back for one more go at it.
Steve Addazio (somehow) had a great first year as the head coach at Temple, and will look to continue his success with the no-quarterback offense this year. The Owls ranked 7th in rushing offense in the FBS, and 116th in passing offense - keep in mind they don't run the triple option.
Addazio used Al Golden's model at Temple of a strong ground attack balanced by a great defense, and it's hard to beat that kind of football. The good news for the Terps is that six of the Owls' starting defensive players graduated from a unit that ranked third in the nation in scoring defense, allowing less than 14 points per game.
Without Bernard Pierce, Adrian Robinson, Stephen Johnson, Tahir Whitehead, and co., it's going to be much harder for Temple to repeat last year's trouncing, even at home. It'll be an early test for the Terps, but one that they can pass.
Ridiculously Early Projection - Maryland 13, Temple 10
Chance of a Maryland Win - 55%
WEEK 3 vs. Connecticut (9/15) - Now here's where it gets real interesting. We knew this game was coming - Randy Edsall vs. the school he abandoned, Don Brown coming back to haunt Maryland, hell, even Ryan Donohue is coming back to play the Terps.
UConn went 5-7 in their first year under Paul Pasqualoni, and really only did that well thanks to Brown's defense. The Huskies stopped the run, forced turnovers, and pressured the quarterback (a formula we're used to from the Don's all-too-short stint in College Park), ranking in the top 20 in the country in each of those categories.
Redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs was the starting running back for the Huskies last year, and was their usual workhorse back, running for 1,151 yards and seven touchdowns. They had two quarterbacks see significant time, junior passer Johnny McEntree (2,110 yards passing, twelve touchdowns against eight interceptions) and redshirt freshman scrambler Scott McCummings (285 yards rushing, seven total touchdowns).
Here's the thing - as bad as UConn's offense was last year, McCombs will only be better. And as good as UConn's defense was, they lose essentially nobody. Trevardo Williams, a rising senior, returns for one last hurrah after a thirteen sack season last year, second in the country. Tackle machines Jory Johnson and Yawin Smallwood are also back at linebacker, as well as Sio Moore, who had 19 (!) tackles for a loss and three interceptions last year. Defensive backs Dwayne Gratz and Ty-Meer Brown are back as well, who each had three interceptions.
And we went through this entire mini-preview without mentioning the extra motivation UConn has to beat the coach that screwed them over via conference call. So there's that.
Ridiculously Early Projection - UConn 20, Maryland 10
Chance of a Maryland Win - 35%
WEEK 4 at West Virginia (9/22) - Anybody watch this year's Orange Bowl? You know, the one where Dana Holgorsen's offense reached its full potential and got Clemson's D-coordinator fired? That's what Maryland gets for our last non-conference game of the year.
Geno Smith and Tavon Austin decided to just go ham in the first half against Maryland, and a Terps' second half comeback almost gave Maryland an improbable win. The Mountaineers' offense never truly got clicking until that frightful game against Clemson, when in the record-breaking 70-33 blowout, Geno Smith threw for six touchdowns, Tavon Austin had nearly 300 yards of total offense, and all the Sammy Watkins' in the world couldn't make up for it.
Now the real bad news - Smith and Austin are both back, with a year in Holgorsen's offense under their belt and a chance to prove themselves in their inaugural Big 12 campaign.
We can stop writing about this game just about now. Let's just hope it doesn't get too ugly in Morgantown.
Ridiculously Early Projection - West Virginia 55, Maryland 20
Chance of a Maryland Win - 10%
WEEK 5 Bye (9/29) - Well, it looks like Maryland has a fairly normal schedule this year. Start off with an FCS opponent, two beatable teams, one very good squad, and a bye week before conference play. After Edsall's complaints following last year's late-edition Towson game, it's good to see.
WEEK 6 vs. Wake Forest (10/6) - Wake went 6-7 last year, losing to Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl, but made easy work of Maryland, defeating the Terps 31-10 in Winston-Salem. The Deacons were really helped by the maturation of sophomore quarterback Tanner Price, who threw for over 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns against six interceptions. The southpaw had his best game of the year against Maryland, when he threw for 320 yards and three scores.
Price loses his top target in Chris Givens, who led the ACC in receiving yardage before going to the NFL Draft, and his running back in Brandon Pendergrass. Returning is local legend Michael Campanaro, from River Hill, who had a break-out sophomore campaign with 833 receiving yards and five total touchdowns.
Replacing Pendergrass will likely be junior Josh Harris, who started last year before straining his hamstring. Harris was the third option when he returned from the injury, after Pendergrass and freshman Orville Reynolds. Reynolds is another option for the Deacs as the starting running back, as is DeAndre Martin, but the position is a big question mark right now.
Wake's defense was remarkably average last year, and there's not much to fear there. Josh Bush was second in the conference with six interceptions, but he graduated, and he was the only real playmaker on that side of the ball for them last year.
Ridiculously Early Projection - Maryland 31, Wake Forest 20
Chance of a Maryland Win - 60%
WEEK 7 at Virginia (10/13) - Mike London has lived up to expectations in Charlottesville, turning one of the most disappointing programs in the conference into a big-time recruiting power and, now, an eight-game winner. With a a balanced offense countered by a slightly better than average defense, the Cavaliers ended up 8-5, including big wins at home against Georgia Tech and on the road against Miami and Florida State.
The 'Hoos also beat Maryland in College Park last year, by a margin of 31-13, and while it's hard to imagine the Terps faring worse this year, it's almost equally hard to imagine them faring much better.
Virginia's offense was centered around the triple-running back attack of Perry Jones, Kevin Parks and Clifton Richardson. The three combined for 1,990 yards on the ground with 21 total touchdowns, and Jones had nearly 50 receptions as one of Michael Rocco's most consistent targets.
Rocco, who will be a junior this year, passed for nearly 3,000 yards last season but had a pretty even split between touchdowns and interceptions (13 and 12, respectively). His top target, Kris Burd, graduated, leaving Jones and Tim Smith as the only returning players who had at least 25 receptions last year. That's not to say there isn't potential - former Gilman beast Darius Jennings averaged over 10 yards per reception in his true freshman campaign last year and will be expected to step up in a big way this season.
Seven of the Cavaliers' defensive starters graduated, but linebacker Steve Greer returns after his first 100-tackle season. Also back are LaRoy Reynolds (nine tackles for a loss), former four-star cornerback Demetrious Nicholson (started as a true freshman), and 6'4", 275 pound end Jake Snyder.
Virginia is arguably Maryland's biggest (and only) rival in football, so this game will command a good amount of attention. With the Hoos' stable of three backs, however, it doesn't look likely that they'll be able to pull this out on the road.
Ridiculously Early Projection - Virginia 27, Maryland 21
Chance of a Maryland Win - 35%
We'll have the rest of Maryland's schedule previewed tomorrow.