Earlier this week, I looked at Maryland's schedule and road to a potential bowl game, and thought that they had four, maybe five winnable games left on their schedule. Because the bye week is a good time to do that kind of thing.
The bye week's also a great chance to finally relax on a Saturday, kick back, and enjoy* some ACC football (to the extent that it is actually possible to enjoy ACC football). And I realized something: some of the teams in this conference really aren't very good. And no, that's not a #goacc joke - it means that Maryland's schedule might be a little easier than we thought. It's definitely a lot different than we thought.
In fact, I'm starting to think that four-to-five winnable game mark might stretch all the way to six, maybe seven. Note, of course, that "winnable" doesn't mean "likely to win" - just that it doesn't stretch the imagination the way, say, upsetting Florida State would. They'll have a legitimate chance. And maybe even a good chance in more than a few.
Every opponent left on Maryland's schedule was in action on Saturday; a few of them impressed, but none left the realm of beatability. At least one dropped in. A future-chronological run-down for those who might've missed the action:
Duke 34, Wake Forest 27. Maryland plays Wake Forest this upcoming Saturday, and yes, they just lost to Duke. In football. The Dukies aren't awful this year (four wins already, albeit against poor competition), but still: c'mon, Wake Forest. It's Duke.
Of actual note, Wake lost star receiver Michael Campanero to a broken hand, and it's tough to imagine him able to play on Saturday. While you never like to see someone get injured, especially a local kid like Camp, that development should help Maryland out. Another interesting bit: their secondary got ripped apart. The Blue Devils, who had to play a backup quarterback from much of the second half, finished 30-40 for 258 yards, doing a lot of damage on short bubble screens. If Perry Hills can continue improving upon his West Virginia form, he could have a big day - especially if Stefon Diggs can take a few of those short screens for big plays. Wake also turned it over 4 times; it might be a battle of who can hold onto the ball come Saturday.
Louisiana Tech 44, Virginia 38. The Terrapins visit Charlottesville on Oct. 13, and will hopefully continue UVA's downward spiral towards irrelevancy this season. After landing Alabama QB Philip Sims in a transfer in the offseason, continuing to recruit at a breakneck pace, and easily winning their first two games, people started to look at UVA the same way they looked at Maryland after they beat Miami. And, like Maryland then, the Cavs are starting to fall apart. The latest in their string of disappointments: blowing a 24-10 lead by giving up 34 consecutive points. LTU has a hell of an offense this season, but still ... that's bad. They also turned the ball over three times and had a boatload of penalties; still, they did manage nearly 500 yards of passing offense. But they might be shooting themselves in the foot there: Michael Rocco got pulled in favor of Sims, so now there's a full-fledged QB controversy. Hopefully that'll wreak havoc just long enough for Maryland to sneak a road win. Next up for the Hoos: an increasingly tricky-looking road game to Duke. There's a decent chance that UVA could come into the Maryland game 2-4 and in a tailspin.
Miami 44, N.C. State 37. The Wuffies visit College Park on October 20th for Maryland's homecoming, and had a mixed showing against Miami. They didn't look like they had a real shot during a mistake-filled first half, but they fought back in the second with a gigantic offensive performance, putting up more than 650 total yards and easily beating Miami in both pass and run. They probably played well enough to win, save one big problem: mental errors. They were just a mental-error makin' machine, even worse than Maryland's been this year. They turned the ball over six times, four of them fumbles, and had 14 penalties, most of those offsides calls. (No, really.) They were also extraordinarily susceptible to getting beaten over the top, and it didn't look like they could deal with Miami's athletes. Maryland will need to try to do the same: beat them with their athletes going for big plays. And hopefully they don't learn team discipline in the next few weeks. State's the better team, probably. But with the right set of circumstances, a Maryland win wouldn't be at all surprising.
Clemson 45, Boston College 31. Both teams here are on Maryland's schedule, and I feel more or less the same about them as I did before today. I might regard BC just a bit more highly, but not significantly. The Eagles looked a lot like Maryland last year against Clemson: giving them a serious run for the first half and most of the third quarter, but then falling apart late. A team with a big offense can always give Clemson a game, but very few teams can keep up with them score for score. BC showed some of their strength passing the ball, but couldn't slow down Clemson at all even without Sammy Watkins. With road games to Army, Florida State, and Georgia Tech standing between them and Maryland, there's a solid chance they'll come into the UMD game 2-5, having lost four of their last five, with Frank Spaziani on the hottest of seats. Whether or not you think Maryland has a chance against Clemson depends on how optimistic you are about the Terrapins' offense: if you think Perry Hills can improve significantly and Stefon Diggs can enter Watkins Mode early, Maryland might have an outside chance with a little luck, because that defense is as bad as it looks. But on the road, it's still unlikely.
Middle Tennessee State 49, Georgia Tech 28. Now here's where things get interesting. GT is the first game of what I previously considered Maryland's murderer's row, a stretch that also includes @Clemson and Florida State. And I didn't think there was any chance at any of those three. But now? Oh yes, Maryland will have a chance against Tech. Take it away, Dinich:
There was no sense of urgency, and there was certainly no defense. It was another poor performance by Al Groh's group, which was coming off a meltdown in last weekend's overtime loss to Miami.
Early in the year, when GT played VT tight and tore apart Virginia, there was some optimism around them. But now that we know that VT is fairly mediocre and Virginia is bad? There's not much on their resumé worthy of fearing. They were genuinely outplayed in every aspect of the game by MTSU, who completely dominated Tech's defense and played against the triple option as well as anyone. Oh, and did I mention that this is the same MTSU team that lost to McNeese State in the season opener?
Because it is.
Oh, and Maryland gets them at home.
(Just don't fire Al Groh before then, Tech. Please. He is the Chessmaster, after all.)
Florida State 30, South Florida 17. Don't waste your hope. USF made FSU look a little more human than most others have done and maybe played closer than the score, but the Noles still forced three turnovers and outgained the Bulls by nearly 200 yards. Anything can happen on any given Saturday, of course. But it's seriously unlikely.
North Carolina 66, Idaho 0. That's a laugher of a score line, and it should remind that UNC isn't to be trifled with. But Idaho is hardly firm opposition; they've already lost handily to FCS Eastern Washington, plus dropping games to Bowling Green and Wyoming (who themselves lost to FCS Cal Poly). It's a hell of a lot of points to put up against anyone - but remember that they already clobbered Elon 62-0 earlier in the year, before turning around and losing to Wake Forest and Louisville back-to-back. This should serve as a reminder that they can put up points in a hurry, but like I said earlier, I don't think it moves them out of the games Maryland will think they have a real chance in.
I have to say, I'm wondering if Maryland can't tear out a page from the Buck Showalter textbook this year, win games despite everything saying they shouldn't be winning games, playing the right way and with passion, getting some breaks, and making big and/or clutch plays. They certainly have the schedule to accomodate that type of season; the likes of Wake, State, GT, and UVA hardly seem like paragons of football intangibles, and will make enough mistakes for Maryland to capitalize. I fear it may be a year too early for Maryland to get to six wins using that method, because they're still too young and will make mistakes of their own. But they'll win some games that way, for sure.