Maryland-Wake Forest preview: Can Terps clinch a bowl berth?

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

The Terrapins look to clinch a postseason appearance for the first time since 2010.

After a tight win over rival Virginia at home, Maryland travels to Winston-Salem to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

If the Terps win this game, they will clinch bowl eligibility for the first time under Randy Edsall. In the way are a Demon Deacons team that has had a decidedly up-and-down year, despite some individual stars.

After trailing 7-0 early in their opener against Presbyterian, Wake scored 31 unanswered to stroll to a victory. They suffered back-to-back losses in their next two games -- at Boston College and at home against Louisiana-Monroe -- before bouncing back with a road win against Army. The Deacons were then blown out at Clemson by a score of 56-7 before bouncing back with a 28-13 home win over NC State. They have had a bye week to prepare for this game.

Let's run the matchup down, unit by unit.

Maryland offensive line vs. Wake Forest defensive line:

The Demon Deacons start three down linemen, with two legitimate stars. Off the edge they start senior Kristopher Redding, who has 15 tackles this year, and Zach Thompson, who been great -- 26 tackles (7.5 for a loss), with four sacks and three quarterback hurries.

The real story has been nose guard Nikita Whitlock, the undersized middle man of their 3-4 who has been simply phenomenal. 40 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, five sacks, four quarterback hurries, two fumbles forced, a pass deflected and a punt blocked? He's a legitimate playmaker on defense, and finds his way through the offensive line with consistency.

Maryland may have a size advantage here, but the Deacons have performed.

Advantage: Wake Forest.

Maryland defensive line vs. Wake Forest offensive line:

The pass rush will be hurt with the loss of Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil, but Darius Kilgo continues to eat space on the inside, while Andre Monroe is quietly putting up a fantastic season spelling the starters around the line.

Wake starts two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a true freshman (at center) on the offensive line, and have given up nearly eight tackles for loss per game.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland rushing offense vs. Wake Forest front seven:

The Terps continue to excel on the ground -- without C.J. Brown, Brandon Ross had a fantastic game against Virginia while Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii both made major contributions. With Brown back for the game, it could test a Demon Deacon defense giving up four yards per rush.

Whitlock and Thompson will make plays, but what about the linebackers? Walk-on Hunter Williams has 21 tackles, senior Justin Jackson has 22, sophomore Brandon Chubb has 39 with an interception returned for a touchdown, and senior Mike Olson has 44 tackles. They're a solid group, but have not consistently made plays in the backfield -- they haven't really had to, due to their presence on the defensive line , but it's worth nothing.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland front seven vs. Wake Forest rushing offense:

Again, the loss of Cudjoe-Virgil really hurts here (as does the loss of Matt Robinson), but another Yannick is ready to step in -- highly touted true freshman Yannick Ngakoue. L.A. Goree and Cole Farrand are strong presences in the middle, and Cavon Walker is ready to shine. Marcus Whitfield continues to have a stellar season, and will look to make his name known in the Deacon backfield.

The Demon Deacons somehow still have Josh Harris as their running back, but their ground game has been absolutely putrid this year, as they've stubbornly stuck with a pistol read option game that has left them averaging 3.06 yards per attempt.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland receivers vs. Wake Forest secondary:

I could do my due diligence here and say Wake has eight interceptions this season, tied for fourth in the conference, or I could simply point out Maryland has Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland secondary vs. Wake Forest receivers:

Michael Campanaro is really, really good, and before your "traitor" accusations remember that while he went to local River Hill High School, Maryland elected not to recruit him. That does not appear to have been a smart decision, as the senior has 582 yards receiving and four touchdowns on the young year.

Beyond that? Not much, but it's hard to give the Terps the advantage here after their woeful performances the past two weeks.

Advantage: Wake Forest.

Maryland quarterback vs. Wake Forest quarterback:

It's hard to know how C.J. Brown will look after returning from injury, but it is safe to say he will look better than Tanner Price. The senior is having a fairly good year by his standards, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt with nine touchdowns and three interceptions, but has been significantly hampered by that aforementioned pistol read option offense.

Advantage: Maryland.

Maryland special teams vs. Wake Forest special teams:

Wake has struggled, a lot, on punt returns, as Campanaro is averaging just 2.9 yards per return, and the team is around 20 yards per kick return. Punter Alexander Kinal is averaging 39.1 yards per kick, while Chad Hedlund has made just five of eight field goal attempts.

Advantage: Maryland.

Overall impressions and final tally

Maryland, 6-2.

The Demon Deacons have some good parts, but are quite a bad football team. Wake will have the home field advantage here, which served them well against a bad NC State team, but Maryland should have more than enough for the win.

Our prediction: Maryland 31, Wake Forest 13.

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