What to make of the Terps' undefeated start at 3-0

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Terps have had a strong start, but what does it mean?

We're going to start this out by acknowledging the fact that Maryland hasn't really played anyone yet. FIU and Old Dominion are two of the worst teams in the FBS, and Connecticut lost by 15 points to Towson (although that is much more likely the result of a fluke than the Huskies being actually worse than an FCS school).

But 3-0 is significant - if it wasn't, it would have been done previously in the past decade. That's right, 2001 -- Maryland's last conference title, last Orange Bowl appearance, last anything remotely important.

I'm not going to sit here and say Maryland will replicate that feat (although they certainly have their best shot at doing it in quite a few years), but after big, expected wins over really bad FIU and Old Dominion teams, one thing stuck out.

Maryland did not play a very good game against Connecticut and still won by 11 (and were winning by 19 until that final touchdown and two-point conversion). That bears repeating - Maryland played a fairly bad game and won by 11 on the road.

The Terps would have lost that game last year (and did), or in 2011, or in 2009 (and possibly even in 2010). Maryland has been a team that has needed everything to be clicking in order to get a win, but this team -- this 2013 team -- is good enough that they can overcome a poor start, a bunch of turnovers, and a resilient opponent to simply overmatch them.

And that's the bottom line. It wasn't that Maryland suddenly played a whole lot better in the second half (although it wasn't nearly as bad as the first). It was just that the Terps were a better football team, and quietly put distance between them and their inferior opponent. That is what great teams do. That is not what Maryland did last year against a similarly-inferior Connecticut opponent, dropping an easily-winnable game at home.

The emotional stakes cannot be ignored, as well. Randy Edsall returned to his old school. A young team played their first road game of the year and won. After two games against some of the lowest competition the FBS has to offer, Maryland had a legitimate test facing a fellow power conference school on the road, and they came out on top.

So, where does Maryland go from here? Obviously things have changed with the loss of Dexter McDougle, but Will Likely and Isaac Goins are more than adequate ACC starters (the issues start to come as you go farther down the line, but that's a different issue for another time).

The Terps face a test of sorts against West Virginia this week, and it's hard to determine whether or not this is a litmus test for the team. The Mountaineers have defeated the Terrapins seven straight times, so a victory would certainly speak to the changing tide in the program (or both programs), but West Virginia matches up in a very specific way that can take advantage of Maryland's newfound lack of cornerback depth.

So that could happen -- while it is a game Maryland should still win (and Brian Stewart is a good enough defensive coordinator to overcome just about any obstacle), the injuries to McDougle and Jeremiah Johnson make it significantly more difficult. But the Terps could very much still win, sweeping non-conference play and putting themselves in strong position for their final go-round at the ACC schedule.

After that, Maryland gets a bye week to prepare for a road game against Florida State, considered one of the best teams in the nation. The two weeks after that are a bit less dicey, with games against Virginia and Wake Forest, before another tough contest against a top-ten team when the Terrapins host the Tigers on October 26. Maryland hopes Johnson is able to return for that game, and that would do wonders for the Terps' defense, as they will have to contend with Sammy Watkins.

3-0 means a lot of things. It means halfway to a bowl game. It means the best start since the last conference title. But, perhaps most importantly, it means a football team that fans can be excited about for the first time in years. Ultimately, that's all we need to make out of 3-0.

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