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20 Til Kickoff: Finding Maryland's Route to a Bowl

After a 2-10 year, expectations don't exactly run high for the Maryland Terrapins. But that doesn't mean they don't run high for Ralph Friedgen.

Debbie Yow said seven games was a "reasonable" number, which to me says that any fewer would lose Ralph his job. With a new AD coming in, it figures that there will be even more pressure on Friedgen: after all, whoever the new guy is didn't make the Ralph decision, and probably wants his own guy as coach.

That said, the first step is to make a bowl game and win six games. A 6-6 year isn't going to turn things around and certainly won't get fans excited about a moribund program, but it's a step in the right direction. More important for Maryland's coaches, it might be enough to keep their jobs.

So, if Maryland needs to get to a bowl game, how do they do it? To answer that question, here are the six most winnable games on the schedule for Maryland, in order of...uh, winnability (hint: Navy, despite what everyone says about the game's importance, isn't on there):

vs. Morgan State, 9-11: Maryland struggled with James Madison, their FCS opponent last year, but Morgan State doesn't look to pose the same challenge. JMU is an FCS power; Morgan State has had one winning season since 1973, and it came in 2002. Needless to say, Maryland should be able to deal with the Bears fairly easily.

vs. Florida International, 9-25: Sort of like how Morgan State is a poor man's James Madison, Florida International is a poor man's MTSU. Sure, the Terps lost to the Blue Raiders last year, but that MTSU was perhaps the best team in the Sun Belt and won 10 games. FIU, on the other hand, finished third to last and won three. Oh, and they lose their starting QB, Paul McCall, and their starting RB, Daunte Owens.

vs. Wake Forest, 10-30: If only one team is worse than Maryland in the ACC Atlantic, it's probably a safe bet that it'll be Wake Forest. They lost starting QB Riley Skinner, and are replacing him with Skylar Jones, who's never started a game before. They had one of the best passing offenses last year - 26th in the nation - but couldn't run the ball (except against Maryland, of course). Now that Skinner's out, they run the risk of having a very dysfunctional offense. Oh, and they have to replace their best player two players on defense, too, DT John Russell and CB Brandon Ghee. There's not a single "name" player on the entire team.

@ Virginia, 11-13: If only one team is worse than Maryland the entire ACC, it's probably a safe bet that it'll be Virginia. Mark Verica is moderately experienced as a QB, but he's never been the full-time starter before. All three of UVA's three best rushers last year - Mikell Simpson, Rashawn Moore, and Sewell - all graduated. Plus, UVA's switching to (another) new defense. Ras-I Dowling is a legitimate star at cornerback, but past that there's not a lot of talent on the defense.

vs. Duke, 10-2: Duke was good last year thanks almost solely to their passing attack, which was led by a seasoned and talent senior QB, Thaddeus Lewis. This year, Lewis is replaced by Sean Renfree, an unproven sophomore with a handful of plays under his belt. The strong WR corps is back from last year, but with Lewis gone, there's no telling how much the offense can produce, if they can at all. Other than that, Maryland only lost by four points in Durham last year.

vs. North Carolina State, 11-27: Russell Wilson is back and might be the ACC's best QB, and linebacker Nate Irving returns from injury to bolster what was one of the worst defenses in the conference last year. However, N.C. State's top two running backs both graduated, and this team couldn't run last year to save its life anyway. They lost three (potentially four) offensive linemen, all four defensive linemen, and there's no major upgrades to a defense that was terrible last year. Maryland came within a play of winning this one last year, and that was Jamarr Robinson's first real game - ever.

Honorable Mention:

vs. Navy, 9-6: For all the talk about this being a "must-win" game - it's usually pointed out as the most important game of the season for Maryland - what's more important than winning is how they perform. Even if UMD loses this game, they'll still have six winnable games after it on the schedule. Given Ralph Friedgen's teams' propensity for slow starts and Navy's own potential this year, that's probably the most likely outcome.

@ Boston College, 10-23: Chestnut Hill is not a notoriously hard place to play. Even when BC is winning, there's never a very big home-field advantage. BC has a lot of talent this year, but is still unsettled at QB. If I have to pick an upset game, this is the one.