Maryland has attempted to gain bowl eligibility two times this season, and have fallen short -- disappointing in a blowout loss at Wake Forest, and hanging with a good Clemson team before ultimately losing at home. A home game against Syracuse could be the Terps' most likely win left on their schedule (if Maryland had shown any capability to look prepared for a road game, NC State would take those honors), and you can bet if the Terps lose this one, crisis mode will be fully engaged (especially considering Jalen Tabor, Damian Prince and Derwin Gray are all visiting).
Let's run the matchup down, unit by unit.
Maryland offensive line vs. Syracuse defensive line:
Remember when Maryland's offensive line was awful, but just mostly on the right side? That can extend over to the left, as well, as true freshman Moise Larose will be thrust into action after Mike Madaras's departure from the program. Madaras certainly struggled, but there's a reason Larose was a second-stringer throughout the season.
Syracuse has certainly struggled this year, but have done a fine job at getting into the backfield. The Orange are tied for fourth (with Maryland) in the conference in tackles for a loss, averaging nearly eight per game, and are led by senior defensive tackle Jay Bromley. Bromley has ten tackles for a loss this season, with eight sacks and three fumbles forced.
Maryland defensive line vs. Syracuse offensive line:
Syracuse has a pretty solid running game and has only allowed 11 sacks this season, but Maryland has a rotation of five solid guys who consistently make plays.
Maryland rushing offense vs. Syracuse front seven:
Maryland gets C.J. Brown and Brandon Ross back, and Brown may be healthy for the first time since Maryland was, well, undefeated. That spells good news for the Terrapin offense -- especially on the ground.
Maryland front seven vs. Syracuse rushing offense:
Maryland has a significant hole in the middle, as Shawn Petty and Abner Logan will probably be the starting middle linebackers. But Alex Twine and Matt Robinson are good to go, as is Marcus Whitfield, who has likely seen his draft stock soar after a fantastic season.
Syracuse runs the ball very well, at nearly five yards per rush, and has multiple guys that can hurt you with the ball. Leading the way is Jerome Smith, who has 587 yards on 116 carries and eight touchdowns, but senior Prince-Tyson Gulley is averaging 5.75 yards per rush and freshman Devante McFarlane is at a 7.9 yards per carry clip on just 20 attempts.
Maryland receivers vs. Syracuse secondary:
Levern Jacobs did very well in Stefon Diggs's absence, but Amba Etta-Tawo struggled filling in for Deon Long. The speedster is still very raw, and Maryland will hope to see improved route running and catching ability from him Saturday. Nigel King is back in his starting spot for the Terps, and Dave Stinebaugh returns from injury at tight end.
The Syracuse secondary is giving up 6.9 yards per passing attempt, tied for eighth in the conference, and ranks 11th in passing yards given up per game (Maryland is 13th, ahead of just Boston College). They are averaging more than an interception per game, with nearly four passes broken up per contest.
Maryland secondary vs. Syracuse receivers:
Remember how, earlier in the year, Maryland receivers was a guaranteed win, no matter who they were facing? This category is a guaranteed loss. Will Likely has been great as a true freshman stepping in, but the fact of the matter remains that injuries to Dexter McDougle, Jeremiah Johnson and Anthony Nixon have absolutely crippled Maryland defensively.
Maryland quarterback vs. Syracuse quarterback:
C.J. Brown is back! And probably healthy! Meanwhile, Terrel Hunt has seven passing touchdowns against six interceptions. He is a dual threat (he's punched it in four times on the ground), but Brown gets the nod here.
Maryland special teams vs. Syracuse special teams:
Maryland takes the nod in just about every special teams category.
Overall impressions and final tally
Our first push of the year, mostly caused by injuries. The problem? Not all matchups are created equal. In particular, Maryland's inability to stave off any sort of defensive line pressure causes serious problems that bleeds through to every part of the offense. Having C.J. Brown back helps combat that, as the zone read scheme is designed specifically to counter that, but Brown hasn't able to use that effectively since the second game of the season. I'm so, so sorry Maryland fans, and feel free to revolt in the comments section. Just remember: I'm not picking State (yet).
Our prediction: Syracuse 20, Maryland 13.