After looking at Maryland's non-conference schedule Monday, it's time to break down the first four games of conference play for the Terps. Maryland opens up Big Ten competition in 2015 with games against Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa, and it could be a rough start to conference play.
Below are capsules on each team's season, with information on what they bring back in 2015 and coaching staffs. I've included Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings as well. For reference, Maryland returns five starters on offense and four on defense. Maryland ranks No. 54 in overall F/+, No. 59 in offensive F/+, No. 66 in defensive F/+ and No. 7 in special teams F/+.
October 3, College Park: Michigan Wolverines
2014 record: (5-7, 3-5 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
F/+ rankings: 56th overall: 76th offense, 41st defense, 67th special teams
You never quite know what will happen when a new head coach takes over, but this looks like quite the combination at Michigan. Seventeen returning starters, one of the nation's most successful coaches (with a monster staff) and a roster already loaded with talent? It's going to be an interesting year in Ann Arbor, and this could be a game that flips from a Maryland win in 2014 to a Maryland loss in 2015.
It's certainly possible that the Harbaugh era doesn't work out in Michigan, and it's definitely possible that the Wolverines have a down year while they adjust to the new staff. However, he's overseen (radical) instant improvement in the first year of every job except San Diego, his first one -- the Toreros dropped from eight wins to seven before consecutive 11-win seasons. That staff is pretty intimidating, too: Harbaugh is bringing back a collection of his old friends from previous jobs, hiring former Stanford/49ers assistant Tim Drevno as his offensive coordinator and former Stanford assistant D.J. Durkin (who spent last season as Florida's defensive coordinator) to run the defense. The Wolverines' defense was pretty good last year, and coordinator Greg Mattison returns to the staff as a defensive line coach.
October 10, Columbus: Ohio State Buckeyes
2014 record: (14-1, 8-0 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
F/+ rankings: 2nd overall: 2nd offense, 6th defense, 22nd special teams
Yes, the Terps have to travel to play the defending national champions next season. This will likely not be a fun time. Ohio State lost an early game to Virginia Tech this season as they broke in new quarterback J.T. Barrett, but then just got exponentially better as the season went along, proving themselves as the nation's top team and winning the national championship. They return just about everybody (including, as it stands, all three of their quarterbacks), with Joey Bosa and four starters from the nation's best offensive line among the notables.
After excellent two-year stints at Bowling Green and Utah and two national titles with Florida, Urban Meyer took over Ohio State prior to the 2012 season. The Buckeyes are 38-3 in his tenure and an incredible 24-0 in regular season Big Ten play, and he hasn't recorded a season with less than nine wins since Bowling Green went 8-3 in his very first season. Meyer replaced departing offensive coordinator Tom Herman, now the head coach at Houston, with offensive line coach Ed Warriner, adding former Nebraska OC Tim Beck to the staff as well. On the defensive side of the ball, long-time Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell is the coordinator.
October 24, Baltimore: Penn State Nittany Lions
2014 record: (7-6, 2-6 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense
F/+ rankings: 50th overall: 96th offense, 9th defense, 116th special teams
Penn State's first season under James Franklin was a mixed bag, with streaks of ups and downs ending on a positive note. The Nittany Lions opened 4-0 with wins over UCF and Rutgers, but then lost four games in a row -- including to Northwestern, Michigan and Maryland (they somehow brought Ohio State to double overtime during this stretch). Consecutive wins against Indiana and Temple were followed by losses to Illinois and Michigan State, but Penn State showed promise in their 31-30 Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College.
The Nittany Lions were pretty much a one-unit team in 2014, so re-signing defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was a big deal for James Franklin and the program. Franklin, Maryland's former offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting under Ralph Friedgen, arrived in State College after a 24-15 record in three years at Vanderbilt, with two consecutive bowl wins and two ranked finishes. Former Maryland assistant John Donovan followed Franklin to Nashville and then Penn State and is the team's offensive coordinator -- he's not a figure Nittany Lion fans are exactly enamored with after 2014's dreadful offensive performance.
October 31, Iowa City: Iowa Hawkeyes
2014 record: (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten)
Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense
F/+ rankings: 66th overall: 63rd offense, 57th defense, 104th special teams
Things just haven't gone so well for Iowa since they gave Kirk Ferentz a 10-year extension following his 8-5 2010 season. The Hawkeyes have won seven, four, eight and seven games, respectively, in the years since, and Iowa fans are absolutely done with it. The program is far removed from the double-digit win seasons and top-10 finishes of Ferentz's past, and his career record in Big Ten play is getting awful close to .500 (68-60).
Ferentz's offensive coordinator, former Texas OC Greg Davis, has particularly caught a lot of flack from Iowa fans for his unwillingness to adjust his game plan from the beat 'em down, pro-style tactics of yore. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has been with the school for 16 years, and Iowa generally has a solid unit on that side of the ball.