There's no rational reason not to expect Ohio State to obliterate Maryland this Saturday in Columbus. Despite a scare against Indiana this weekend, the Buckeyes are ranked the No. 1 team in college football, and even if they're not quite that good, they're clearly in the highest echelon there is. Between Ohio State and Maryland, a 28-0 loser to Michigan last weekend and 75-6 cumulative loser in its last two games, there are probably about 100 FBS teams.
If I said Maryland would do so much as compete with Ohio State, it'd be contrarian trolling right now. But that doesn't mean there's not room for Maryland to create something worth building upon and maybe get some luck. And who knows? Stranger things have happened than Maryland beating Ohio State. (OK, not many, but probably some.)
Maryland vs. Michigan – What we saw
1. Maryland's defense did well. Michigan only averaged 4.8 yards per play to score six points in the first half. In the first 30 minutes, Maryland narrowly won possession time and got four takeaways on fumbles. Against an offense that scored 31 points in the same timeframe against then-ranked BYU just a week ago, that was impressive.
2. But the offense ensured that didn't matter, and then the defense collapsed in kind late in the game. Maryland's offense averaged 1.9 yards per play in the first half, and that somehow went down to 1.4 in the second. Maryland didn't run more than five plays or earn more than 14 yards on its last 14 drives (out of 16), which makes it nothing short of impossible to win a football game. Against anybody. It can't be done.
3. Pedestrian special teams play. Maryland's best unit is special teams, which isn't ideal in general. Against Michigan, he game's third phase didn't offer much of a respite. Brad Craddock didn't get to try a field goal or extra point for a second-straight week, and Will Likely averaged 8 yards across three punt returns. It's not fair or realistic to expect special-teamers to carry the team, of course, and neither is remotely a concern. Nicolas Pritchard punted 10 times for 360 yards – a not-great 36-yard average – and Michigan out-returned Maryland on punts. (The Wolverines, needless to say, didn't spend a lot of time fielding kickoffs.)
Maryland vs. Ohio State – What we're looking for
1. A semblance of quarterback play. It'd be ideal if Maryland could keep one quarterback upright and in the game for all 60 minutes. Not counting the season opener against Richmond, when Maryland made a garbage-time switch from Perry Hills to Caleb Rowe, the Terps have gotten through exactly one game without swapping signal-callers. That's the opposite of a good sign.
2. Continued strides on defense. Ohio State's offense has been surprisingly mortal, and Maryland's defense was pretty good for a little while against Michigan. The Buckeyes are only ranked No. 33 nationally in offensive S&P+, and quarterback Cardale Jones hasn't looked nearly like the version of himself that rolled over Alabama and Oregon to win the College Football Playoff last winter. Is Ohio State's offense still better than Maryland defense? Of course. But maybe not by as much as the teams' records would indicate. If Maryland can not give up 250 yards to running back Ezekiel Elliott, there's potential to keep the Buckeyes in the 30s.
3. A loss that isn't outrageous. Bill Connelly gives Maryland a 12 percent win probability. That's about right, probably. Maryland isn't Ohio State's peer, and it would take a cataclysmic and multi-faceted collapse from Urban Meyer's players to not beat the Terps at home. But wins and losses, at a point, become a secondary measurement for this team. The Terps haven't stayed within three touchdowns of a ranked opponent since Clemson "only" beat them by 13 points in 2013. If Maryland can stay within two scores, it'd probably mean a strong effort.