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Minnesota will be a challenge for Maryland football in 2016, but the Terps have a chance

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A win here would be huge.

NCAA Football: Quick Lane Bowl-Central Michigan vs Minnesota Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the start of Maryland's football season on Sept. 3, we're doing an at-a-glance preview of every opponent on the schedule.

Week 1: Howard (Sept. 3, Maryland Stadium, 12 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

Week 2: FIU (Sept. 9, Ocean Bank Field, Miami, 7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

Week 3: UCF (Sept. 17, Bright House Networks Stadium, Orlando, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)

Week 4: Bye

Week 5: Purdue (Oct. 1, Maryland Stadium, 3:30 p.m., TV TBA)

Week 6: Penn State (Oct. 8, Beaver Stadium, 12:00 p.m., TV TBA)

Week 7: Minnesota: (Oct. 15., Maryland Stadium, time and TV TBA)

Maryland football’s first Big Ten game of the season — against Penn State — will be a large challenge. The Terps’ second conference game won’t be easy either. Minnesota is an unlikely but not entirely impossobile threat to win the Big Ten West, and the Golden Gophers will be a tough opponent for Maryland. In the pretty-much-best-case scenario, the Terps would enter this game 4-1 with a chance to get really close to bowl-eligible with almost half of the season remaining.

How good is this team?

Minnesota is pretty decent. The Gophers finished last season No. 37 in S&P+, healthily in front of Maryland, which finished at No. 65. They’re returning a senior quarterback, two freshman running backs and a defense that ranked No. 23 in S&P+ in 2015. Like Maryland, they are graduating a good portion of their secondary. Unlike Maryland, Minnesota was actually effective at defending the pass last season (17th in defensive passing S&P+).

SB Nation’s Bill Connelly gives Minnesota a 51 percent chance of winning this one, so yes, it appears Maryland has a chance here. Let’s call it a toss-up.

Who should I watch?

The aforementioned freshman running backs, Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, averaged 4.3 and 6.0 yards per carry, respectively, last season. Brooks had 9.8 highlight yards per opportunity last season, a measure that shows his explosiveness.

Senior wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will have to replace the graduated KJ Maye, who led the team in catches and target rate. Wolitarsky has size (6’3) and experience, and led Minnesota in yards per catch among players with more than 10 catches.

Snap prediction, way ahead of time: Will the Terps win?

This one is really close, as Maryland’s 49 percent win expectancy obviously suggests. I’ll say yes because, why not? But this one could go either way.