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Beating Rutgers could be the difference Maryland football making a bowl and not

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Bowl eligibility might come down to Maryland’s final game of the season.

Maryland v Rutgers Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

We’ve come to our last schedule preview ahead of the Maryland football season. It’s Rutgers! Here’s what we’ve done to date:

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, State College, 12:00 p.m., TV TBA)

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

Week 8: Michigan State (Oct. 22, Maryland Stadium, 7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network)

Week 9: Indiana (Oct. 29, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, TV TBA)

Week 10: Michigan (Nov. 5, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, time and TV TBA)

Week 11: Ohio State (Nov. 12, Maryland Stadium, time and TV TBA)

Week 12: Nebraska (Nov. 19, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, time and TV TBA)

Week 13: Rutgers (Nov. 26, Maryland Stadium, time and TV TBA)

A renewal of one of college football’s great rivalries

Rutgers might be pretty decent, pretty soon. The Scarlet Knights were bad last year, but they hired a promising new coach in former Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash. They play in New Jersey, which has a perfectly suitable high school recruiting base, even if it’s picked clean by Michigan every year.

That’s the future. The now is a lot hazier. Rutgers went 4-8 last year, and the Knights’ goal in Year 1 under Ash isn’t all the different than Maryland’s realistic goal under DJ Durkin: Show a pulse, and make a decent bowl game.

Bill Connelly’s main point about Rutgers: “New Rutgers coach Chris Ash takes over a program that peaked a decade ago and has slowly regressed ever since. Ash inherits quite a few interesting pieces, but how long will it take him to rebuild morale and uncover a few more playmakers?”

How good is this team?

Not very, probably, at least for 2016.

Rutgers will probably not do so well this year. Something like a 4-8 or 5-7 record sounds about right, and Ash will keep building to do better after that. This is how it works. Rutgers has conference games against Illinois, Indiana and Maryland, and if it goes 2-1 there, maybe there’s a bowl berth. But if it goes 0-3, things could get ugly.

The offense was really bad last year (87th in S&P+), and the defense was even worse (116th). Their points-per-game figures aligned with those performances. This is about getting incrementally better, and “incrementally better” still doesn’t mean “good.”

Who should I watch?

The Knights named Chris Laviano their starting quarterback to start the year. He started last year and did OK, throwing 16 touchdowns against 12 interceptions for 2,247 total yards. He might turn out to have a perfectly nice season.

Receiver and return man Janarion Grant is loads of fun, with his greatest contributions coming in the returns portion of his job. As a receiver, he’s been sure-handed (77 percent catch rate last year), but he hasn’t posted tons of yards or catches. As a returner, he housed three kickoffs and a punt last year. He’s good.

Snap prediction, way ahead of time: Will Maryland win?

Yes. This is a home game, and Maryland should be a little bit better than Rutgers. That could be significant, because if you think Maryland’s going 6-6 this year (as I do, if I have to pick a record), this will be the difference between making a bowl and not.