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Breaking down Maryland football’s 2021 schedule

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The Terps will likely have a challenging season in front of them in 2021.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football season is finally just around the corner.

There are under two weeks until the Terps’ season opener against West Virginia in College Park on Sept. 4 and there are plenty of reasons to be excited by the 2021 Maryland roster that will take the field.

Maryland ranks decently high on the 2021 college football preseason rankings, being put at the 57th spot by Athlon Sports and at the 77th spot on CBS Sports’ rankings.

Looking back at 2020, COVID-19 forced the Big Ten’s hand last season with scheduling and Maryland competed solely against teams in its conference with five games officially being played. Now with a new campaign on the horizon, the Terps are lined up to face their first nonconference program since the early portion of the 2019 season.

The Terps will face four preseason AP Top 25 programs in 2021, all of which are in the Big Ten, while also going against two teams that received a few votes to be in the rankings.

Here’s a closer look at each matchup:

Sept. 4: West Virginia

2020 record: 6-4 (4-4)

Maryland kicks off its 2021 season with a home game against West Virginia, which will be the Terps’ first non-conference game since their 20-17 road loss against Temple back on Sept. 14, 2019.

The Mountaineers competed in 10 games last season going 6-4 overall. They will be returning a strong roster in 2021 and that was made known in the AP Top 25 Poll, as the program received three votes entering the new year.

West Virginia’s offense leaves much to be desired (8th best points per game average in the Big 12 last season), however, its defense is where it thrives and should cause Maryland some trouble in the home opener. The Mountaineers finished last season with the best defensive efficiency in the Big 12, conceding just 20.5 points per game.

Sept. 11: Howard

2020 record: 0-2 (0-0)

Howard will be Maryland’s second straight home matchup of the season and it’s a game where the Terps should find themselves adding one in the win column. The Bison played just two games last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both of Howard’s games in 2020 were played against the Delaware State Hornets and the Hornets took both games within single digits.

The last time Maryland faced the Bison was the first game of head coach Mike Locksley’s era on Aug. 31, 2019. To say that Maryland dominated the contest, which was now nearly two years ago, would be an understatement. The Terps came away with a 79-0 triumph over the Bison, and while we may not see a score as wide open as that one in 2021, Maryland should be able to handle Howard pretty easily come September.

Sept. 17: At Illinois

2020 record: 2-6 (2-6)

Maryland’s opening road game of the season will come against the likes of Illinois in mid-September. The Terps went just 1-2 on the road in 2020 and it will need to get off on a good foot against its first Big Ten opponent of the season.

The Big Ten has an abundance of programs that have adequate roster depth heading into 2021, but Illinois is one of the teams that is projected to be near the basement of the conference. USA Today placed Illinois football as the last-place team when looking at the Big Ten power rankings.

The Fighting Illini went just 2-6 in conference play last season and should expect more of the same this year with a talented Big Ten as a whole. The last time Maryland faced Illinois was all the way back in October 2018 and the Terps won 63-33 in College Park.

Sept. 25: Kent State

2020 record: 3-1 (3-1)

After Illinois, the Terps will then shift back to their last nonconference game with a matchup against Kent State in College Park before going into an entirely Big Ten slate for the rest of the regular season.

Kent State won three of four contests last season and took down all of Eastern Michigan University, Bowling Green and Akron before losing to Buffalo by 29 points.

If there’s anything to look out for in this program, it’s the efficient offense that carried it through 2020. Over the four games, Kent State’s lowest scoring output in an individual game was 27. The team averaged nearly 50 points per game during last season. Maryland should be able to take down Kent State, but don’t expect it to be a rollover.

Oct. 1: Iowa

2020 record: 6-2 (6-2)

Maryland jumps right back into its Big Ten schedule after Kent State and will face a strong program in Iowa. The Hawkeyes had a wonderful season in 2020, winning six of eight games under head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Now entering the new season, Iowa is ranked at the No. 18 spot in the AP Top 25 rankings in the preseason, which is the fourth-highest team nationally ranked in the Big Ten. What makes the Hawkeyes so dangerous is their balance.

Last season, Iowa finished second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State in points per game with 31.8 points a contest over eight games. The program’s defense was equally as effective over the same stretch, conceding just 16.0 points per game, which was second to only Northwestern’s outstanding defense (15.9 per game).

Iowa will certainly give Maryland a tough game at home, especially since the Hawkeyes went 3-1 on the road last year.

Oct. 9: At Ohio State

2020 record: 7-1 (5-0)

What else is there to say about the behemoth that is Ohio State? The Buckeyes are the crowned jewel of football in the Big Ten and odds on favorites to repeat as champions in the conference in 2021.

Quarterback Justin Fields may be off to the NFL with the Chicago Bears, but Ohio State is primed to be a dominant team in the conference once again and the program was listed as the No. 4 team in the nation in the preseason AP Top 25. It also helps that No. 1 wide receiver Chris Olave is returning for his senior year after accumulating a team-high 50 catches for 729 yards and seven scores last season.

Maryland’s game against Ohio State was canceled last season due to COVID-19. This will be the first matchup between the two programs since November 9, 2019, when the Buckeyes won 73-14 at home over the Terps. It may not be pretty for Maryland in this 2021 matchup, but there’s a pretty good chance it can reel in that scoring margin when all is said and done.

Oct. 23: At Minnesota

2020 record: 3-4 (3-4)

After taking on Ohio State, Maryland will have two weeks until its next Big Ten matchup on the schedule which comes against Minnesota on the road. The Terps won a barn burner against the Golden Gophers last season, escaping with a 45-44 home overtime victory due to a missed extra point attempt from the Minnesota kicker.

Minnesota won three of seven contests a year ago and will have somewhat of a similar team this season. The Golden Gophers will sorely miss the presence of now-Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who averaged the second-highest catches per game clip out of the Big Ten’s wideouts. However, workhorse running back Mohamed Ibrahim will be back for another season. He reached the 100-yard mark in all seven of his games in 2020.

Minnesota will without a doubt give Maryland another run for its money, but the Golden Gophers are a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team at best and it is a game that the Terps can certainly win.

Oct. 30: Indiana

2020 record: 6-1 (6-2)

A matchup with Indiana is one of the toughest games that Maryland will have at home all season with the contest coming as the last of the Terps’ games in the month of October.

Indiana is coming into the season as the No. 17 team in the nation, per the AP Top 25 Poll. The Hoosiers are a highly regarded program coming into this year because of the strong campaign they had in 2020, where they finished right behind Ohio State in the Big Ten East standings.

Indiana is built on its swarming defense and it used that to its advantage to stall Maryland’s offense when it took down the Terps 27-11 last season. The Hoosiers collected the most sacks and interceptions in the Big Ten in 2020, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team dominate on the defensive side of the ball once again.

Maryland will once again have to deal with Indiana’s stout defense, but the matchup will come in College Park this time around.

Nov. 6: Penn State

2020 record: 4-5 (4-5)

A home game in College Park with Penn State involved has the potential to be one of the most entertaining contests of Maryland’s season.

Penn State is coming off one of the program’s worst years in a while, losing five of nine total games in 2020. However, despite the down year, the Nittany Lions were given the preseason No. 19 national ranking and are still projected to have a good fighting chance for the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten standings right behind the Buckeyes.

Keep in mind that Maryland has split its last two games against Penn State. The one Maryland lost was a 59-0 onslaught in College Park in 2019, though the Terps exacted revenge over the struggling Nittany Lions last year and won a 35-19 game on the road. Now, Maryland will get another shot at home against Penn State, but it won’t be easy by any means.

This will likely be an emotional and physical home game, especially as the Terps are coming off another tough game against Indiana just a week before this one eventually takes place.

Nov. 13: At Michigan State

2020 record: 2-5 (2-5)

A difficult stretch against two top 25 programs leads to an eventual road meeting with the Michigan State Spartans, a game that Maryland should be favored to win even though it is the traveling team.

The Spartans didn't face the Terps a season ago but captured two wins defeating Michigan and the then-No. 8 ranked Northwestern program at home. Michigan State dropped five games in 2020 and all of the defeats came by double digits against each Big Ten opponent.

The one lackluster aspect of the Spartans’ program that stuck out last year was their consistency issues. In three of the seven contests, Michigan State scored 12 or fewer points. The Spartans are likely looking at a bottom-third finish in the conference if that offensive inconsistency continues. This is another game that Maryland can win, and it’s a particularly important one as well with the game coming in its opponent’s territory.

Nov. 20: Michigan

2020 record: 2-4 (2-4)

The Michigan Wolverines will be Maryland’s final big challenge of the regular season. The matchup comes on Maryland’s Senior Day and even though the game is a long way away, the Wolverines are already receiving votes in the AP Top 25 Poll even after the team's down year in 2020.

The Wolverines had an uncharacteristically poor season last year, specifically on the defensive end. Michigan finished 12th in the Big Ten in sacks and tied for dead-last with Maryland in the interceptions category with two. This season, the Wolverines are bringing back a more experienced roster, which is projected to finish somewhere in the upper half of the conference.

If there’s a game to point to late in the season where Maryland could possibly steal one, it’s this College Park matchup. With the added Senior Day motivation, a potentially struggling Michigan squad could be just what Maryland needs towards the end of the regular season campaign.

Nov. 27: At Rutgers

2020 record: 3-6 (3-6)

Maryland will conclude its regular season with a matchup against the Scarlet Knights on the road in what will likely be another winnable game for the Terps. Head coach Greg Schiano led Rutgers to three wins in 2020, which included coming away with a win in two of the team’s last four games.

The Scarlet Knights got the better end of the Terps a year ago, claiming a three-point overtime victory in College Park to dampen Maryland’s final home game of the season. This year, though, both teams are projected to be in the bottom half of the Big Ten.

Surprisingly enough, it could be beneficial to have this played as a road game. Rutgers managed a 3-1 away record and went winless in five home games last season. Maryland has the chance to exploit the Scarlet Knights in its final game of the regular season slate to close out what should be a very entertaining 2021 season.