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Breaking down Maryland football’s 2022 schedule

Can the Terps build off their first bowl victory since 2010?

Photo Courtesy of Zach Bland/Maryland Athletics

The 2022 college football season has arrived.

Week zero marks the official start of the season Saturday, and there are only 11 days until Maryland football’s season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 3.

The Terps took a massive step forward last season, winning the program’s first bowl game since the 2010 season. With the victory over Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl, head coach Michael Locksley secured his first above-.500 season at Maryland.

That momentum gives Maryland fans credible preseason excitement for the first time in a long time. On the offensive side of the ball, Locksley returns his entire starting offensive line, one of the best wide receiver groups in the nation and, most importantly, his star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa.

Life has not been easy for the Terps in the Big Ten, and it won’t get any easier this fall. The conference boasts four teams in the top 18 of the AP Top 25 Poll, all of which are on Maryland’s schedule. The Terps have the 17th-toughest schedule in the country, according to the ESPN College Football Power Index.

Let’s dive into what each matchup will hold.

Sept. 3: Buffalo

2021 record: 4-8 (2-8 MAC)

After winning bowl games in back-to-back years, the Bulls struggled in 2021, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2016. Second-year head coach Maurice Linguist looks to lead the program back to its winning ways in 2022.

The Bulls are expected to improve this fall; they were projected to finish third in the MAC East Division in the media’s preseason poll. Buffalo had a lackluster offense in 2021, finishing with the third-worst offensive efficiency in the MAC. Linguist’s squad finished with the second-best defensive efficiency in the conference, though, and they were led by a special defensive talent.

Graduate student linebacker James Patterson returns for a fifth season after finishing with 116 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last year. Pro Football Network tabbed him as a Third Team Preseason All-American, and he is on various national watch lists. Rutgers transfer Cole Snyder, 2019 Buffalo starter Matt Myers and sophomore Casey Case seem to be vying for the starting quarterback spot.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Terps are heavy 21-point favorites in week one and should have no business losing to a Group of Five opponent at home. Pencil it in as a victory.

Sept. 10: at Charlotte

2021 record: 5-7 (3-5 Conference USA)

Maryland will take on Charlotte for the first time in each program’s history this September. Charlotte restarted its football program in 2013 as an FCS Independent, and 37-year-old head coach Will Healy looks to get the program right for the first time, well, ever. The 49ers only have one winning season since the program was reborn, but last year seemed to be a step in the right direction.

Charlotte is participating in college football’s week zero, meaning its matchup against Maryland will be its third of the season.

College football writer Phil Steele said that he expects Charlotte’s offense to be “one of the top units in C-USA” in his preview, and there’s certainly some evidence to support that. Team captain and redshirt senior quarterback Chris Reynolds returns as the school’s all-time leader in both passing yards and touchdowns. The 49ers also return each of their top three running backs from one year ago.

However, the 49ers’ defense was abysmal in 2021. Charlotte had the 12th-best total defense in Conference USA, which is not ideal considering there are now only 11 teams remaining in the league. Its defense could improve under new defensive coordinator Greg Brown, but it should not matter much against Maryland. Despite the road environment, the Terps should have no problem putting away the No. 97 team in the ESPN FPI.

Sept. 17: SMU

2021 record: 8-4 (4-4 The American)

The Terps would be unwise to overlook the threat that SMU could pose. The Mustangs have two respective tune-ups against North Texas and Lamar before arriving in College Park.

A projected top-10 offense nationally by 247Sports, the Mustangs are led by one of the country’s most explosive quarterbacks in senior Tanner Mordecai. Last season, Mordecai threw for 39 touchdowns, the fifth-best mark in the nation. He helped pace an offensive attack that averaged 38.4 points per game, which was a top-10 clip in America.

Other offensive weapons return as well, including SMU’s top wide receiver Rashee Rice. Former five-star running back Camar Wheaton transfers to SMU after one year at Alabama, adding another element to help out first-year head coach Rhett Lashlee’s offense.

Though SMU gave up more than four touchdowns per game last season, it has continuity on the defensive side of the ball. The Mustangs return seven defensive starters, including Second Team All-AAC defensive tackle Elijah Chatman and their second-leading tackler in senior linebacker Jimmy Phillips.

Week three poses to be a shootout and a worthy gauge of where Maryland — and specifically its defense — stands ahead of Big Ten play.

Sept. 24: at Michigan

2021 record: 12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)

The Wolverines are coming off their most successful season in quite some time. The 2021 season saw Michigan make its first-ever College Football Playoff, defeat Ohio State for the first time since 2011 and win 12 games for the first time since 1997.

Michigan has rightfully been recognized as the preseason No. 8 team in America by the Associated Press, and they are a team that has given Maryland fits — and that’s being kind. Michigan has won six straight against the Terps, outscoring them 261-59 in those matchups.

Offensively, the Wolverines return two ultra-decorated quarterbacks. Head coach Jim Harbaugh claims that both graduate student Cade McNamara and sophomore J.J. McCarthy will be hard to beat out. McCarthy is more talented and bigger, but McNamara should get the week one nod after bringing Michigan to new heights last season. The Wolverines also bring back All-Big Ten running back Blake Corum and wideouts Cornelius Johnson and Ronnie Bell.

Michigan’s defense will be weaker with the departure of NFL No. 2 overall draft pick Aidan Hutchinson. The Wolverines bring back just four starters from the eighth-best scoring defense in 2021 and lost defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald to the Baltimore Ravens.

Still, this Wolverines team once again looks like a monster, and history shows that it would be a shock if Maryland were to pull off the upset.

Oct. 1: Michigan State

2021 record: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)

Head coach Mel Tucker injected life into the Michigan State program in 2021, turning a projected last-place team into an 11-win, Peach Bowl-champion group.

The preseason No. 15 team in the nation will go as far as starting quarterback Payton Thorne takes it. Thorne returns for his redshirt junior season after throwing 27 touchdowns last season — the Michigan State single-season record. His top wide receiver, Jayden Reed, returns for his senior year after garnering First Team All-American honors from the American Football Coaches Association last season.

Michigan State had the third-best scoring offense in the Big Ten last year at 31.8 points per game, a feat that will be hard to reach again in 2022. The Spartans lose running back Kenneth Walker — the 2021 Walter Camp Player of the Year — to the NFL, a void that will be impossible to fully replace.

The Big Ten’s 10th-best scoring defense should improve with nine players with starting experience coming back to school, but something has to give for Maryland. If the Terps are to take the next step in 2022, beating one of the premier Big Ten East teams (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State) should be a realistic goal. The Spartans are better than the Terps, but the latter needs to believe they have a shot at home.

Oct 8: Purdue

2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)

One of Maryland’s three crossover matchups with the Big Ten West is Purdue, who is slated to finish fourth in the division.

Starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell embarks on his sixth year of college, and he led a special Purdue air ambush in 2021. In terms of both touchdowns and passing yards per game, Purdue had the second-best passing offense in the Big Ten. O’Connell, a Second Team All-Big Ten selection, completed an astounding 71.8% of his passes.

The Boilermakers’ offensive success did not start and end with O’Connell, though. Consensus first-team All-American wideout David Bell is now in the NFL, and the Boilers lose their other top three receivers as well.

Purdue’s offense and defense both ranked in the top half of the Big Ten last year. While O’Connell is a great quarterback, there is nothing to suggest that Purdue will be unbeatable in 2022. The preseason Football Power Index favors the Terps in this early-October matchup, but it could be more of a toss-up. Purdue’s season-opener against Penn State will tell us a lot about it early.

Oct. 15: at Indiana

2021 record: 2-10 (0-9 Big Ten)

The Hoosiers had one of the worst seasons in program history last year, compiling an 0-9 Big Ten record for the first time since 1984.

Believe it or not, the Hoosiers recently had high expectations, going into the 2021 season as the No. 17 team in the nation. Former quarterback Michael Penix Jr. entered the season fresh off a 2020 All-Big Ten campaign, but he subsequently underperformed, got injured and transferred.

The reality of the Hoosiers 2021 season was gloomy. Indiana had the conference’s second-worst scoring offense and its worst scoring defense last season, digging itself quite the hole this fall.

Indiana will have a transfer-infused offense this season. Potential starting quarterback Conner Bazelak (Missouri) and running back Shaun Shivers (Auburn) are new faces that could make an impact.

If the Terps have bowl eligibility aspirations, this is a game they must win.

Oct. 22: Northwestern

2021 record: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)

The Terps’ 2022 homecoming opponent, Northwestern marks another must-win game in the path to six-plus wins. The Wildcats check in as the last-ranked team in the Big Ten West in the conference’s preseason poll.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald — the 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year — has had plenty of ups and downs leading the program. In the last four years, Northwestern has won the division twice and finished in the bottom two of the division twice. Fitzgerald has the history to prove he could overcome the low preseason expectations, but the outlook for his Wildcats remains low.

The Wildcats open their 2022 campaign on Saturday in Ireland, but Fitzgerald will hold off on naming a starting play-caller until then. Ryan Hilinski started five games for Northwestern last season, and the former No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2019 could have a breakout year.

Northwestern had the worst offense in the conference last year — it averaged a dreadful 16.6 points per game — but should improve this season. Pro prospect and First Team All-Big Ten selection Peter Skoronski leads a steady offensive line that returns four starters. Northwestern struggled defensively, though, allowing exactly 29 points per game one year ago.

Maryland should put away the Wildcats at home in a very winnable game.

Nov. 5: at Wisconsin

2021 record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)

Fresh off their bye week, the Terps will face quite the task on the road. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Wisconsin (+190) is the favorite to win the Big Ten West.

Maryland has not played Wisconsin since 2017, but the Badgers own a 3-0 record over the Terps since the latter joined the Big Ten. With the Badgers checking in at No. 18 in the AP preseason poll, they will be yet another gargantuan task for Maryland.

Wisconsin’s story starts with its defense. The Badgers had the best scoring, rushing and passing defense in the Big Ten last season. Sixth-year defensive coordinator Jim Leonard only returns a few starters this year, but that has rarely mattered for this program. Wisconsin has had a top-three defense in the conference in each of the past three seasons, and Leonard has proven that his system can continue to flourish regardless of its pieces.

While third-year starting quarterback Graham Mertz has a chance to take a major leap this fall, Wisconsin’s offense will be led by its star running back duo. Sophomore Braelon Allen and senior Chez Mellusi were the respective second- and seventh-leading running backs in the Big Ten in 2021, and that should continue this fall.

The Badgers seem poised to have another spectacular season. Maryland will likely be a significant underdog in a game that offers an opportunity for a program-defining victory.

Nov. 12: at Penn State

2021 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten)

Maryland’s showdown with Penn State is right in the middle of a brutal three-game stretch to kick off November.

If the Terps want to make their yearly meeting with the Nittany Lions a “rivalry” like many fans want it to be, it will have to start winning some games. Penn State owns a staggering 41-3-1 all-time advantage over Maryland, but the Terps recently picked up a blowout road win in the truncated 2020 season. Since joining the Big Ten, though, Penn State is 6-2 against Maryland and has outscored the Terps, 301-119.

At +900 to win the Big Ten East per DraftKings Sportbook, Penn State should be improved in 2022. Super senior Sean Clifford will start at quarterback in his sixth year with the program and had a career night in Penn State’s 59-0 destruction at Maryland in 2019. The conference’s fourth-best passing offense from a year ago should continue to perform with Clifford and plenty of returning starters at wide receiver.

Penn State’s defense improved vastly in 2021, giving up more than 10 fewer points per game than it did in 2020. The defense will have a different look under new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. Some extra juice will be injected to the matchup as well with former Maryland edge rusher Demeioun “Chop” Robinson transferring to Penn State.

Maryland could make another program-altering statement in its 10th game but will likely be hefty underdogs again.

Nov. 19: Ohio State

2021 record: 11-2 (8-1)

The Buckeyes are largely projected to be a top-two team in the nation this fall. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Ohio State has +300 odds to win the national championship, -215 odds to win the Big Ten and -340 odds to win the Big Ten East. Simply put, the Buckeyes will give everyone fits.

Ohio State had by far the best offense in the Big Ten last year at 45.7 points per game, and a three-headed monster could propel it to further heights in 2022. Starting quarterback CJ Stroud is the Heisman favorite at +220 (DraftKings Sportsbook). TreVeyon Henderson, the No. 1 running back in the class of 2021, had 15 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman. And stud wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba is already a projected top-four pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Even if the Terps can score with Ohio State — the Buckeyes had only the ninth-best scoring defense in the Big Ten last year — it will have immense problems on the defensive end.

The Big Ten has only put four teams in the top two of the AP preseason poll since Maryland joined the conference, and all four of them have been different renditions of Ohio State (2022, 2020, 2017, 2015). Ohio State has outscored Maryland, 416-151, since 2014, and it is the one Big Ten East opponent that Maryland has not defeated since entering the Big Ten. ESPN’s FPI gives Maryland fewer than a 10% chance to win against the Buckeyes, and that is certainly for good reason.

Nov. 26: Rutgers

2021 record: 5-8 (2-7 Big Ten)

Maryland vs. Rutgers has become a “rivalry week” tradition each season, and last season’s victory meant everything to the Terps. Maryland blew out Rutgers on the road to end the season last year, which propelled it to bowl eligibility and ultimately its first bowl victory in 11 years. The win against Rutgers started to change the perception surrounding the Maryland program, but it means little if Maryland cannot follow it up this season.

The Terps hope to reach bowl eligibility before the final week of the season this fall, but Rutgers should provide a good opportunity for a win at home anyways. The Scarlet Knights’ odds to win the Big Ten East are not listed on DraftKings Sportsbook, and Maryland ranks 44 spots higher than Rutgers in ESPN’s FPI.

Rutgers had an opportunity to play in one more game last season after replacing Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl but fell to Wake Forest in convincing fashion. Still, the extra game and practices should have helped Rutgers develop as it returns about half of its starting offense, its leading interception-getter and two of its three leading tacklers from 2021.

Though the Scarlet Knights will have hope and strong leadership under head coach Greg Schiano, the Terps should plan to walk away with a victory to end the 2022 regular season.

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