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Breaking down every game on Maryland football’s schedule

The Terps look for a third straight winning season.

Maryland v Penn State
Maryland football’s season begins on Sept. 2 against Towson.
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The start of Maryland’s fifth season under head coach Mike Locksley is just eight days away.

Last season was Maryland’s most successful under Locksley, as it reached the eight-win threshold for the first time since 2010.

Many believe that Locksley fields his best roster yet this year, but with notable departures from the offensive line, secondary and wide receivers, Maryland has to figure itself out first before testing its lofty expectations.

The Terps have started 3-0 in each of the past two seasons, and with a schedule this season that seems to gradually become more difficult, they’ll be challenged as they try to compete with the upper echelon of the Big Ten.

Let’s get into every game Maryland will play this season.

Sept. 2: Towson

2022 record: 6-5 (4-4 CAA)

Maryland opens up its campaign against a familiar FCS opponent; one it has defeated twice by a combined 71 points.

In what’s written to be a tune-up game for Maryland, Towson shouldn’t faze the Terps all that much. Maryland has won six straight games against FCS opponents, and the Tigers are 1-13 all-time against FBS competition.

On the field next Saturday, Towson will be under new direction on the bench and in the huddle. Veteran coach Rob Ambrose was relieved of his duties following a six-win campaign last year and is succeeded by Pete Shinnick, the former coach at West Florida.

At quarterback, the Tigers were led by former Terp Tyrrell Pigrome last year, who now plays in the CFL. Scott Smith III, who was the scheduled starter last season before suffering an injury, is in line to start against Maryland.

The first few minutes of the opener should tell all that needs to be said about the outcome of this one.

Sept. 9: Charlotte

2022 record: 3-9 (2-6 Conference USA)

There may not be a team in FBS undergoing as drastic a rebuild as Charlotte. This season will be its first in the American Athletic Conference and its first under new head coach Biff Poggi. More than 40 players transferred out in the offseason.

But with Poggi, a Baltimore native and the former coach at St. Frances Academy, at the helm, the 49ers were able to bring in 50 new players, many of them being high-level talent from the DMV.

Everything’s new for Charlotte. The conference, the coaches and the players. Even so, it’s safe to expect a lot of the old results.

Maryland and Charlotte faced off last year, with the Terps prevailing, 56-21.

The 49ers look to be a program on the rise, but it doesn’t seem like that will come to fruition by week two of this season.

Sept. 15: Virginia

2022 record: 3-7 (1-6 ACC)

If this matchup took place three or four years ago, Virginia would likely be the favorite. But ever since its trip to the Orange Bowl and the departure of quarterback Bryce Perkins, the Hoos have struggled to compete.

After back-to-back .500 seasons, Bronco Mendenhall resigned ahead of the 2022 season. Tony Elliott anchored the team to a 3-7 start last season, before the rest of Virginia’s season was postponed following the tragic shooting of three student-athletes.

In what is sure to be an emotional return to the field, Virginia brings in just nine new transfers, with 14 players leaving the program.

The Hoos do return six starters on defense, but on offense, it looks grim. Last year’s starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong transferred to NC State, and just two offensive starters return this season.

Virginia’s offense ranked last in the ACC in 2022, and it doesn’t look to be any better this season. The 79th all-time meeting between Maryland and Virginia is set up to see a lot of the Cavaliers’ punt unit.

Sept. 23: at Michigan State

2022 record: 5-7 (3-6 Big Ten)

Head coach Mel Tucker signed a 10-year, $95 million contract following the 2021 season, during which he guided the Spartans to an 11-2 record.

But after a week three loss to Washington last year, everything fell apart for Michigan State. It lost four of the next five, including a 14-point loss to Maryland, and ultimately finished 5-7.

If it wants to make back positive strides, look no further than its defense.

In 2021, when the Spartans won 11 games, it managed to do so with the worst pass defense in FBS. Last year, it came back to bite them. An inexperienced secondary only secured two interceptions last season, and if Michigan State wants to see any improvement, that group will need to step up.

But the biggest question mark is on offense, where Tucker has still not announced his starting quarterback. With a week left until the season opener, it looks like the Spartans will either roll with Noah Kim, a redshirt junior with only 19 passes to his name, or redshirt freshman Katin Houser.

It may be an understatement to say that Michigan State has a lot of questions that remain unanswered.

Sept. 30: Indiana

2022 record: 4-8 (2-7 Big Ten)

Head coach Tom Allen’s program has been on a downhill trajectory over the past few seasons. The Hoosiers have just six wins in the last two years, but they hope that 15 new transfers — including quarterback Tayven Jackson from Tennessee — will help change their luck.

Headed into the start of the season, it’s expected for Indiana to roll with a heavy dose of underclassmen as it tries to rejuvenate its program.

Frankly, Indiana is outclassed by most in the Big Ten, with its defense ranking dead last and its offense ranking in the bottom half of almost every statistical category last season.

On offense, Jackson will look to bring his experience into an Air Raid offense, but he will have to do so with an inexperienced and unproven group of receivers. In the run game, the Hoosiers bring in another proven transfer in Christian Turner, who garnered close to 600 rushing yards at Wake Forest last season.

But ultimately, if the league’s worst defense can’t show signs of improvement, it will be a long season for the Hoosiers.

Oct. 7: at Ohio State

2022 record: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)

The Buckeyes have won four of the past six Big Ten titles and were a field goal away last season from an appearance in the national championship game.

To put it lightly, Maryland has an enormous task in front of itself it it wants to beat Ohio State for the first time in nine seasons. Head coach Ryan Day, who will add the nation’s fourth-ranked recruiting class into his already championship-caliber roster, is 29-0 against Big Ten teams not named Michigan during his tenure.

The Buckeyes had the No. 2 scoring offense in the country last season, and return maybe the best player in the nation in wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. And behind the generational talent in the receiving room are two more NFL prospects in Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming.

Also, TreVeyon Henderson remains one of the top running backs in the country and four of Ohio State’s starting offensive linemen are former five-star recruits.

The Buckeyes are just as strong on defense, where despite some timely mishaps in the secondary, the Buckeyes’ total defense ranked top-15 in the country last season.

Only one true question stands for Ohio State: Is Kyle McCord or Devin Brown its starting quarterback? Ohio State has a lineage of great quarterback play, but with C.J. Stroud off to the NFL, one of McCord or Brown will take the reigns of a potent offense. Day has been unwilling to name a starter and even said that he is willing to continue the quarterback battle into the season if necessary.

Oct. 14: Illinois

2022 record: 8-5 (5-4 Big Ten)

Maryland’s homecoming game and first Big Ten West matchup is against Illinois, which finished with the same record as the Terps last year. The Fighting Illini posted their first winning season since 2011, but face an uphill battle in 2023.

Illinois had one of, if not the best defense in the Big Ten last year, ranking first in the nation in points allowed per game (12.8) and interceptions (24). However, the team lost perhaps its two most important defensive pieces in coordinator Ryan Walters and cornerback Devon Witherspoon. Walters accepted the head coaching position at Purdue this offseason and Witherspoon was selected fifth overall in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks.

The Fighting Illini will also have a new face under center. Ole Miss transfer Luke Altmyer was named starting quarterback Monday. Altmyer appeared in four games last year, compiling 125 passing yards and three total touchdowns.

Question marks loom on both sides of the ball for Illinois, but its success will ultimately fizzle down to the play of Altmyer.

Oct. 28: at Northwestern

2022 record: 1-11 (1-8 Big Ten)

Following its mid-October bye week, Maryland will face off against Northwestern.

Northwestern was the worst team in the Big Ten in 2022 and is in line for another losing season following a hazing scandal that led to the firing of head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

On a more positive note, the Wildcats brought in multiple transfers to improve their lackluster passing attack from a year ago. In 2022, Northwestern led the conference in interceptions (17) while finishing in the bottom half for passing yards per game (210.3) and passing touchdowns (10). However, the additions of quarterback Ben Bryant (Cincinnati) and wide receivers AJ Henning (Michigan) and Cam Johnson (Arizona State) should help the cause.

Defensively, the Wildcats return multiple starters from last season and will look to improve their conference-worst rushing defense, which allowed 191.3 yards per game.

Northwestern opens the season on Sept. 2 against Rutgers, which should provide a clear depiction as to whether or not they will remain at the bottom of the Big Ten.

Nov. 4: Penn State

2022 record: 11-2 (7-2 Big Ten)

Maryland’s toughest three-game stretch of the regular season begins at home against Penn State.

Many consider Maryland’s biggest football rival to be Penn State, but it’s hard to imagine the Nittany Lions feel the same way. Penn State has dominated its matchups with the Terps — holding a 42-3-1 all-time record — which includes a 30-0 bloodbath last year.

The two teams sit on opposite ends of the spectrum as far as quarterback experience goes: Taulia Tagovailoa enters his fifth collegiate season and Penn State’s Drew Allar will make his first start for the Nittany Lions this year.

Despite losing its top two receivers from last year, Penn State still has viable weapons at Allar’s disposal, including star running back Nicholas Singleton and wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith. Allar was the top-ranked quarterback in the class of 2022, but if his talent will translate to collegiate play is yet to be seen.

Penn State ranked in the middle of the conference in most defensive statistics last season, with sacks being a massive outlier. The Nittany Lions bullied their way to 43 sacks — six more than any other Big Ten school — and return a plethora of pass rushers, including former Terp Demeioun “Chop” Robinson and Abdul Carter, also one of the nation’s top linebackers.

A win over Penn State could put the nation on notice, but with the Nittany Lions listed at +550 to win the conference, per DraftKings Sportsbook, Maryland should be a lofty underdog yet again.

Nov. 11: at Nebraska

2022 record: 4-8 (3-6 Big Ten)

Nebraska marks another winnable football game on Maryland’s Big Ten slate, as the Cornhuskers have not produced a winning season since 2016.

Maryland and Nebraska have not met since 2019, when the Terps had one of their worst seasons in the last decade, embodied by a 54-7 blowout loss to the Cornhuskers.

Things should be different this time around, though, as Maryland could be favored heading into the mid-November matchup.

Nebraska had a solid passing attack in 2021 led by junior quarterback Casey Thompson, who transferred to Florida Atlantic in the offseason. The Cornhuskers ranked sixth in the Big Ten in passing yards per game (220.8) and seventh in offensive efficiency (134.2). But with new offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield and dual-threat quarterback Jeff Sims at the helm, Nebraska should be a run-heavy team this year.

The Cornhuskers defensive struggles last year were at their worst against Northwestern, when the Wildcats put up 31 points and 528 yards in their only win of the season. Nebraska’s defensive line faces a youth movement this season, while the linebacking corps and secondary return some experienced players.

Head coach Matt Rhule has an impressive resume when it comes to building college programs, but a complete turnaround in one season seems far-fetched. Even so, a road matchup late in the season will be a difficult task for Maryland.

Nov. 18: Michigan

2022 record: 13-1 (9-0 Big Ten)

Last season, Michigan manufactured a 13-win season and defeated Ohio State for the second consecutive year. The only thing missing from Michigan’s historic season was a national championship, as it lost to TCU, 51-45, in the national semifinal.

The Wolverines enter this season ranked No. 2 in the country, and rightfully so. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy returns for his junior season after tallying more than 3,000 total yards and 27 total touchdowns as a sophomore. Arguably the best running back duo in the league, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, is also back in the maize and blue after combining for 2,510 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns last year.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan ranked among the Big Ten’s best in almost every statistical category, and led the conference in rushing yards allowed per game (97.9). Defensive tackle Mazi Smith and cornerback DJ Turner are both headed to the NFL, but the Wolverines’ defense is still loaded at every position group.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh is suspended for the first three games, but it should not significantly affect the Wolverines’ season or their matchup with the Terps.

Nov. 25: at Rutgers

2022 record: 4-8 (1-8 Big Ten)

Maryland’s final game of the regular season will be played in Piscataway, New Jersey against the Scarlet Knights. Maryland vs. Rutgers has become an end-of-the-season tradition, with the Terps capturing blowout wins each of the past two years.

Rutgers has won just three conference games since 2020, as the Big Ten East has not been kind to the Scarlet Knights.

While defense was not considered Rutgers’ strength last year, it was redeemable compared to the offense. The Scarlet Knights ranked eighth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game (206.8) and seventh in defensive efficiency (121.8). Linebacker Mohamed Toure is set to return after missing all of last year with a torn ACL, and coupled with an experienced secondary, Rutgers’ defense could see improvement.

However, much of what Rutgers does on the defensive end is wasted without offensive production. The Scarlet Knights were undefeated last season when they scored more than 21 points, but it happened in just three games.

Junior quarterback Gavin Wimsatt was named the starter after sharing the job last year. Wimsatt will need to improve significantly if Rutgers does not want to finish last in the conference in offensive efficiency (99.8) and passing yards per game (153.9) again.

Barring on offensive resurgence, the Terps should be the favorites heading into the last weekend of the regular season.