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Penn State will be Maryland football’s stiffest early test of 2016

It will be fairly easy for the Terps to go 4-0, but it’ll be considerably harder for them to go 5-0.

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NCAA Football: Penn State Spring Game Matthew O'Haren-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

Maryland’s only conference win in 2015 came over Rutgers in the last game of the season, but the Terps came within one point of knocking off Penn State at M&T Bank Stadium in October.

This Penn State team will probably be better, if not leaps and bounds better, than its 2015 counterpart. The team loses quarterback Christian Hackenberg, but while he was a highly-rated prospect for a while, Pro Football Focus rated him its worst quarterback in the draft. He wasn't awesome, or anything.

Even if the Nittany Lions are worse than the 7-6 record they finished with in 2015, they’ll still probably be better than Maryland. Unless they’re a complete dumpster fire to begin the season, they’ll be the Terps’ first big test of the season.

How good is this team?

Hackenberg had his faults, but replacing him won’t be a simple task — installing a new quarterback isn’t easy. Still, Penn State is No. 28 in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ projection, which puts the team comfortably ahead of Maryland, which comes in at No. 62. The offense is also going to look a lot different, now as an up-tempo spread system under a new coordinator.

Some real good recruits will be ready to make an impact in State College. The the No. 15 class in the nation has been on campus for over a year, and the No. 20 class gets on campus this summer. This is a program that should be trending upward, but it might take some time to fit a bunch of pieces together.

Who should I watch?

Running back Saquon Barkley was dynamic as a freshman, and with Ezekiel Elliott gone, he’ll make a run for the crown as the Big Ten’s best rusher. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and finished with over 1000 yards on the season.

Penn State’s offensive line. This was the team’s most glaring weak spot in 2015, as it was one of the nation’s worst at protecting the quarterback. After ranking No. 111 in the country in adjusted sack rate, the team will need better protection for its new quarterback, likely sophomore Trace McSorley. Luckily, the line won’t have to hold its blocks as long in the team’s new up-tempo style offense.

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

No. It's likely to be a close game, but the Nittany Lions have more roster talent than the Terps.