Maryland football went 6-7 in 2016. This year, the Terps should be better by most metrics, but might not have a postseason appearance to show for it.
The difficulty of Maryland’s 2017 schedule has been a topic of discussion among Terps fans for a while. As preseason rankings continue to pour out, that difficulty is becoming easier to quantify. The AP and Coaches Poll have four of Maryland’s opponents in the top 10 and five in the top 25. Our SB Nation friend Bill Connelly has ranked all 130 FBS teams, and his list includes seven Maryland foes-to-be in the top 35.
Connelly divided teams into eight tiers. It’s sort of like a bell curve; the first tier (“Contenders”) has just five teams, while the eighth has only nine. Maryland is toward the back of the fifth tier (“A Decent Bowl is the Goal”), slotting 56th overall. Using Connelly’s system, here’s a look at what lies ahead.
Tier 1: Ohio State
The Buckeyes’ 11-1 campaign last year included a 62-3 curb stomping of Maryland in College Park. This year’s game is in Columbus.
Tier 2: Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin
All three of these teams won at least 10 games last year. Penn State made the Rose Bowl by beating Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, and Michigan led the East division for most of the year. The AP and Coaches Poll both have all of them in the top 10.
Tier 3: Texas
The Longhorns are 16th in Connelly’s rankings and S&P+ and 23rd in both major polls. They went 5-7 last year, but made perhaps the most noteworthy coaching hire of the offseason in Tom Herman.
Tier 4: Northwestern
The other premier journalism school in the Big Ten has the conference’s other premier Justin Jackson, who’s a star running back. Maryland was atrocious against star running backs (as well as most good ones) last season. It’s a winnable game in College Park, but the Wildcats are still a tough matchup.
Tier 5: Minnesota, Indiana
Both teams beat Maryland last year. Minnesota has the super-energetic P.J. Fleck as its new head coach, while Indiana’s Tom Allen was an in-house hire after Kevin Wilson resigned amid some controversy. The Hoosiers are one spot behind Maryland in Connelly’s rankings, so that’s pretty close to a toss-up on paper.
Tier 6: Michigan State, UCF
These are the two best teams Maryland beat last year. One win required a minor comeback; the other took double-overtime. Michigan State is two years removed from making the Playoff, so expect a product somewhere between that and the Spartans’ 3-9 train wreck of a 2016. UCF went from 0-12 to 6-7 in Scott Frost’s first year, and should put up somewhat of a fight again.
Tier 7: Rutgers
Maryland’s beaten the Scarlet Knights in each of the last two years. The two meet at Yankee Stadium this time around. Maryland should be favored, but this won’t quite be automatic.
At least in theory, the Terps’ home opener will be automatic. Towson went 4-7 against FCS competition last season. Maryland has beaten an FCS team every year this decade, most recently dominating Howard to start 2016.
Here’s Maryland’s schedule in table form.
|6||at Ohio State||2||2||2||2||4%||-30|
|12||at Michigan State||44||56||74||44||30%||-9.1|
The 2016 incarnation of Maryland wins no more than four games against this schedule. Adding up the win probabilities of each game leads to an expected output of 4.1 victories. So let’s make that the baseline expectation. Another six-win season, then, would be a success, and even five wins could suggest an improved product.
If the Terps don’t pull off an upset against an upper-tier team, they’ll need to win six of the other seven contests to make it back to the postseason. It’ll take both consistency and an improved team across the board. With the right breaks, though, it can happen.
Of course, DJ Durkin and his players have loftier goals than that. Talk to enough players about the season and someone will inevitably say “championship.” Their road ahead is as treacherous as they come, but the dreams are still alive.