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Maryland football’s 2019 Big Ten slate starts with a long shot, a should-win and a toss-up

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A closer look at Penn State, Rutgers and Purdue.

Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

This week at Testudo Times, we’re taking an in-depth look at Maryland’s schedule as the college football season approaches. It’s another tough slate, checking in as the 17th-toughest in the country, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

The Terps start their season at home against Howard and Syracuse, before visiting Temple. After that, Maryland has the first of two bye weeks. When Mike Locksley’s team returns to action, it’ll host Penn State and travel to Rutgers and Purdue to start Big Ten play. Here’s what to expect from those opponents, with our predictions added in for flavor.

Sept. 27: Penn State (Friday night)

It’s been a long time since the Terps have played a Friday night home game (they were initially slated to have one two years ago against Northwestern, but that got moved back to Saturday). With Penn State coming to town and over 50,000 total fans expected to attend, afternoon classes have already been canceled. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. on FS1.

The series history against Penn State isn’t filled with many positives for the Terps, though. They’ve only ever beaten the Nittany Lions twice, and after knocking them off in State College in 2014, they’ve lost the last four meetings with three blowouts. Penn State beat Maryland 66-3 to close the 2017 season and 38-3 at the end of last year.

The villains from those recent matchups — quarterback Trace McSorley and running backs Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders — are all gone, but Penn State still has plenty of weapons this season. Sean Clifford looks like the starting quarterback, while Ricky Slade leads a talented group of young running backs. Wideout KJ Hamler and tight end Pat Freiermuth anchor the receiving corps, and guard Steven Gonzalez headlines the offensive line.

Penn State’s defense has a couple of stars in junior edge rusher Yetur Gross-Matos (20 tackles for loss, eight sacks) and sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons (team-high 82 total tackles), but the Nittany Lions lost a lot of their secondary to graduation after last season. There’s still talent all across the roster, but if the new pieces don’t mesh by late September, the Terps could have a shot here.

FPI win probability: 14.8%

Lila: As optimistic as Terp fans may want to be, matchups against the Nittany Lions are always a brutal affair. Maryland is 2-39-1 against Penn State, losing by 63 and 35 points in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The game might be closer this season, but nonetheless I see Maryland losing this one.

Cody: If there was ever a year to beat Penn State, this is the year. No Saquon Barkley, no Trace McSorley — and a televised game on FS1 for Locksley and the Terps to show the college football world that Maryland is a powerhouse to come. Penn State will have to rely on its defense a little more this year with a young offense, but I think Maryland defeats the Nittany Lions.

Sean: It’ll be a Friday night primetime game in College Park when the Nittany Lions come to visit, with the early-season Big Ten battle being displayed on national television. While Penn State could have growing pains with Trace McSorley graduating to the NFL, the visitors should, and will, be able to continue their dominance over the Terps.

Thomas: There’s no question Maryland and its fans will be a little extra excited to play Penn State under the lights, and with so many relative unknowns with the Nittany Lions, I think this game stays pretty close. But the visitors should have just enough to come out unscathed.

Poll

Does Maryland pull off the upset under the lights?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Yes!!!
    (380 votes)
  • 50%
    Nope.
    (390 votes)
770 votes total Vote Now

Oct. 5: at Rutgers

Ah, Rutgers.

Maryland came away with a 24-7 win over the Scarlet Knights last year, intercepting five Rutgers passes and allowing just two completions for eight yards on 17 attempts. While the secondary stole the show, Maryland rushed for 291 yards and threw for three touchdowns.

But the Terps still came up short the last time they visited Piscataway, which started a four-game losing streak to close 2017. They’re 3-2 overall against the Scarlet Knights since the teams joined the Big Ten.

Artur Sitkowski, who Pro Football Focus ranks as the worst starting quarterback in the FBS, returns under center. But the sophomore is still competing with Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter for the No. 1 spot, so that isn’t a sure thing. Junior running back Raheem Blackshear will be tough to stop both on the ground and in the passing game, as he tallied 953 scrimmage yards last season. But unless Rutgers gets something out of its quarterback spot, this offense, which was 119th in rushing and dead last in passing S&P+ last season, won’t scare anyone.

The Scarlet Knights’ defense wasn’t particularly inspiring last year either and loses six of its top nine tacklers to graduation. If there’s a potential star here, it’s sophomore corner Avery Young, who had 65 total tackles and 10 passes defended last fall.

FPI win probability: 58.4%

Lila: There’s no reason Maryland shouldn’t take a blowout victory in this matchup. The Terps have scored an average of 34.6 points against the Scarlet Knights since joining the Big Ten and should have another strong offensive showing.

Cody: Last year, Maryland beat Rutgers 34-7. If Maryland plays up to their potential, a similar outcome should take place this year.

Sean: Maryland handily took care of the Scarlet Knights last year in College Park, and barring anything catastrophic, there will be no pandemonium in Piscataway this time around.

Thomas: Rutgers did beat Maryland two years ago in Piscataway, but the Terps were down to their fourth and fifth options at quarterback in that game. As long as that’s not the case this time, Maryland should come out victorious.

Poll

Who takes the win in Piscataway?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Maryland
    (618 votes)
  • 5%
    Rutgers
    (34 votes)
652 votes total Vote Now

Oct. 12: at Purdue

These programs have squared off once since Maryland joined the conference; the Terps won that game 50-7 in 2016. Purdue finished that season 3-9, but has made serious strides since hiring Jeff Brohm. He’s led the Boilermakers to consecutive postseasons, and after long being expected to take the Louisville job, he’s staying in West Lafayette to continue building his program.

Wide receiver Rondale Moore broke out as a rookie superstar last year, hauling in 114 receptions for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns while chipping in 231 rushing yards and 744 return yards. He’s been a fixture on “best player in college football” lists all summer, checking in at No. 12 on ESPN’s rankings this week. He’ll pair with quarterback Elijah Sindelar to lead a Boilermakers offense that ranked 17th in S&P+ last season.

Purdue’s defense struggled last season, allowing 30 points per game and finishing 88th in S&P+. But most of those pieces are back, including linebacker Markus Bailey (115 total tackles, 9.0 TFLs, 6.5 sacks) and cornerback Kenneth Major (51 tackles, three interceptions as a freshman). If both sides of the ball reach their potential, this will be a tough game for the Terps.

FPI win probability: 36.0%

Lila: Of these three games, Purdue is the toss-up, largely because the teams haven’t seen a lot of each other with just two games ever. And the Terps have taken both of those matchups by pretty decent margins. Though this game will be in Boilermaker territory, I see Maryland leaving with a victory.

Cody: After a season of highs and lows, I’m curious to see how the Boilermakers rebound this season. There have been a lot of mixed reviews about Purdue, but I think the Boilermakers beat Maryland at home in a Big Ten East-West showdown.

Sean: Against Purdue, Maryland’s defense has to key in on Rondale Moore. He was a game-wrecker in the Boilermakers’ upset win over Ohio State last season and has established himself as one of the best weapons in the conference. Assuming the Terps can keep him under wraps, they’ll walk out of West Lafayette with a victory.

Thomas: Purdue has some pieces, and I think the Boilermakers could be a West division sleeper if Sindelar makes the leap. But the defense is a question mark, and Maryland should be well-adjusted to its new system by the season’s halfway mark. Terps win their second straight.

Poll

You know the deal. Who ya got?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Maryland
    (437 votes)
  • 30%
    Purdue
    (190 votes)
627 votes total Vote Now

On the record

Lila: 5-1, 2-1 Big Ten
Cody: 4-2, 2-1 (but by beating Penn State and losing to Purdue)
Sean: 3-3, 2-1 Big Ten
Thomas: 4-2, 2-1