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Breaking down Maryland football’s 2020 schedule

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The Terps got a decent draw compared to their original schedule

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics; taken by Maddie Kyler

Big Ten football may have gone through a long-winding offseason, but it’s back.

The conference released its latest iteration of the football schedule — the third version so far — in which it plans for teams to play eight conference games starting Oct. 23-24. The slate will end with each team playing a ninth, cross-divisional game based on conference standings during the championship week, which ends with the title game on Dec. 19.

For Maryland, this cut-down schedule has provided some positive and negative changes. While the team no longer has nonconference matchups against the likes of Towson, Northern Illinois and West Viginia, its crossover opponents no longer include Wisconsin and Iowa.

The Terps’ original schedule featured six matchups against opponents ranked in the Preseason AP Top 25, giving them just an 8 percent chance at bowl eligibility and the toughest schedule in the nation, per ESPN. With just eight games scheduled and the scaling down of opponents, Maryland now only has the 23rd toughest remaining schedule, according to ESPN’s FPI.

Here is a closer look at each matchup for Maryland this fall:

Oct. 24: At Northwestern

2019 record: 3-9 (1-8)

For the Terps, drawing Northwestern as their season-opening opponent is quite a blessing compared to other options. Maryland was slated to kickoff Big Ten play with Minnesota on the original schedule and later pitted against Iowa in the August release.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has worked to make Northwestern relevant in the Big Ten and was able to reach key heights in 2017 and 2018, including the school’s first-ever West Division Title in 2018. Last season, however, Northwestern fell back to the floor. With a new offensive coordinator in Mike Bajakian and new faces, there are questions for Northwestern to answer.

Facing the Wildcats, even on the road, will give the Terps a chance to continue its streak of 10-straight season-opening wins.

Oct. 31: No. 19 Minnesota

2019 record: 11-2 (7-2)

Minnesota has long looked to break out of the pack in the Big Ten West, and it did just that in 2019.

The Golden Gophers are coming off their first 11-win season in school history, and they peaked as high as No. 7 in the AP Top-25. In 2020, many will be watching to see if fourth-year head coach PJ Fleck can sustain this level of success or if 2019 was an anomaly.

Maryland visited Minneapolis in October of last season and fell 52-10 in a lackluster effort on both sides of the ball. The Golden Gophers didn’t have to punt until nearly halfway through the second quarter, while the Terps threw three different quarterbacks in the game to try and find any rhythm.

With changes and questions on both sides, as well as natural uncertainty, this one could be interesting to watch. And don’t forget that the Terps beat the Golden Gophers in another lopsided affair in 2018, a 42-13 victory.

Nov. 7: At No. 9 Penn State

2019 record: 11-2 (7-2)

Life comes at you fast in the Big Ten East, and for Maryland it comes in the third game of the season against Penn State.

The Nittany Lions have one of the most storied football programs in the Big Ten and they’ve had the Terps’ number outside of the no-handshake win in 2014 and a one-point loss in 2015. In 2019, Penn State played spoiler and thrashed Maryland 59-0 at home in the Big Ten’s Friday Night slot, giving the Terps their second loss in a row after a 2-0 start to the season.

Star linebacker Micah Parson previously opted-out of the 2020 season in order to prepare for the NFL Draft, and it remains unclear if he plans to return to the team. Which players remain and return from opting out could play a role in Penn State’s successes this fall.

Nov. 14: No. 2 Ohio State

2019 record: 13-1 (9-0)

One of the common downsides to playing in the East division is that matchups against top teams often stack together, and the shortened 2020 season is no different.

After games against preseason-ranked Minnesota and Penn State, No. 2 Ohio State comes to College Park, where it struggled in 2018. The Buckeyes have consistently dominated Maryland and have been one of the few teams that the Terps haven’t taken down since joining the conference.

Last time Ohio State came to College Park, Maryland was just a two-point conversion away from one of the largest wins in school history, but the Buckeyes escaped. On the road last season, Maryland ultimately felt the wrath of Ohio State, losing 73-14.

While a win is probably not in the cards due to the behemoth the Buckeyes are set to be this season, there is certainly the ability for head coach Mike Locksley to try and shorten the score gap.

Nov. 21: Michigan State

2019 record: 7-6 (4-5)

With some of the tougher conference matchups out of the way early, Maryland can look to bounce back and make a push for consistency in the second half to the season.

In 2019, Maryland closed the season against Michigan State with a 19-16 loss, but showed promise. Despite no chance at a postseason, the Terps came out and battled the Spartans, carrying a lead into the fourth quarter before failing to answer to two field goals.

The Spartans don’t carry much promise coming into 2020 with the No. 10 recruiting class in the Big Ten joining a team that was already under performing, as well as multiple players opting-out. This matchup could serve as a kickstart for the Terps in the back half of the season.

Nov. 28: At Indiana

2019 record: 8-5 (5-4)

Indiana was a team that Maryland hung around with and had a chance to beat in 2019, falling 34-28 due to turnovers.

The Hoosiers lost longtime quarterback Peyton Ramsey to Northwestern via the transfer portal, so the offense will be tasked with a new leader in 2020. Michael Penix Jr. played well against Maryland, but the dual-threat talent went out early due to injury, leaving Ramsey to lead the charge.

Maryland should definitely be able to compete with the Hoosiers thanks to its key additions on the offensive side of the ball and increased experience on defense.

Dec. 5: At No. 16 Michigan

2019 record: 9-4 (6-3)

While Michigan has consistently been a program at the top of the Big Ten alongside Penn State and Ohio State, the Wolverines have been a team that the Terps haven’t folded as easily against.

Along with the win at Michigan Stadium in 2014, Maryland was able to hang with the Wolverines last season in a 38-7 loss — at least comparably less to those losses suffered against Penn State and Ohio State.

The Wolverines are another team that saw a handful of players opt-out prior to the Big Ten’s latest announcement, so the list of players who remain out or come back, as well as how teams and communities handle the pandemic, could be factors in this one. While a win may not be expected, Michigan is likely the team closest to the top that the Terps could swing for.

Dec. 12: Rutgers

2019 record: 2-10 (0-9)

The only thing that would have been better for Maryland in 2020 could have maybe been facing Rutgers at home to start the year, but closing the season against the Scarlet Knights is not a bad draw either.

Since the pair joined the Big Ten in 2014, Maryland has a 4-2 record against Rutgers, with a point differential of +81. The Terps were able to dismantle the Scarlet Knights 48-7 in 2019 despite a lackluster season overall, and there is no reason for that to stop in 2020.

The return of Greg Schiano has increased the view of Rutgers dramatically on the recruiting trail, especially within New Jersey, but there is no doubt that Maryland still has the upper-hand in terms of current talent. This is a game that could be a closer battle as time progresses, but 2020 should still be the Terps’ game to lose.