Ranking This Season's Games, in Order of Difficulty
While watching the first five periods of practice the other day, I chatted with a few writers about which Maryland games will be the most difficult and which will be the least difficult. So here is my attempt to rank the 12 games in order of difficulty. Reasonable people can disagree, of course. I remember doing this during camp last summer, as well, but it wound up being meaningless because the 2008 Terrapins lost to Middle Tennessee, were on the wrong end of a shutout at Virginia and wound up beating Clemson. I’m interested in what others feel will be the most difficult game this season. Here is my take:
1) at California, Sept. 5
One of the nation’s youngest teams heads 2,500 miles to play at 10 p.m. (our time) against an improved Cal team that includes the nation’s most electrifying player (Jahvid Best). Oh, the Golden Bears are looking for a little revenge, as well. I think the 21-point spread is too much, but this will be a Grade A challenge.
2) at Florida State, Nov. 21
If you assume the Seminoles are back, and if you assume they will have plenty to play for this late in the season, then this could be the toughest game overall. The defense lost some from last season, but the offensive line returns intact. The young Terps will be a little seasoned by this point of the season, though. Maybe.
3) Virginia Tech, Nov. 14
The loss of running back Darren Evans (knee) hurts but does not change the fact that this is Maryland’s toughest home game by far. The Hokies are the league’s only true national title contender, if the ACC has any at all. The defense, particularly the secondary, promises to be strong. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor needs to stay on the field, and Virginia Tech needs a more potent passing game, obviously.
4) at North Carolina State, Nov. 7
Yes, the Wolfpack has some issues. The loss of top linebacker Nate Irving, who is recovering from injuries suffered during a car crash in June and will miss the season, raises questions about the defense. Some still question whether quarterback Russell Wilson – perhaps the best in the league – can stay healthy for an entire season. Never an easy place to play, but the Terps have won here before, and it would not be outlandish to suggest they could again.
5) Clemson, Oct. 3
The Tigers are one of the conference’s toughest team to predict because they underachieve more often than not. They lose a game they should win at least once per season. They suffered a devastating home loss to Maryland last season and should be ready for this one. This will be Maryland’s fourth consecutive home game, which comes one week after a tough test against Rutgers.
6) at Wake Forest, Oct. 10
Unlike Clemson, Coach Jim Grobe’s team overachieves more times than not, and it will have to do as much this season. The defense lost a ton of talent. I still have questions about the wide receivers. Quarterback Riley Skinner should be improved. More than a tough game, this is a critical contest because both Wake Forest and Maryland could have similar seasons. A virtual toss-up game.
7) Rutgers, Sept. 26
Expectations vary about Rutgers. Some believe this is the year the Scarlet Knights can win the Big East. Others cite a new quarterback and wide receivers and say no. The offensive line and defense are very good. It wouldn’t surprise me if Maryland wins or loses this one, but the Terrapins need to beat either Clemson or Rutgers early in the season.
8) at Duke, Oct. 24
Dangerous game. Dangerous game. Dangerous game. I don’t think Duke will be as strong as it was last season. QB Thaddeus Lewis may be the second-best quarterback in the league, but there are few threats at the skill positions. That said, Duke looks at its schedule and sees the Maryland game as one it can win. If Maryland looks at the schedule and sees the Duke game as one it is assured to win, then we have a problem.
9) Boston College, Nov. 28
Another game that's difficult to assess because it’s hard to know what the Eagles will have to play for this late in what could be a lost season. I repeat: could be a lost season. The program has endured a lot since the end of last season. The Eagles will be well coached but the roster is depleted. This is a game Maryland should win and may need to win to become bowl eligible.
10) Virginia, Oct. 17
The Cavaliers lost a good number of defensive playmakers and wide receivers from a team that wasn’t all that great last season. But that team did shut out Maryland. Coach Al Groh could be coaching for his job this season, and it’s always a heated rivalry. But this is Maryland’s least difficult ACC game.
11) Middle Tennessee, Sept. 19
So the teams I have at No. 10 and No. 11 both beat Maryland last season. Go figure. It’s hard to imagine the Blue Raiders beating Maryland in back-to-back seasons, but I do recall Middle Tennessee being one of the nation’s youngest teams last season and Maryland being among the most experienced. This year, the teams trade roles. I still say Terps win, but it could be interesting early.
12) James Madison, Sept. 12
And let it be said: This is no lock victory for Maryland either. James Madison is one of the top 10 or so division I-AA teams. This is its first game of the season, so it will have all summer to prepare. The Terrapins get back on Sunday from playing at Cal and who knows where their heads are at that point. Maryland wins, but don’t be surprised to see a sluggish first half.
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