Know the Badgers foe: Maryland
This is the seventh in a 12-week Friday series looking at the Wisconsin football team’s 2014 opponents.
Maryland’s first real "Welcome to the Big Ten" moment may take place sometime after kickoff of its Oct. 25 game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. The Terrapins have been granted no favors in their first year of the Big Ten and will play one of the toughest conference schedules of any team.
The Terrapins open with a road game against lowly Indiana, then have home games against Ohio State and Iowa before traveling to play at Wisconsin and Penn State. And they could be feeling the grind at Camp Randall Stadium, where the Badgers rarely lose.
Maryland has made progress in each of its three seasons under coach Randy Edsall, improving from 2-10 to 4-8 to 7-6 last season, which included a 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl. But many would consider it a surprise if the Terrapins achieve anything more significant given the challenging conference schedule.
Personnel: Some may remember Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown as the guy who replaced Danny O’Brien back in 2011, which ultimately led O’Brien to transfer and spend the 2012 season at Wisconsin. But Brown has become a stellar quarterback in his own right, and he’ll return for his final year of eligibility in 2014.
A year ago, Brown was named the team’s offensive player of the year after completing 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,242 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He became the first Maryland player to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in a single season. He also holds five of the top 10 rushing performances in school history, which is a pretty astounding accomplishment considering he’s a quarterback. Brown actually rushed for 12 of Maryland’s 18 touchdowns on the ground, though that also could be an indictment of the team’s running backs.
Maryland does return its top four rushers, including Brown. The other three are tailbacks Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veil. Ross rushed for 776 yards and four touchdowns last season and should be the team’s primary ball carrier. Ross ran for 90 yards with two touchdowns during the team’s spring game in April. Last year, Reid rushed for 294 yards with two touchdowns, and Veil added 146 yards.
The Terrapins will receive a major upgrade at wide receiver simply based on the return of two injured players. Stefon Diggs returns after breaking his fibula against Wake Forest last October, and teammate Deon Long also will be back after suffering a broken tibia and fibula in that same game. Diggs finished the year with 34 catches for 587 yards with three touchdowns. Long had 32 catches for 489 yards with a touchdown.
Teammate Levern Jacobs stepped in nicely to fill that void last season and finished with team highs for catches (47) and yards (640) with three touchdowns. Nigel King, meanwhile, led the team with four touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 450 yards. With all four available this season, Maryland should have a potent passing attack.
Defensively, Maryland should be significantly improved with the return of nine starters. The Terrapins ranked 55th nationally last season in scoring defense (25.3), but that won’t be good enough in the Big Ten when you consider five conference teams ranked in the top 30 a year ago.
Defensive back Sean Davis returns after leading Maryland in total tackles with 102 and starting all 13 games at safety. Other returning leading tacklers include linebacker Cole Farrand (84 tackles), linebacker L.A. Goree (76), linebacker Matt Robinson (73) and defensive back William Likely (70). Likely also ranked third in the ACC last season in kick return and punt return average.
How tough? New Big Ten entrants Maryland and Rutgers will play the two most difficult conference schedules based on opponent records from last season. Rutgers has the toughest slate, with opponents finishing 41-23 last season (.640 winning percentage). Maryland isn’t far behind, with opponents finishing 40-24 (.625 winning percentage). The Terrapins’ most excruciating stretch comes against Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Kicking advantage: Maryland kicker Brad Craddock was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last season for nation’s best kicker. He finished the year 21 of 25 on field-goal attempts and made a long of 50 yards. He also led all ACC kickers in field goals made per game (1.61).
Turnover margin: If Maryland wants to have a more successful season, the Terrapins will need to improve their turnover margin. Last year, Maryland turned the ball over 28 times and gained 21 turnovers. The team’s margin of minus-seven ranked tied for No. 102 in the country. Wisconsin was plus-one in turnover margin last season and tied for 54th.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Maryland 24