Maryland football’s most critical games for bowl eligibility in 2023

Maryland football is coming off back-to-back bowl-winning seasons for the first time since 2002-2003 and has a chance to make it three in a row for the first time in program history. With 2023 marking the final year that Maryland will battle in a grueling Big Ten East with divisions scrapped next season, Maryland will look to capitalize on its September slate in order to achieve the feat. So which three games are most crucial for Maryland to pick up the necessary six wins? We take a dive into the schedule.

Honorable Mention: Week Three, vs Virginia

The border rivals will reunite for the first of a home-and-home series, marking the 79th all-time meeting and first since 2013. While Virginia might be an average team from the ACC, they are still a large rival and it is the last non-conference game of the season. Virginia finished last season 3-7 in the first season under head coach Tony Elliot, sitting 126th out of 131 teams in scoring offense after scoring only 17 points per game. Their defense last season gave up just 24 points a game which was 49th in the country and will have ample production to replace after losing a pair of all-conference cornerbacks and linebacker. Maryland’s offensive line will face a stiff test with Jahmeer Carter, a former Archbishop Spalding star, anchoring Virginia’s defensive line with Penn State transfer Jimmy Christ filling in. Virginia will also look to turn the tide on offense with former Monmouth quarterback Tony Muskett filling the shoes left by Brennan Armstrong, who transferred to NC State following Devin Leary’s departure. Overall, Virginia is leaning on several new faces to fill the production of its star power from a disappointing 2022 team. The Friday night kickoff will feature plenty of DMV flavor between the two rosters, but the Terps have a chance to open as a double-digit favorite in the September 22 matchup.

3. Week Four at Michigan State

After picking up their first win over the Spartans since 2016 last season, Maryland kicks off conference play with a trip to East Lansing in week four this season. The Terps will be looking to make it two in a row for the first time in the series history against the Spartans. Michigan State is coming off a tumultuous offseason that saw both quarterback Peyton Thorne (Auburn) and Keon Coleman (Florida State) depart this spring, giving former Westfield (VA) star Noah Kim the keys to the Spartans’ offense. The Spartans still have Maliq Carr in the fold as he becomes arguably the biggest threat in the passing attack, while Jalen Berger is back for year two in East Lansing to build on the rushing attack. Berger led the Spartans in rushing yards last season with 683 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season while scoring six rushing touchdowns. Michigan State’s offensive line also boasts experience, giving credence to Kim’s potential success as a dual-threat QB. Meanwhile, the Spartans return 56% of their production from a defense that allowed 27.4 points per game last season. The player to look out for on defense for the Spartans is Jacoby Windmon. Windmon led the country in forced fumbles with six last season. While leading the country in forced fumbles, Windmon also added five and a half sacks and an interception. Windmon isn’t alone in the front seven with linebacker Cal Haladay alongside him while Tunmise Adeleye (Texas A&M) and Khris Bogle lead the defensive line. Maryland’s first conference game—and road game—could help set the tone early in the season.

2. Week Seven, Vs Illinois 

Maryland welcomes Illinois for its homecoming game this season, coming off the heels of a road trip to Ohio State. The last time these two played? Maryland squeaked out a narrow 20-17 win in Champaign as the Terps’ offense came alive in the fourth quarter, while Nick Cross’s standout performance kept the comeback hopes alive. Heading into 2023,

Illinois lost three of their four starters in the secondary to the NFL Draft, but boast a loaded front seven with former Maryland commit Jer’Zhan Newton anchoring the way. Last season for Illinois, Newton tallied five and a half sacks as well as 14 tackles for loss. With almost a whole new secondary, Newton will be leaned on to cause havoc up front to help out the secondary.

Former Ole Miss quarterback Luke Altmyer should take over under center while the offensive line returns a trio of starters, but the Fighting Illini lost one of the best running backs in the country in Chase Brown despite returning 64% of their returning production from last season with Reggie Love III and Josh McCray leading the way. The player to look out for Illinois on offense is Isaiah Williams. Williams was the Fighting Illini’s top receiver last year finishing the season with 82 receptions for 715 yards and five touchdowns. Although they do not throw much, Williams will be leaned on when they turn to the passing game a lot this season. The Terps defensive line will be tested as much if not more than the offensive line in this game with how much Illinois likes to run the ball and chew out the clock.

1. Week 11, At Nebraska

The Terps will take on Nebraska for just the third time in program history with the trip to Lincoln coming right after Penn State visits College Park. The Terps have yet to beat the Cornhuskers, and in Matt Rhule’s first season in Lincoln, this matchup could yield an exciting matchup between the two offenses’ firepower. Nebraska went heavy in the portal to try and build their roster for next season, landing seven players including DMV native MJ Sherman (Georgia) and quarterback Jeff Sims (Georgia Tech). Last season, the Cornhusker offense averaged just 22.6 points per game which was 102nd in the country, but Sims will look to change that after posting 1,115 passing yards and five touchdowns in seven games last fall. The dual-threat QB added another 300-plus on the ground and another touchdown, giving the Terps’ defense a potential test. He won’t be alone as Nebraska returns three of their top four rushers from last season with the offensive line a strength heading into 2023.

On defense the Cornhuskers gave up an average of 27.6 points per game which was 77th in the country. In addition to returning its top three tacklers from last season, look out for Sherman on the Cornhuskers’ defense as well. Last season he moved into a rotational role at Georgia and was a decent depth piece for the Bulldogs. This upcoming season he will be one of the Cornhuskers’ top guys on defense and will be expected to produce solid numbers. While the Terps could already be bowl eligible come week 11, winning this game would be big in earning them a larger bowl game compared to previous two years. With just two games left on the schedule after Nebraska with one being Michigan, there are not many more opportunities that the Terps will have to boost their win total and push for a higher bowl game. If the Terps are not able to upset Penn State the week before, a win in Lincoln could loom crucial.

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