A deeper look at the 2009 schedule

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The components of Maryland’s schedule are not a surprise. All those nonconference games have been floating around for some time, and the league games are part of a schedule the league has posted on its website.

The order, though, is always the intriguing part about schedule day.

(Well, that and seeing who is stuck playing two members of the former Division I-AA. This year, Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State will be forced to go 7-5 to make a bowl game; of the 12 teams in the league, only Virginia Tech avoided a I-AA, though Maryland will have its hands full with James Madison).

The schedule breaks down into equal thirds quite nicely: Nonconference, pre-bye conference and post-bye conference. Here’s a gander at all three sections

NON-CONFERENCE

Sept. 5, at California
Sept. 12, James Madison
Sept. 19, Middle Tennessee
Sept. 26, Rutgers

Quite a few rematches in there – last year’s Cal and Middle Tennessee games, and the 2007 Rutgers game all get return dates on Maryland’s nonconference schedule. The trip out west is one of Maryland’s most compelling openers under Ralph Friedgen (behind the 2002 Kickoff Classic against Notre Dame and probably the 2005 date with Navy).

James Madison is a devilish team to have to play after flying back across the country. The Middle Tennessee game will be fun, and Rutgers is a perfect cap to nonconference play. It’ll also be an ideal TV game, and it would be no surprise if Maryland got the ESPN or ABC treatment twice in the first month.

CONFERENCE, PRE-BYE

Oct. 3, Clemson
Oct. 10, at Wake Forest
Oct. 17, Virginia
Oct. 24, at Duke

If there’s a place to make a surge, it’s probably here. Clemson will be a tough out, but Maryland will have a legitimate chance to start 3-1 in the conference. All of those games are potential losses – even Duke – but there isn’t a team in this portion of the schedule that looks like a sure loss. The Terps have a lot of work to do to fill some holes, and their inconsistency does not lend itself to sound predictions. But a 5-3 or 6-2 start is far from impossible. Neither is a 3-5 hole.

CONFERENCE, POST-BYE

Nov. 7, at N.C. State
Nov. 14, Virginia Tech
Nov. 21, at Florida State
Nov. 28, Boston College

Here’s where things get hectic. N.C. State should be even better this season, and Maryland’s ability to kick around the Wolfpack over the last few years could easily end. Virginia Tech is the conference favorite, and Maryland has never won in Tallahassee. Boston College is a wild card for the league; just how much has the coaching tumult in Chestnut Hill affected things? But even at home, that’s not a sure soft landing to end the year.

In short, the way things look in February suggest Maryland had better get while the getting is good. The Terps’ November schedule could be especially arduous, so Maryland would be well served to get off to a good start.

Can they do that? With California, Rutgers and Clemson in the first five games, it won’t be easy. On paper, those contests could be the linchpins that determine the direction of the season.

Patrick Stevens

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