Syracuse football’s game against Maryland critical to 2014 season

The Syracuse football team is 2-0 to start the year, but it’s hard to make decisions about this team when it has yet to face a tough opponent. Against the FCS team Villanova, SU eked out a win that should not have been as difficult as it was. Against a Central Michigan team that had not looked too bad, SU won in a landslide. Tough to draw conclusions after just two games.

So for this weekend’s matchup against Maryland, I could see SU blowing the Terps out, or losing a close one. Again, tough to say.

maryland

Syracuse defeated Maryland last year

In its first game of the season against a power conference school, we’ll be able to get a better idea of this year’s squad. Maryland is no Florida State, but the game will provide a good gauge of how good (or bad) the team is.

UMD is a solid opponent, but the game is very much winnable. People are saying that if SU beats the Terps, a 3-0 record will bode well for ‘Cuse as it faces Notre Dame the following weekend. Now, I’m not here to rain on SU’s parade, but past Orange teams would have gone ahead and beaten Maryland, felt good about 3-0, and then gotten smoked by ND.

So while a blowout win over Maryland would be nice, it’s unlikely. But perhaps that’s a good thing. Playing in a competitive game against a solid team will make the Orange more battle-tested than if it had just rolled through cupcake opponents.

» Related: From 0-2 to 2-0, what a difference a year makes for Syracuse football

This game against Maryland will set the tone for the season. It is crucial to see how SU fares against a big-five opponent. In the past few years, it has lost non-conference games to the likes of Penn State, USC and Northwestern. It hasn’t won a regular-season game against a legitimate non-conference foe since Missouri in 2012, and that Missouri team wasn’t even that great. Now, a win over Maryland won’t propel SU to a top-25 ranking, but it will give it a respectable win.

It’s one thing to beat up the cupcakes. It’s another to beat up solid teams. Maryland is underrated. The Terps are good, having just narrowly lost to West Virginia last weekend. SU is familiar with them too, having faced them last season in ACC play before UMD ran off to the Big Ten.

The game is at home. SU can’t be looking ahead to Notre Dame. It needs to come out strong and run its record to 3-0. SU must beat the teams it is capable of beating, because it’s unlikely to win against FSU, Notre Dame or Clemson.

Maryland is a good but not great team. It’s the right team to bridge the gap between a Central Michigan and a Notre Dame. SU should win. This team is more talented than last year’s, and it’s not learning a new scheme, or breaking in a new coach and new starting quarterback.

It’s a long season, and early wins don’t guarantee a thing. But a win is a win, and looking at it one game at a time, Saturday’s faceoff against Maryland is a game the Orange must capitalize on. But win or lose, we’ll at least have a better idea of just how far this squad can go this season.

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Rachel Marcus

About Rachel Marcus

Rachel is currently a Digital Production Assistant at ESPN. She has previously interned at SportsNet New York and has contributed to Dime Magazine and covered beats ranging from Big East basketball to men’s soccer for The Daily Orange. She is originally from Maryland. Follow her on Twitter @rachelnmarcus.
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