10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Stanford -14
Expectations often maketh a season, or more specifically, meeting said expectations determines whether or not that season is in fact deemed successful. And that is precisely the theme for tonight’s Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium featuring the Maryland Terrapins and Stanford Cardinal. For the Terrapins (7-5, 4-4 in Big Ten), expectations were admittedly low, embarking on their maiden voyage into the expanding Big Ten after sixty-one years in the ACC. After all, it’s not as if this was a program that ran roughshod over the ACC for a prolonged period of time; at best, they were an average team that would surprise folks every three or four years, but generally trended towards the mean more often than not. In fact, they had only won ten or more games in a season six times in the six decades spent in the conference, and three of them came in consecutive years from 2001 to 2003. Viewed as a vastly superior football conference, many pundits predicted that Randy Edsall’s charges would serve as little more than cannon fodder for their new neighbors in the Big Ten. However, they managed to become Bowl Eligible for the second consecutive season, and honestly could have earned a better record than their 7-5 finish; Maryland beat Big Ten mainstays such as Iowa (38-31), Penn State (20-19), and Michigan (23-16), and if not for blowing a 24-point lead at home to fellow conference newbie Rutgers in the season finale (41-38), could have been poised for their first nine-win campaign since 2010.
So did the Terrapins meet their expectations heading into their first season in the Big Ten? Edsall’s charges went 7-6 in 2013, and have managed to increase their total of wins in each of the coach’s four seasons at College Park. However, matching that win total in a tougher confernce, and finishing in third in the East Division behind the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State is no small feat. Particularly when you take into account that for yet another campaign this team was riddled by injuries; six different players missed the entire season due to injury, with five more lost at varying points of the term. Fortunately, Quarterback C.J. Brown was not one of that number, for this program couldn’t take another year funneling through Quarterbacks. Brown was a jack-of-all-trades for the Terps, even leading them in a number of rushing categories. On the season, the Senior completed 52.3% of his passes for 2,083 yards (6.4 yards/attempt), thirteen touchdowns and nine interceptions, while also rushing for 569 yards and seven more scores on 3.8 yards per carry. In fact, his 148 rushing attempts were fifty more than any other player on the roster. His ability to make plays with his legs has been a common theme in his three years as the starter at Maryland, having racked up 1,731 yards and twenty-four touchdowns in his career. With that said, he only checks in as the Big Ten’s ninth-ranked passer, but he should benefit from the return of Wide Receiver Stefon Diggs, who is expected to return from a lacerated kidney suffered in the victory at Penn State back on November 1st. Though hampered by injuries in each of the past two seasons, the Junior has proven to be explosive when on the field, hauling in 52 passes for 654 yards (12.6 yards/reception), and five touchdowns in nine games. Defensively, the Terps must find a way to keep Stanford in long down and distance situations, for their rushing defense has struggled throughout the season. Maryland allowed an average of 201.6 yards on 4.5 yards per carry, with six different opponents gashing them for over 200 rushing yards, including Syracuse who hung a whopping 370 yards on them in a 34-20 debacle back on September 20th. Edsall’s defense has applied pressure on opposing Quarterbacks though, logging thirty sacks thus far, with Senior Lineman Andre Monroe accounting for ten of that total.
Meanwhile, after winning at least eleven games four years in a row, along with four straight appearances in BCS Bowls, and consecutive Pac-12 Championships, Stanford (7-5, 5-4 in Pac-12) is at the end of what can only be described as a disappointing season. David Shaw has maintained a very high standard at Paolo Alto, and a 7-5 campaign simply isn’t up to par. So what went wrong for the Cardinal in 2014, you ask? Well, the answer is very easy; they just couldn’t defeat the ranked teams on their schedule. Stanford could only muster a mere 1-5 record against opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 this season, with their lone win against said competition coming against UCLA in the Regular Season Finale (31-10). However, they were a perfect 6-0 against everyone else they met on the gridiron, defeating them by a comfortable margin of 24.8 points per game. The major problem is that the Offense has become very bland; at 386.5 yards per game, they ranked dead-last in the Pac-12, and sit even with Oregon State for the fewest points scored in the conference (25.7).
Efficient but spectacularly unspectacular would be the most appropriate way to describe this offense; the Cardinal are not an explosive unit by any means, averaging just 5.9 yards per play, which admittedly they don’t run very many of. Shaw has always exercised patience on this side of the ball, with the Offense as a whole embracing ball control. In an era littered with uptempo breakneck offenses these guys are a throwback to the days of three yards and a cloud of dust; Stanford only runs off an average of 65.6 plays per game, with 29.6 of that figure attributed to the pass and another 36.0 towards the run. Under Center, Kevin Hogan is in his second full season as the starter, embodying the way his team plays, completing 65.7% of his passes for 2,603 yards (7.8 yards/attempt), seventeen touchdowns and eight interceptions, while rushing for another 245 yards (2.9 yards/carry) and five scores. With that said, he did explode for 540 yards from scrimmage over the last two games, leading the Offense to nearly 900 total yards. Getting the running game going was a major component of their success in those contests, for those wins over California and UCLA marked the only times that Shaw’s charges topped 200 rushing yards all season. Look for them to test Maryland early and often in the trenches, particularly with leading Reciever Ty Montgomery expected to miss tonight’s clash with a shoulder injury. The Senior was the most consistent contributor that the Cardinal had in the passing game, reeling in 61 passes for 604 yards (9.9 yards/reception) and three touchdowns. Defensively, Stanford continues to be one of the staunchest teams in the country, particularly up front where their physicality gives the opposition a wealth of problems. Thus far, this unit has allowed 14.8 points on 287.4 yards, including 175.7 yards versus the pass, and another 111.8 yards against rush. They have also forced a total of fifteen turnovers and have registered a whopping 43.0 sacks, with six different players recording at least four.