If you're following a college football program in a top conference, you'd like to be able to assume a victory against an FCS program. If you're following Maryland football, hopefully you know better.
After a victory against Towson last year that felt a lot closer than the 28-3 final, and an overtime win over James Madison three years ago, the Terps have had a problem with cutting it close against lower division opponents. However, if you add in the 62-3 win over Morgan State two years ago, it suddenly doesn't look so bad.
Problem is, Maryland's team doesn't remotely resemble the one that crushed the Bears two years ago, or even the one that beat the Tigers last year. The Terps will be starting true freshmen at quarterback, running back, and strong safety, and the injury list ... well, let's look at it.
The players that are out - Keith Bowers, C.J. Brown, Josh Cary, Dustin Dailey, Nick Ferrara, Isaac Goins, A.J. Hendy, Abner Logan, Andre Monroe, Matt Robinson, Brandon Ross, Isaiah Ross and Kenny Tate. Tyrek Cheeseboro is listed as probable, so that's some good news.
There's a total of eleven starters listed above, including seven on defense (five are at either defensive end or strong safety, so that skews the numbers a bit). That leaves the already depth-challenged Terps with a depleted roster on both sides of the ball, and the likely scenario of a whole bunch of true freshmen playing.
The real good news: While William & Mary isn't a walkover, they're not that great, either. They lost at home to Towson last year, 38-27, and went 5-6 on the season, with a 3-5 record in the CAA. They lost Jonathan Grimes, who led the conference in rushing last season and is now on the Texans, and both of their top wide receivers to graduation. Michael Paulus, brother of Greg, and defensive lineman Marcus Hyde, who led the team with 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks, also graduated.
That's not to say the Tribe do not have talent returning. Keith McBride II, Grimes' backup last season, averaged five yards per rush last year and will be looking to carry the load this season. Two-time first-team all-conference selection B.W. Webb is a playmaker at corner, as is Brian Thompson at safety. Linebacker Jabrel Mines led the team with 109 tackles last year and also had 4.5 sacks.
At quarterback, William & Mary will go with Brent Caprio, who started four games last season, including the final three of the year. He finished with 795 yards passing on a 68-107 clip with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. He came on strong towards the end of the year and can run with the ball, but he struggled with accuracy and Dexter McDougle should be able to take advantage for the Terps.
If it comes down to a game of field goals, the Tribe might have the advantage. Drake Kuhn made 10-14 attempts last year, including a career-long 45-yarder against New Hampshire. With Nick Ferrara hurt, Maryland will start Australian true freshman Brad Craddock.
This is a game Maryland should win. Even with Perry Hills at quarterback, Albert Reid at running back, Sean Davis at strong safety, and question marks basically everywhere you look, this is really the one game on their schedule that Terp fans can confidently say they should win. With the injury issues and the strength of the Tribe's defense, however, it's no guarantee.
So what do the Terps need to do to win this game? Run the ball well, contain McBride, and don't commit turnovers. All of those are nice on any given day, but with a team filled up with true freshmen playing their first collegiate game, it's especially important.
Reid will get the start at running back, but Randy Edsall has made it clear that Justus Pickett and Wes Brown will get their carries as well. If the Terps figure out a solid rotation and move down the field, they should come away with the win. As an added bonus, Stefon Diggs will be the returner, so expect some fireworks if they decide to kick it to him.
Our official prediction - Maryland 24, William & Mary 6. Diggs scores one touchdown on a return, Brown runs one in, and the Terps run an interception back.