Nearly a year since one of the biggest upsets in the early part of the 2008 season, the Maryland Terrapins are set to take on the California Bears again.
Leading up to last year’s game, both teams were headed in opposite directions. The Terrapins were coming off an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Middle Tennessee State, making them 1-1 over the season.
The Bears, on the other hand, were a week away from a 66-3 trouncing of Washington, moving them to 2-0 on the season and into the Top 25.
In week three, the Bears came into College Park ranked number 23 in the country and looking to move to 3-0 on the year. They left, however, with their metaphorical tails between their legs, suffering a 35-27 defeat to Maryland.
This year, Maryland travels to California for the season opener, and the storyline looks to be very similar to last year. Maryland has one of the youngest teams in Division I with only 12 scholarship seniors on roster, and they have been picked to finish at the bottom of the ACC.
Cal, however, comes into the game ranked 12th in the country, and is seen as a team that could finally challenge USC’s dominance of the Pac-10.
Should be a cakewalk for the Bears right?
Don’t jump to conclusions so soon. The Terrapins may be young, but they are talented. Led by senior quarterback Chris Turner, the Terps return most of the offense that dropped 35 on the Bears defense last year. With a more experienced Da’Rel Scott in the backfield and good receiving options still remaining on the outside, the Maryland offense may not miss a beat this season.
Maryland will however have to contend with a tough California defense. However, while they did graduate three of their four starting linebackers, the Bears return everyone else on their 26th-ranked defense, which will make it a very long day for the Maryland offense.
On the other side of the ball, California can call on starting quarterback Kevin Riley and, more importantly, Heisman candidate Jahvid Best, who rushed for over 1,500 yards last season. They do, however, struggle at the receiver position, lacking consistent play from both receiver slots. But, with Best in the backfield, this offense will continue to put up points.
While Best is the key for Cal’s offense, he is also the key for the Terrapin’s defense; if they stop him, they stop the Bears. Their defense, however, graduated seven starters from a unit that did not perform well to begin with.
But, while they may have performed poorly, they did hold Best to only 25 yards on 10 carries last season, which was a large part of why they won. If they can even do half as good a job as they did stopping him last season, they will definitely give themselves a chance to win.
This game should be closer than many people think. While California was picked as a 22-point favorite, don’t expect the final margin to be that big. Maryland should have enough firepower on the offense to keep up with the Bears.
The key to victory for both teams revolves around Jahvid Best. If Maryland can keep him in check, they will give themselves a very good chance to win the game. But, if Best can establish himself early and put up his usual numbers, it’s hard to see anyone but California winning this game.