Who is Maryland?
When you look at a quick bowl preview, you see two 7-5 teams. One from the east coast, one from the west. And while Stanford and Maryland may have the same record, but not all wins are created equal.
The Cardinal played the 16th toughest schedule in the nation, according to TeamRankings.com, finishing the season with a 21-point road victory over #14 ranked UCLA. The Terrapins only had the 47th strongest schedule in their first Big Ten season, accumulating wins over the cellar-dwellers of arguably the Power 5's worst conference.
In this inaugural College Football Playoff season, Stanford gains an upper hand in this matchup by playing it at home. (Ideally, bowl games are supposed to be on neutral fields. Stanford is just over 11 miles from Levi's Stadium, while Maryland is 2,422.)
Before Stanford takes the field on New Years Eve Eve with the intention of beating the shells off these turtles, let's take a look at who the Terrapins are.
Maryland's average scoring margin of -3.9 points per game rates 45th out of the 49 Power 5 teams playing in bowl season (For comparison's sake, Stanford's average margin is +6.5 ppg, while TCU leads the way at +25.8 ppg. Illinois brings up the rear of the Power 5 teams with -9.0 ppg). On three separate occasions Maryland lost by at least 20 points, with their worst outing of the season coming in a 52-7 drubbing at Wisconsin.
The FBS teams that Maryland did beat went a combined 29-42 on the season (Stanford's FBS victories came against teams that went a better, but still not great, 34-38). The Terrapins' best win was either a 38-31 home victory over Iowa, a 23-16 defeat of Michigan at the Big House, or a 20-19 win against Penn State in Happy Valley.
Maryland rates as one of the worst offensive teams in the country. The Terps average only 343.1 total yards against FBS opponents, 113th in the country and 2nd worst among bowl participants. They rank 112th running the ball, picking up only 3.7 yards per attempt. In other words: get ready, Stanford front 7, because you're most likely gonna be feasting on some deep-fried turtle legs.
Maryland's best runner and key offensive player is their quarterback, CJ Brown. Brown ranks 11th in the country among quarterbacks with 3.84 yards per carry (he did so on 148 attempts). This part of Brown's game is similar to that of UCLA QB Brett Hundley, the Cardinal's last opponent - whom the Cardinal managed to keep in the pocket and sack 4 times.
Unfortunately for the Terps, Brown fails to compare to Hundley as a passer. Although Brown ranks 69th in the country with 327 passing attempts, he's only 83rd in passing yards (2,083), attributable to a measly completion percentage of just 53.2 percent (98th). Expect the Terps to throw the ball frequently against Stanford, but be surprised if this game plan actually works.
Defensively, Maryland is no more than average. They give up 30.9 points per game to FBS opponents, ranking 86th in the country. They let opponents score on 84 percent of red zone possessions, a place where the Stanford offense has struggled all season long but has improved upon late in the season. They have an exactly even turnover margin, and recover fumbles just over 50 percent of the time. The defense has some strong individual players, including defensive back William Likely, who is 7th in the country with 6 picks and Andre Monroe (.79 sacks per game, 20th). In other words, although Maryland's defense is not as bad as its offense, it's nothing to write home about, either.
So, with a mediocre defense and a weak offense, how have the Maryland Terrapins managed to go 7-5? Well, a lot of it has to do with having a stud at one of the least praised positions. Kicker Brad Craddock, the 2014 Lou Groza Award winner, has put the team on his leg, proving critical in a number of Terp victories. Down the stretch, Craddock field goals proved the difference in both the Penn State and Michigan games, the highlight of his season coming in a last-minute 43-yard field goal against the Nittany Lions.
Unless Craddock is prepared to shatter the NCAA record for longest field goal, though, he may struggle against Stanford. In order to utilize Craddock's talents, Maryland first needs to get the ball inside field goal range.