It's right around this time of year when Stanford fans ask themselves... what the heck is a Terrapin anyway!?
Well, dear reader, let it not be said that I've never done anything for you. For I looked it up in the dictionary just for you.
A terrapin, aside from being Maryland's mascot, is also a small edible turtle.
No, I'm not making that up. Look it up in the dictionary. Don't worry; I'm not going anywhere and will be right here when you get back. Go now. Look it up.
See?! I told you! A small edible turtle!
The Maryland football team thought that the proper thing to call itself was A SMALL EDIBLE TURTLE!!
And if the small turtles of Maryland are to keep themselves from being eaten alive at Levi's Stadium on Tuesday, they'll need more than just a bit of help.
But enough bravado. Let's get into some stats and see exactly how our Cardinal matchup against the - oh, God, I can't even say it out loud without bursting into laughter - Terrapins.
Cardinal vs. Terrapins: Overall
Aiding us in our journey through statistical metrics will be Football Outsiders, a site responsible for many advanced metrics in the game of football. Chief among its architects are Bill Connelly (the mastermind behind the S&P model) and Brian Fremeau (the genius behind the FEI model). Combined, the two models are merged to create the F/+ index, which ranks all 128 FBS teams.
And that's where we'll start: F/+ has Stanford's 16.9% as the 23rd-best team in the country, and Maryland's 6.3% as the 45th-best team in FBS. There's a pretty wide separation between the two teams, too, as Stanford's 16.9% F/+ is more than 2.5 times higher than Maryland's 6.9%.
The discrepancy between the two teams seems to be confirmed in the performance of each team so far. Maryland has had a frighteningly mediocre season, beating the bad teams it faced and losing to the good ones. This season, Maryland failed to beat any FBS team with eight or more wins, but conversely, Maryland also never lost to a team with five or fewer wins. As for 7-5 teams, Maryland sported a losing record of 1-2 against the 7-5 teams it's faced so far (West Virginia, Iowa, Rutgers). And when Maryland faced an FBS team that had more than eight wins, they were thoroughly pummeled (by Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State).
In fairness, Stanford also had its struggles (Oregon and Arizona State), but outside of those two matches, Stanford has been in every game that it's played all season long, losing in nail-biters more than just a few times this season. And unlike Maryland (whose signature win was a one-point victory over 6-6 Penn State), Stanford thoroughly demolished the national title dreams of UCLA playing in front of a large crowd at the Rose Bowl.
Breaking It All Down
I pointed out that Stanford's total F/+ is more than 2.5 times that of Maryland. Admittedly, though, the vast majority of Stanford's edge comes on the defensive side of the ball. And while Stanford also has an offensive edge against Maryland, that edge is only marginal.
Let's take a deeper look at each of these two team's offenses, and how they stack up against the other's defense:
Maryland's Offensive Line vs. Stanford's Defensive Line
Football Outsiders has some really cool metrics designed to isolate offensive line performances from other factors (e.g., was that big gain by a running back attributed mostly to the RB's speed and agility, or was it because of the offensive line's ability to block and create holes?). They also have adjusted metrics to control for strength of opponent so that teams are rewarded when they make plays against tough teams or punished when they fail to make plays against bad teams.
One such metric is the adjusted sack rate, which controls for opponent strength. Right now, Maryland is ranked around the bottom third of the country (84th) for adjusted sack rate. It gets even worse if we just look at the raw stats; Maryland's 2.8 sacks allowed/game ranks them 103rd out of 128 teams.
This matches up very well with Stanford's defensive line, which has an adjusted sack ranking of 8th in the country. If ever there was a time to see a resurgence of Stanford's "Party in the Backfield," it will be with this defensive line against the Small Edible Turtles' offensive line.
Stanford's Offensive Line vs. Maryland's Defensive Line
As we all know, Stanford's offensive line this season has had more than its share of struggles. Presently, Stanford's offensive line is ranked only slightly above average (59th out of 128) by Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards stat.
This stat seems to make sense, and Stanford has seen its offense plummet against stronger d-lines (USC, Arizona State), but we've also seen the offense soar when it was paired against weaker d-lines (Army, UCLA).
So, here's the question: is Maryland's d-line more like USC and Arizona State or Army and UCLA? Thankfully, the answer is that they're much more like the Army/UCLA teams that Stanford had very strong performances against. Maryland's 95th-ranked Adjusted Line Yards is somewhere in between UCLA (79th) and Army (128th).
Maryland's Run Game
Maryland's rushing game has been maligned all season long, perhaps because their average 3.9 yards/attempt puts them 92nd (out of 128 teams) nationwide. But what this side of the story doesn't tell is that they've also faced a lot of very stout rush defenses - so are they really as bad as their stats would indicate?
Advanced stats provide an answer since they're able to control for opponent, and sure enough, Maryland's case proves that sometimes raw stats just don't tell the full story: Connelly's S&P has Maryland as the 28th-best rushing team (when adjusted for opponent).
That said, if we're going to consider the opponents' strength for all of Maryland's previous games, we also need to consider Maryland's opponent now. And when we consider the strength of Stanford's defense, it does not look promising for Maryland: S&P ranks Stanford's defense as the 5th-best team against the rush. It's worth mentioning that Maryland has faced a similar rush defense before, 3rd-ranked Penn State, and in that game Penn State completely shut down the Terrapins' rush game, allowing only 31 yards the entire game.
This does not bode well for the Maryland rush game against Stanford.
Stanford's Run Game
Okay, I don't need stats to tell you the story of Stanford's run game, but I'll tell it with stats anyway: Stanford is ranked 84th (out of 128) on the ground by S&P.
Fortunately, Maryland's defensive performance against the run isn't all that much better (ranking it 67th out of 128). Maryland's 67th ranking puts it close to Utah (61st), Cal (56th), and UCLA (54th). And in each of those games, Stanford put up right around 200 rushing yards (which was also near Stanford's best rushing performances for the season).
Maryland's Passing Game
Whether you use raw stats or advanced stats, Maryland looks downright mediocre in the passing game. Maryland is ranked 78th in completed passes per attempt, although once again, if you use S&P's advanced stats to control for opponent, Maryland gets a little bump to 61st overall. Either way, it's not looking that good for Maryland's passing game.
But it gets even uglier for Maryland when you consider that Stanford boasts the 6th-best defense against the pass in the entire country. Maryland has faced a few pretty similar pass defenses in Michigan State (#8), Penn State (#9), and Ohio State (#10). In each of those attempts, though, Maryland couldn't even compete half of its pass attempts, and was held to 246 or fewer passing yards in each of those games.
Stanford's Passing Game
This is an interesting matchup, insofar as Stanford's pass is ranked right around the top third of the country (43rd), while Maryland's pass defense is slightly better and ranked in the top quarter of the country (30th).
Stanford's faced a lot of teams ranked very similar to Maryland in regard to pass defense: USC (29th), Arizona State (32nd), Oregon (33rd), and Oregon State (35th). The Arizona State game was the worst of the four, where Kevin Hogan only completed 19 of 39 passes for 212 yards, but with the exception of that game, in each of the other three games, Hogan completed around two-thirds or more of his passes for nearly 300 yards.
Against Stanford's passing game, Maryland might have the upper-hand, but Stanford has proven in past games that it can perform against similar defenses.
Putting It All Together
Almost in every category of the game, Stanford is a bit more than Maryland should be able to handle. It's likely that Maryland's run game will be completely shut down, and Maryland's pass game will only fare marginally better.
On the other side of the ball, Maryland might be able to create a little bit of noise, but Stanford's offensive line should be able to contain the Maryland defensive line, opening up lanes on run plays and allowing Hogan time to develop passing plays.
I predict a decisive 31-17 victory to complete the season.