Remember that blistering start to the season for the Terrapins (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) which included 142 points in the first two games? Feels like ages ago at this point as Maryland has now lost four out of their last five with the only victory coming against lowly Rutgers. In their last three losses, the Terps have been outscored 133-42, and there doesn't appear to be any end in sight as they will face three ranked opponents with Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State upcoming.
As for the Golden Gophers (7-0, 4-0), life couldn't be any better at the moment. Quarterback Tanner Morgan has emerged as one of the better signal-callers in the conference. The running game is bludgeoning opponents. And the defense is having its best stretch of the season, allowing just 10.3 points per game over the last three weeks. The schedule becomes significantly more challenging once the calendar hits November, but first things first for P.J. Fleck and his undefeated Gophers — take care of a beatable opponent and avoid a potential trap game looking ahead to Penn State in a few weeks.
Maryland at Minnesota
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Minnesota -16.5
When Maryland Has the Ball
The Terrapins will get a huge boost this Saturday with starting quarterback Josh Jackson and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. returning from injury. Both players had been dealing with high-ankle injuries for most of October, but will be full-go for this weekend's matchup. "They're at 100 percent in terms of their expectation to play this Saturday," head coach Mike Locksley said to the media this week. "It's good to be able to have both those guys back as weapons for us from an offensive standpoint."
While having Jackson back under center is good news, if Maryland is to pull off a shocker on Saturday, it will be on the shoulders of their ground attack that currently ranks 29th in the country averaging 207 yards per game and that’s been without a healthy McFarland for the better part of October. The Terps have their own 1-2 punch in the backfield with McFarland and the team's leading rusher Javon Leake who filled in admirably last week as the starter with 158 yards and two TDs against Indiana. If Maryland can get 200-plus yards from their running backs this week, the Terps will have a shot at the upset.
When Minnesota Has the Ball
Where is the weakness on offense for the Gophers' squad? Quarterback Tanner Morgan has the second-highest quarterback ranking in the Big Ten behind Justin Fields, as he's completed 66 percent of his passes with 16 TDs and just three interceptions. Helps when you have two future NFL draft picks to throw to in Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, both of whom rank in the Top 25 nationally in receiving yards.
You want to take away the pass? Well, then Minnesota will hit you with their three-headed monster in the backfield with Rodney Smith, Mohamed Ibrahim, and Shannon Brooks who are all healthy at the same time. Smith, the elder statesman of the group, has not been contained by opponents in the last month as he's posted four-straight 100-yard performances with five rushing TDs. The ground attack has been aided by a healthy Ibrahim who has four rushing scores in the last two games alone, and looks to be rounding into form as the Gophers gear up for the final stretch of the year.
This might be a game where Minnesota looks to take the offense to the air, though, as the Terps rank dead last in the conference against the pass, allowing nearly 290 yards per game.
This is a game Minnesota should win. The Gophers are more talented, are at home and a healthier team than their opponent. But with the Terrapins getting some of their best players back this week, combined with Minnesota's looming matchup with Penn State on the horizon, this has the feel of a game that could be closer than the experts (Vegas) think. The Gophers squeak one out here on Saturday, but I would not be surprised one bit to see Maryland cover the spread if Minnesota gets caught looking ahead.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Maryland 27
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.