A stout defense led in part by Joe Vellano has given Maryland hope for a strong ACC season. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

Maryland’s nonconference schedule is done, with four games of learning and growth in the books. Accordingly, with a bye week before ACC play, the Terrapins inter their conference schedule in a unique position, able to squarely focus on Wake Forest and beyond without an unfamiliar opponent thrown into the mix.

Granted, the ACC schedule is hardly a cake walk. October is a winnable month for the Terrapins (vs. Wake Forest, at Virginia, vs. North Carolina State, at Boston College), but then comes November and three straight games against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State before wrapping up the season at North Carolina.

“It’s a big one,” defensive end A.J. Francis said. “You could lose all your other games and win the ACC. I hate to say it doesn’t matter what you do before ACC play, but it really doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, our goal is to win the ACC championship. Hopefully we’ll be able to get this first win this weekend against Wake.”

With a fresh slate, miles ahead of where they were during the season opener against William & Mary, the Terps have their eyes on eight straight conference games, four on the road.

“We play nonconference games, but one thing that we want to be able to do is do well in the conference,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “We start off at 0-0 and we have our first conference game. All of the games are important, but the conference games are even more important.”

Save a 32-24 win in the opener against Miami, the Terps went winless in ACC play last season. Six of those seven losses came by double digits, and Maryland allowed an average of 29.3 points per game in those seven games. Their average margin of defeat was 15 points.

But now the Terps enter ACC play this season boosted by the nation’s eighth-ranked defense, a senior unit with veterans like “36-year-old” Joe Vellano (age estimate provided by Francis), Demetrius Hartsfield, Kenneth Tate and even first-year starter Darius Kilgo at nose tackle. They’re the ACC’s second-ranked unit with aims to overtake Florida State as the conference’s top defense.

But they have something loftier on their mind as well coming off the bye.

“We’ve seen everything you can see during a college football career except winning a conference championship,” Francis said. “That’s our goal, and it all starts this weekend.”