The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland made underdog history the last two weeks. Now comes Ohio State.

Quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa has led Maryland to upset wins in consecutive weeks. (Barry Reeger/AP)
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This article was originally published before Maryland announced its game against Ohio State has been canceled because of an elevated number of coronavirus cases within the Terrapins’ program.

Fresh off a stunning rout of Penn State, Maryland will host No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday looking for its first win against the Buckeyes in program history and trying to extend its historic streak of upsets.

Maryland’s 35-19 win in Happy Valley as 27.5-point underdogs was the third-biggest upset in a Big Ten game in the past 40 years, according to ESPN Stats and Information, behind only Northwestern’s win over Minnesota as a 32-point underdog in 1982 and Wisconsin’s loss to Illinois as a 30.5-point favorite last year. Coupled with their 45-44 overtime win against Minnesota as an 18.5-point underdog the previous week, the Terps are the first team to win consecutive games as an underdog of at least 18 points since the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision were established in 1978.

Taulia Tagovailoa responded after a rough opener and now Maryland's offense is rolling

No wonder Maryland’s social media team was a bit boastful Saturday.

“We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to build this thing on some really strong foundation, so that we can sustain the success here,” Maryland Coach Michael Locksley said after the Terps’ largest margin of victory over the Nittany Lions in school history. “So we’re going to take it as one win. Obviously it’s a big one. It’s a big one for our young team to come up here in State College and win a game against a traditional power like a Penn State.”

The Terps haven’t enjoyed any sustained success in recent years, but they have quietly been one of the upset kings of college football since their last appearance in a bowl game after the 2016 season. Of Maryland’s 14 wins during that span, five have come as underdogs of at least 12 points. That’s the most of any Power Five school.

In 2017, Maryland upset Texas, 51-41, in the season opener as 19-point underdogs. Three games later, the Terps knocked off Minnesota, which was favored by 12.5 points. In 2018, Maryland beat Texas again, this time as 12-point underdogs at FedEx Field.

Arizona State and California of the Pac-12 have four outright wins as underdogs of at least 12 points over the past four years, and the Sun Devils are the only Power Five school with a winning record (4-3) in such games. Kansas State and Michigan State both have three such wins, while Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kansas and West Virginia all have two.

As one of the worst teams in the Big Ten since they joined the conference in 2014, the Terps have had more opportunities than most schools to pull off big upsets. Maryland has been an underdog of at least 12 points 18 times since the start of the 2017 season. Among Power Five schools, only Kansas (28), Rutgers (24), Illinois (21) and Arkansas (19) have played more such games, but that sad group has combined for only five wins in those contests.

Ohio State, which is a 25-point favorite against Maryland, doesn’t have much recent experience in the underdog role. The Buckeyes are one of five Power Five teams that hasn’t played a game as a 12-point underdog since 2017. In fact, only two teams have been favored by double digits against Ohio State in the regular season this century.

The Buckeyes have won 32 of 34 games as a favorite of at least 12 points since the start of the 2017 season, with their two losses coming as a 20.5-point favorite at Iowa in 2017 and as a 12-point favorite at Purdue in 2018. Dwayne Haskins and Ohio State were 14-point favorites in College Park in 2018 and escaped with a 52-51 victory after the Terrapins’ two-point attempt to win the game in overtime failed.

Ohio State has dominated the all-time series against Maryland, which began in 2014, with the teams’ 2018 meeting the only competitive affair. The Buckeyes have won the other five matchups by an average of 43 points and cruised to a 73-14 rout in Columbus last year. The point spread for Saturday’s game suggests oddsmakers expect another blowout.

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