Key stretch: Maryland

It's July, which means college football arrives next month. As we count down to kickoff, we're taking a look at the pivotal three- or four-game stretch in the slate for each Big Ten squad.

Next up in our series: Maryland.

Key stretch: at Indiana (Sept. 27), Ohio State (Oct. 4), Iowa (Oct. 18)

Breakdown: The Terrapins, if healthy, could end up as a surprise team in their inaugural Big Ten season, but they're likely going to need to get off to a good start in conference play.

Their historic moment arrives in Bloomington, a game that could turn into a real shootout given the offensive firepower both teams boast. Maryland's first Big Ten home game comes a week later with a visit from the Buckeyes. (How much Scarlet and Gray gets into Byrd Stadium that Saturday? Hunch: a lot). Randy Edsall's team figures to be major underdogs there, but there's no better way to make a statement to the rest of the league than by knocking off Ohio State, and the Terps might just have the passing game to challenge Urban Meyer's defense.

Finally in this stretch is another home game, this time against Iowa after a bye week. Maryland has to believe it has as much talent as the Hawkeyes, and winning this one is crucial. Why? Because the next four games -- at Wisconsin, at Penn State, vs. Michigan State and at Michigan.

Prediction: Maryland's schedule is by no means easy -- the nonconference portion includes road games at South Florida and Syracuse and a visit from West Virginia -- so coming out on top in the swing games is vital. Indiana and Iowa are two of those coin-flip contests. I like the Terps to be a little feisty early on in Big Ten play, and I'm going to go out on a limb and say they win both of those games and lose to Ohio State. Whether Maryland can build on that -- and keep its star players healthy down the stretch -- is another story.