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Time to start wondering how good are these Terps

Maryland Terrapin football fans are living la vida loca right now, and who can blame them after what they went through last season.

New coach DJ Durkin has injected new life into a program that hit a huge speed bump in its second season in the Big Ten. The Terps improved to 4-0 in their conference opener with an impressive 50-7 victory over Purdue and have done a great job of turning the page after the Randy Edsall era ended so unhappily.

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There really is only one question remaining: Are the Terps really as good as their unblemished record, or have they run the table so far because they haven't really been tested?

It's fair to wonder because they have admittedly played an early-season schedule that has allowed quarterback Perry Hills time to get comfortable in new coordinator Walt Bell's offense, and Durkin to get used to the broader responsibilities of his first head coaching job.

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It's also fair for fans and boosters to look at the happy results and deliver an emphatic "Who cares!"

The season-opening victory over Howard was a gimme, but the Terps went on the road to Florida on back-to-back weekends and squeezed out a double-overtime victory over Central Florida for their third victory before their bye week preceding conference play.

Saturday's game was another huge step forward, but even Durkin isn't ready to put any labels on his team.

"We'll see,'' he said. "Every week is a new week and that's how we treat it. We really do. We're going to go back to the drawing board tomorrow and figure out the best way to prepare us to go win the next game and just try and get that done and go from there. When you have a team that's coachable, that's willing to work and that cares about the guy next to them, which we have, you always have a chance. We're going to keep building that and play to that and see where it goes."

If you want to make comparisons to the previous coaching brain trust, consider that during Edsall's five years as coach, the Terps only had one lop-sided conference victory in either the ACC or the Big Ten. That was a 37-15 win over Indiana in 2014. This was Durkin's first-ever conference game and the Terps won by the largest margin in a conference game since 2010 (Wake Forest).

No one is going to make the case that the Boilermakers are a Big Ten power, of course. They came into the game with a 2-1 record, but their victories came against Eastern Kentucky and Nevada. Eastern Kentucky is a Football Championship Subdivision team whose only victory during the first four weeks of the season came against the University of Pikeville; Nevada had to go to overtime to beat Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in its season opener.

Still, the schedule is what it is and Durkin isn't responsible for it. He and his team took care of its non-conference business and opened the Big Ten season in style. Nobody is putting the Terps in the national title picture, but it's okay for fans to start fantasizing about some kind of bowl game.

There are other winnable games on the schedule and Maryland only needs two more wins to become bowl eligible. The Terps travel to Penn State next week and very possibly will be favored to win that game. They'll host Minnesota at Maryland Stadium the following week. Then it gets real.

This year's schedule – like last year's and all the ones to come in the foreseeable future – includes the beasts of the Big Ten East, which will provide the litmus test for the progress of the Maryland program during the first few years of Durkin's tenure.

He won't get a honeymoon season like Edsall did two years ago, when Michigan and Penn State were rebuilding and the Terps caught Iowa in a weak moment.

Winter is coming, at least from a football perspective, and that means scary games against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska – all of them top-20 teams.

"Obviously, 4-0, that's where you want to be,'' Durkin said. "Not surprised. We believe that we're going to go win the games we play. Our guys have prepared well and put themselves in the right position to do it. I think we have a good self-awareness of our team. We're very honest with our guys. We know any team on our schedule can beat us and we know we can beat any team on our schedule. It's about us controlling what we can control and doing things we talk about to win a game.

"That's it. We've done that stuff so far, but every week is a new week. That's the beauty of the game and the sport we're in. It's 'What have you done for me lately?' We're 4-0 with a chance to go 5-0 and we know we have a big task ahead of us [at Penn State]. That's a tough place to play on the road."

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.

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