Maryland's 42-0 loss Saturday to Texas raised a multitude of questions. But there is only one answer: Maryland is not in a class with the Penn States and Texases.
The national television lens may prove to have been the evil eye this recruiting season. Maryland's reason for wanting to play, and play well, in the Sun Bowl was to live down the humiliating defeat in November by Penn State in the other televised game. The players talked of gaining respect for the program.
Now Maryland has laid two eggs on TV. But the Terrapins need to lay even more, if that is what results from beefing up the schedule.
The Terrapins played three nationally ranked teams this year and lost to all: Penn State, Clemson and Texas. Maryland needs more top-quality talent to beat these schools, but it is a cyclical teaser, because Maryland needs to play more big-name schools (and beat them) to lure the true stars.
"I think this game will help us," quarterback Tim O'Hare said. "The more we play better teams, the more it will help us upgrade our schedule. Then we could come into games like this a little more prepared.
"We were a bunch of guys who tried hard and worked together, and we had fun. There were many good moments."
O'Hare's "good moments" are symbolic of the very best of the college football experience. But when the talk turns to beating Penn State, to winning a national championship or even playing on the same level as the big boys, Maryland has shown itswlf to be a few tackles, guards and backs short.
The losses to Penn State and Texas were not flukes. Maryland goes poof against the powers.
"It seems that way," said linebacker Neal Olkewicz. "And it's a shame. Why they kill us like that, I don't know.
"Maybe we don't have confidence against teams like that. I would definitely say we need a couple more blue-chippers, game-breakers."
After four campaigns, Maryland is losing its chief blue-chipper, Steve Atkins, the school's leading career rusher and touchdown producer. George Scott, 1977 rushing leader who redshirted this season after shin surgery, seems capable of stepping in; so, possibly, does freshman Charlie D Wysocki.
But the Terps' biggest problem at the moment is on the offensive line. If Atkins proved anything this year, it was that even the most gifted back is going nowhere without at least some blocking.
Eric Sievers, a junior, is a quality tight end. Strong guard Kervin Wyatt and strong tackle Larry Stewart are Maryland's best offensive linemen and they return, but they have not yet blossomed into hoped-for stardom. Much will depend on the maturity of Wyatt and Stewart, and some help from untested players.
Mike Tice will have to battle the vastly improved Bob Milkovich for the quarterback position next year, and Tice also has yet to live up to his spectacular reputation. He was pressing in his limited duty this year, but the staff hopes that next season a more relaxed Tice will develop into a truly great passer.
Tice has a fine receiver back in wingback Jan Carinci, whose aggressive blocking this year won a starting job as a sophomore. Gary Ellis, who made the catch of the year at North Carolina, will probably step in for Dean Richards at split end.
The Terrapins will have heavy losses along the defensive line and that is not good news. Defensive tackle Charlie Johnson, Maryland's best player this year, heads for the pros, probably to play noseguard in someone's 3-4 defense.
Left guard Bruce Palmer, right end Joe Muffler and part-time left tackle Keith Calta also run out of eligibility.
The Terps lose their best linebacker, Olkewicz, but may have a gem waiting in Darnell Dailey.
The defensive secondary remains intact with All-Conference halfback Loyd Burruss, right halfback Steve Trimble, safeties John Baldante and Ralph Lary and reserve halfbacks Sam Johnson and Sam Modile.
Atkins is a possible first-round National Football League draft choice, and Johnson may go in the first half-dozen rounds. Backup tailback Preacher Maddox and Richards should be drafted, probably lower. O'Hare may not be drafted but surely will get a tryout, and field goal kicker Ed Loncar probably will be picked by somebody.
Atkins and Johnson are rated as Maryland's true pro prospects; the rest could be more successful finding work in the Canadian Football League.