(Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

In an ideal world, Maryland freshman quarterback Caleb Rowe would have exited the 2012 season with a redshirt. He would have learned from his superiors, gaining experience through practice and observation, set up to contribute down the road.

Then again, an ideal world would have all of Maryland’s quarterbacks healthy, instead of two having their ACLs shredded like construction paper.

Once C.J. Brown was the first to go, tearing his ACL during a non-contact drill this preseason, Perry Hills stepped in and became the starter. Shortly thereafter, Coach Randy Edsall and the Terps’ coaching staff made the decision to go with Devin Burns, a converted wide receiver who was an honorable mention all-state quarterback in high school, as the backup. Rowe, a true freshman out of South Carolina’s Blue Ridge High School, would be the emergency quarterback while preserving valuable eligibility, only available in dire, two-minute situations.

That dire situation presented itself on Saturday against North Carolina State, when Hills tore an ACL in his left knee. Burns thrived in the read-option offense, but Rowe nearly played hero, directing a late drive with 32 seconds left that set up Maryland for a game-winning field goal, which Brad Craddock ultimately missed from 33 yards out.

“I told him that I couldn’t guarantee [he’d redshirt], because I hope nothing happens, but I told him you’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to be prepared,” Maryland Coach Randy Edsall said.

In limited action, which might bode well for future performances against teams that don’t have film on the true freshman, Rowe was outstanding. On first down, he found a tiptoeing Kevin Dorsey by the far sideline for 17 yards. Flushed out of the pocket from the Maryland 42-yard line, Rowe scrambled for 11 yards and stepped out of bounds, stopping the clock. Then he was on the throwing end of Nigel King’s first career reception, a 33-yard burst that put the Terps at the N.C. State 14-yard line.

Since Burns was named the backup, though, Rowe’s repetitions were limited, even in practice. He ran the two-minute drill on Wednesdays and Thursdays, then worked seven-on-seven against the defense, still attending meetings, listening and taking notes. “That’s the thing that was so impressive,” Edsall said, “that he went in and performed given the minimal reps he got.”

Rated as the 15th-best recruit out of South Carolina, Rowe is a better pocket passer than Burns, with pinpoint precision and nice zip. Burns has wide receiver speed to go with his option abilities, but Edsall called Rowe “a more than adequate runner.”

“To say he’s as fast as Devin? No, but he has good running ability, and those are things we know we can take advantage of,” Edsall said. “We’ve seen him execute our offense during the preseason and can do all the things we will ask him to do within our offense.”

The starting quarterback will likely be a game-time announcement, though Edsall said the Terps will likely have a decision in place following Thursday’s practice. And with Rowe’s redshirt officially burned, it’s anyone’s guess at this stage.