The labels on the back of Maryland’s football helmets read “Farewell Season,” a nearly imperceptible acknowledgment of the program’s 60-year ACC membership and a reminder that after Saturday’s regular season finale at North Carolina State, the Terrapins’ next in-conference game will be as a member of the Big Ten.
On a more immediate level, though, Maryland will bid goodbye to a regular season that has featured all manner of emotional twists and turns, enough happiness and heartbreak to last a career. In the Terrapins’ minds, it’s about time.
“I think our guys have been very resilient, been very proud of how they’ve worked,” Coach Randy Edsall said this week. “We’ve been through a lot. They’ve been through a lot.”
Consider where Maryland stood in late September, when it was undefeated and euphoric after four nonconference wins, including a 37-point drubbing of border-state rival West Virginia. Then came a historically deflating 63-0 loss at Florida State on Oct. 5, which matched the worst defeat ever suffered by a ranked team — Maryland was No. 25 in the Associated Press poll at the time — and sent the Terps tumbling back to reality.
Maryland (6-5, 2-5) has faced plenty of that this season, mostly coinciding with injuries. First, quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a concussion against the Seminoles. Then star wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long broke their legs in a 34-10 loss at Wake Forest on Oct. 19. In between came a one-point win over Virginia that would have been a two-point loss had the Cavaliers’ last-second field goal attempt not sailed wide right.
After that stretch came losses to Clemson and Syracuse that reinvigorated criticism of Edsall and left fans wondering whether the Terps would win again. But right on cue, they marched into Lane Stadium and scored the biggest win in the Edsall era, a 27-24 overtime victory over Virginia Tech that was catalyzed by Brown, who this season alone has overcome the concussion and a trunk injury, as well as the anterior cruciate ligament surgery that caused him to miss the 2012 season.
“We’ve grown up a lot, but it’s still a process,” Edsall said. “We’re better and we’ve improved. We’ve had to fight through a ton of adversity and we got ourselves to a point where we’re bowl eligible, and we’re looking forward to getting ourselves a seventh win. I’m proud of the guys and what we’ve been able to accomplish, but we still have more to accomplish. When you have that, you have to have a short memory.”
This means flushing away last weekend’s 29-26 loss to Boston College at Byrd Stadium, in which Eagles place kicker Nate Freese made a last-second 52-yard field goal after Edsall tried — and failed — to ice him with a timeout. It means ignoring the bowl projections, which currently have Maryland going anywhere from the Military Bowl in Annapolis to the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., to the Heart of Dallas Bowl on New Year’s Day.
“That’s always exciting,” said linebacker Matt Robinson, the only current Terrapins player to have appeared in a bowl game at Maryland. “But we have to take care of business this week and worry about having fun after that.”
Some players have peeked at the predictions, the Terps said. Others kept their focus on the reeling Wolfpack, which has lost seven straight and is winless in conference play under first-year Coach Dave Doeren. The Terrapins called the Boston College loss “tough” and a “disappointment.” Center Sal Conaboy said it was hard to fall asleep at night. But really, it was just another twist in a season already filled with them.
“The thing that’s probably frustrating is the consistency part,” Edsall said. “That’s probably the thing that’s most frustrating. You see us do a lot of great things throughout the game, and then there’s these X number of plays, and you kind of sit there and scratch your head and say, ‘Where did that come from?’ ”