After Randy Edsall exited his postgame interview at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium last week, the Terrapins football coach was replaced at the table before the media by quarterback C.J. Brown, defensive end Andre Monroe and running back Brandon Ross.
And though the Terps had just suffered a disappointing 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl, they still exhibited optimism toward the future.
The three players dutifully answering questions symbolized the team’s upcoming move in the Big Ten and beyond, as all three are slated to return to the Terps next season and occupy key roles.
“We took a step this year,” Ross said. “Last year, not going to a bowl game, this year going to one. We were hit with injuries. But our goal in this offseason is to get bigger, faster, stronger and go into the Big Ten with some force this year.”
Though the Terps made a bowl game and finished with a winning record for the first time in Edsall’s tenure, there was disappointment. After a 4-0 start where the offense looked unstoppable and the defense impregnable, the Terps won only three times in their final nine games. Injuries mounted, and though Edsall and the rest of the Terps preached depth and the “next man up” mentality, there were too many key players missing for the team to sustain success.
In the Terps’ 40-27 loss to Clemson on Oct. 26, the Terps were without their preseason starters at quarterback, running back, two wide receiver spots and tight end. Brown missed two of the Terps’ four games in October and didn’t finish the other two due to injury. Without wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, the Terps were missing arguably their top two playmakers.
The absences showed. The Terps were listless in a 20-3 home loss to Syracuse on Nov. 9. They didn’t have the firepower to hang with Clemson on homecoming. Boston College eked by the Terps in the home finale in late November.
But there were some positives late in the season, as the Terps won two of their final three regular season games to clinch the winning season. Brown’s dive to the pylon at Virginia Tech to give the Terps a 27-24 upset of the Hokies in overtime was the high-water mark of the season. When they closed out ACC play with a 41-21 win at N.C. State, the Terps looked like a team that had figured out how to win when not at full strength.
“This group to me is a really special group,” Edsall said. “I think what’s happened for them this year is that now they understand they believe in themselves. They believe that regardless of who’s out there on the field, we can win and we’re going to win, so again I’m very proud of these guys and I think this season really helped us as we’re going to continue to move forward as we leave the ACC and now we enter into the Big Ten.”
With seven wins, the Terps surpassed Edsall’s combined win total from his first two seasons in College Park, and the 4-0 start — in which the wins came over Florida International, Old Dominion, Connecticut and West Virginia — was the Terps’ best since 2001.
The season ended in disappointment against Marshall in Annapolis, but the Terps’ seven wins marked only the fourth time in the past 10 years the Terps had a winning record.
“When it’s all said and done, we had a great year,” Brown said. “We had a winning season that we got to extend to the postseason. Had a great time at the Military Bowl, and today, I was proud of the effort, disappointed with the outcome. It’s just one of those things. We’ll be ready come next year. We’ll have a great offseason and use this to prepare for the future.”
While the Terps have dealt with injuries the past two years, July’s move to the Big Ten presents myriad new challenges with new opponents, different styles of play and new environments.
But the Terps, who lose only four starters from the Military Bowl depth chart, return players like Brown, Monroe and Ross, each of whom had his own distinct impact on the season. If the Terps retrain continuity in the offseason and continue to add talent, good things could happen for the Terps, despite the conference switch.
“We plan on just building off of what we have now and with what we have now,” Monroe said. “The sky’s the limit as long as we’re all on the same page.”