SAN FRANCISCO — An undercurrent of change permeated Maryland's trip to the West Coast, an unsuccessful venture in the wake of the Terrapins' 21-14 loss to Oregon State in Friday night's Emerald Bowl.
But adjustments are still coming for a program relegated to its third losing season in four years, and coach Ralph Friedgen has identified one of the biggest issues facing the program: uneven play from week to week, practice to practice and even quarter to quarter.
It was displayed at AT&T Park, where the Terps (6-7) bolted to a 14-7 lead against a team that had yielded only 16 first-quarter points all season. But in Maryland's tried-and-true manner of sputtering after a strong start, the Terps' offense collapsed in the final three quarters as the Beavers slipped away with a victory.
As the second half progressed and the Terps failed to generate a whiff of offense, it was obvious the bowl was a veritable rerun of several games this season. Maryland could win from time to time (Georgia Tech). But more often than not (Wake Forest and Virginia), it couldn't survive its inconsistency.
"I don't know if it's a lack of focus and I've said this a number of times, whether it's a maturity thing," Friedgen said. "Obviously, I'm looking to correct it coaching-wise. Until you can sustain it over long periods of time, then you're always just going to be average."
Rising above the program's recent mediocrity is the challenge facing Friedgen as he moves on from his seventh season. He has hired James Franklin as his offensive coordinator and the 35-year-old will enjoy complete control over the offense.
That should free Friedgen up to better scrutinize the entire program, but it also throws the Terps' quarterback situation into flux — again. When two-year starter Sam Hollenbach left after the 2006 season, the position opened to veteran Jordan Steffy and sophomores Josh Portis and Chris Turner.
On the surface, it seemed like a nominal competition. Steffy took all the first-team reps in camp, but Friedgen dithered on making an official announcement until a week before the season.
Ultimately, Steffy lasted 4½ games before suffering a concussion and Portis was declared ineligible for violating the school's academic honor code. Turner emerged as a viable option, but the arrival of a new coordinator means all three could be in the mix in the spring and the circus could begin anew.
"First of all, we just need to go in and know who our starting quarterback is from the jump," wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey said. "I think that's No. 1. ... I can't make the call, but I'll tell you my redshirt freshman year, when I knew Sam was going to be my quarterback, it made it a lot easier for us to work together in the summertime."
Turner said Friday he hadn't thought about next season, and rightfully so. But a new coordinator isn't the only difference awaiting Maryland when spring practice begins.
Eight of the Terps' starters in the Emerald Bowl were seniors, and junior linebacker Erin Henderson must decide whether to enter the NFL Draft. Henderson already possesses both a degree and an extensive injury history, but he missed just one game despite a plethora of ailments this year.
The injury theme will also be retired — at least temporarily, anyway — when the Terps reconvene. This year's thin offensive line loses only guard Andrew Crummey, who was excited Friday about seeing next year's veteran unit when it is reinforced with redshirt freshmen.
Similar sentiments exist at other positions, and even the loss of the team's top two tailbacks and three starters in the secondary cannot quell much of the early optimism for next season.
"I think they're poised for a comeback," defensive tackle Dre Moore said. "We played a lot of young guys due to injury. A lot of young guys got reps that they wouldn't have. I think it's going to show with increased competition in the spring, and I think they going to bounce back."
That will require consistency, which many in the program hope will come with an experienced team. The Terps had 21 scholarship juniors this season, and there is thought a more veteran team might avoid the yo-yo-like season of 2007.
And just to be certain, Friedgen plans to ensure Maryland finishes what it starts next fall.
"It's something that will be stressed this winter and this spring," Friedgen said. "I already told them we're going to raise things to a whole other level. They better come with their A-game, because I'm going to have my A-game going. We're going to get back to where we need to be."