BOISE, Idaho | The Humanitarian Bowl was an atypical conclusion to Maryland’s atypical season, a procession of heretofore unheralded reserves to the end zone.
Adrian Cannon. Morgan Green. Ronnie Tyler. All scored before halftime in the Terrapins‘ 42-35 defeat of Nevada on Tuesday, ensuring a pleasant start to the offseason while providing a glimpse of how promising 2009 could be.
“That’s the type of team we got; if one guy goes down, somebody else will step up,” said wideout Torrey Smith, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the first half. “Fortunately for us, everyone you just named is coming back next year. It gives people something to look forward to next year.”
While the Terps (8-5) flew home Wednesday with a gleaming trophy as the most tangible benefit of their up-and-down season, thoughts drifted to the future and just what the program needs to continue to grow.
Some areas seem set. Bowl MVP Da’Rel Scott, who ran for 174 yards and two touchdowns after sitting out the first half because of a curfew violation, will be back along with the majority of the running back corps. So too will Chris Turner, who could become the first Terps player in more than a decade to serve as the team’s primary quarterback for three years.
Maryland will lose 31 seniors, the largest outgoing bunch in coach Ralph Friedgen’s tenure. Yet only seven seniors actually started the Humanitarian Bowl, lending credence to the belief the Terps might not lose as much as expected.
“We’ll be a younger team, and I think we have a chance to be an exciting team,” Friedgen said.
Certainly, there are some looming decisions in the coming weeks certain to influence any outlook. Junior receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey could opt to declare for the NFL Draft even after his receptions (42) and yardage (609) fell from the previous year.
Friedgen faces some choices of his own. Foremost is hiring a new defensive coordinator, with staff veteran Al Seamonson certain to receive a look after handling the job on an interim basis for the bowl. The Terps limited Nevada, owner of the nation’s No. 2 rushing attack, to 114 yards.
There are personnel issues as well. The Terps will lose five of their top seven offensive linemen after the unit endured an uneven season, and the undersized defensive line will be without Jeremy Navarre. Linebackers Moise Fokou and Dave Philistin also will depart, leaving the Terps to rebuild that unit around Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten.
“I think we still have a lot of good players on our roster,” Friedgen said. “We really need some linebackers to come in and help us, which is not always the greatest situation in the world.”
The bowl victory helps. December practices served as a quasi-start to spring practice, and the boost received from handling the Wolf Pack is far better than enduring a winter with another bowl loss fresh in the Terps’ memory.
It also makes it easier for Maryland to look back on 2008 and see something positive. The Terps’ wacky season - including a 4-1 record against ranked teams and puzzling losses at Middle Tennessee and Virginia - twisted every week, sometimes in unthinkable ways.
Yet the dominant theme at the end of the regular season was the chance at a conference title, which Maryland squandered when it lost to Florida State and Boston College in late November. The bowl triumph didn’t change those results, but it did erode some of the disappointment.
“There’s a lot of good things that come from this,” Turner said. “It’s one of the best wins we had all year.”