- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

GREENSBORO, N.C. | When the 2008 season ended with a Humanitarian Bowl victory on a chilly Idaho afternoon, the Maryland football program departed knowing it needed to fill plenty of holes if it was to return to a bowl game this season.

To fare even better, though, the Terrapins require something far more valuable than a dozen lost starters - a steadiness lacking during last year’s bizarre 13-game journey that even coach Ralph Friedgen didn’t always fully comprehend.

In the offseason, though, he constantly returned to a favorite theme he hoped would long ago disappear: consistency.

“Every day,” quarterback Chris Turner said at Sunday’s ACC preseason media event. “He’s the Mr. Consistent just because he says it so much. It’s a point, though. We laugh and joke about it, and it seems funny because last year it seemed like we were talking about consistency this and consistency that. Looking back, it’s a very serious thing.”

Not to mention taxing. It was undoubtedly frustrating for those who followed the up-and-down program as it endured its various travails a season ago. For those on the inside, it was far more vexing.

The Terps secured victories against California, Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest yet suffered inexplicable losses to Middle Tennessee and Virginia and endured an utter no-show against Florida State with a chance to win a division title still looming. At the time, those mixed-up results bewildered Friedgen and flustered his players.

“It had to have been the worst middle of a season I’ve ever been through because you’re up, you win a game and you’re happy - and then you’re down, you lose a game and you’re sad,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “To just keep going through that emotional roller coaster, it takes a toll on you at the end of the season.”

Enough so that Carroll and Turner, two of only 12 scholarship seniors on the roster, want no part of a repeat.

Both are likely to play crucial roles pushing the relatively unheralded Terps beyond last year’s wild 8-5 record. Carroll, who started four games as a junior, is a vital component of new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme, which relies on physical defensive backs.

Turner, of course, is even more important to the offense, and his play the past two seasons is indicative of a topsy-turvy team. His best performances typically were saved for games against ranked opponents, though there was also a proclivity to produce clunkers against teams destined for losing seasons.

“We need to be more consistent,” Turner said. “I need to be more consistent. That’s been my M.O. People wonder if I’m aware of it. Yeah, I’m aware of it.”

Perhaps the trickiest part of reversing the recent past is doing so with untested prospects. One staple of preseason magazines and polls - like the ACC’s to be released Monday - is to add up returning experience and slot teams accordingly.

Such conventional wisdom doesn’t always hold up. The Terps entered camp last year with a vaunted offensive line littered with fifth-year seniors and no sure thing at tailback. Ultimately, Maryland’s line was viewed as an unsteady disappointment - though it still helped Da’Rel Scott become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002.

Consider it emblematic of the Terps’ unpredictability, a trait they hope to shed even without enjoying the luxury of as many sure things as nearly the rest of the ACC.

“Losing those seniors, people think we’re a young team and we won’t have the focus we had last year,” Carroll said. “I feel this team has a lot of talent and we’re going to go farther than everybody thinks.”