- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. — Well, now what?

Maryland’s football season arrived at its long-since-ordained final stop Saturday, a 56-41 loss at N.C. State that featured a wasted 27-point lead in the last 21 minutes and served as the final piece in an ugly 2-10 year.

For more than two months, the central question surrounding the Terrapins was just how did they become so bad — and so quickly — less than a year after a 9-4 season and the dismissal of coach Ralph Friedgen and hiring of Randy Edsall to replace him.

The greater concern as Maryland moves on is just how do the Terps recover from such an abysmal autumn.

“We’re looking forward,” Edsall said. “I’m disappointed we did not win [Saturday], I’m disappointed for the seniors. I feel bad for them that they were not able to experience the things we’re going to experience with this program. They were here to help lay the foundation for what we want to do.”

Chances are that won’t be a notable point of pride for those who endured Maryland’s second 10-loss season in three years, especially those who celebrated a bowl victory less than a year ago. What they experienced instead was a statistical horn of plenty amid a season littered with oddities and setbacks.

The short-term numbers at the national level — 103rd in scoring defense, 108th in total defense, 110th in passing efficiency and 111th in rushing defense — were rough. The historical context the Terps occupied was thoroughly jolting.

The Terps became the first major-conference program to have a winning season sandwiched between a pair of 10-loss seasons. Maryland suffered a school-record seven consecutive defeats by double digits to end the year. The decline of seven wins matched the second-largest presided over by a first-year coach in a major conference in the past half-century.

Injuries and suspensions played a role, and Maryland oddly managed to use more starting lineups on defense (12) than ballyhooed uniform combinations (11).

Now comes the curious part for Edsall: How does he avoid an equally ignominious encore in his second season in College Park?

Maryland’s program underwent a substantial overhaul in the eight months after Edsall’s arrival, and more change could certainly unfold before the Terps step on the field again. The timing of Edsall’s January arrival made searching for a coaching staff difficult, and the potential for adjustments exists after such a dubious first season.

There’s also the possibility of significant roster turnover as well. Neither discontent cloaked in understandably anonymous quotes nor a claim of “buying in” or “establishing a culture” or whatever intangible platitude of debatable value is preferred on a given day speaks as loudly and decisively as the action of remaining in the program or leaving it behind.

Edsall declined to say if he expected serious changes on either the roster or the staff, though did say he planned to have more competition in the team’s offseason program and to continue to develop leadership among players.

“In due time, I’ll sit down and evaluate the whole season,” Edsall said. “I think comments like that - and I don’t mind the question - but in the emotion of the game and the season, I’m one where we’re going to sit down and evaluate everything and see where we’re going to go and how we’re going to get better.”

And make no mistake: It’s Edsall’s program, and it will be for a while. He still has five years and $10 million remaining on the contract he signed in May, a large sum for any school but especially for one that announced it expected to cut eight sports (barring a fundraising Hail Mary) while citing a calamitous financial state.

Money remains a major concern in other ways. Collectively, Maryland football fans are hardly known for their ceaseless support, and attendance dwindled in the latter half of the past decade even as the Terps made three straight bowl appearances from 2006 to 2008. Maryland’s average attendance this season was 42,355, up from a year ago but still only 78.4 percent capacity of Byrd Stadium.

Edsall’s history as an assistant and a head coach suggests he eventually will re-establish Maryland as a steady postseason participant with plenty of eight- and nine-win teams. The track record of his fan base suggests anything short of 10-win seasons will be met with a lukewarm reception, especially in the wake of a dreadful debut.

In any case, this year’s dozen-game slog is in the past and Edsall can move ahead. And really, who could blame him or anyone associated with Maryland’s program?

“We’re looking forward to 2012 and doing everything we can to get better,” Edsall said. “Every year’s a different year. Every year, the teams are different. We have a plan in place for what we want to do and how we want to go about it. We just have to continue to keep executing that plan.”

Theoretically, that’s what comes next. How effective that plan can be after the events of the past three months, though, will be a question on the minds of Maryland fans entering Edsall’s second season.