At 2-5 (1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), Maryland hopes the sun isn't also setting on its once-promising season. The Terps, who have lost three games in a row, hope to be playing their last five regular-season games for more than pride.
But the odds aren't in their favor. As it practiced to face 1-6 Boston College (0-4 ACC) on Saturday at Byrd Stadium, Maryland found itself four wins short of the six needed to become bowl-eligible.
"We're going to have to win four out of five, but it starts with winning this one right here," O'Brien said Tuesday. "We're not going to pack it in."
Maryland, hampered by injuries and inexperience, is clearly a program in transition. The Terps are in their first season under coach Randy Edsall and his new coordinators. They have just seven seniors among the 44 players on the two-deep depth chart. Some players have had difficulty adjusting to Edsall's stringent team discipline and new offensive and defensive systems. Two of Maryland's four captains — linebacker Kenny Tate and offensive lineman Andrew Gonnella — have been lost for the season to injuries. Maryland's only win since opening night against Miami came against Towson, a Football Championship Subdivision team.
Edsall, who has a six-year contract, has often said he is involved in a long-term building process. He said after last Saturday's game that the Terps were unable to match up "with the speed and athleticism of Clemson [on Oct. 15] and Florida State," a situation he said must be rectified through aggressive recruiting.
In his weekly media availability Tuesday, Edsall repeated that "recruiting is the lifeblood of any program. That's what it is. I have the mindset that I want to try to recruit better and better every year, and that's not a knock on anybody that's here."
In college football, success begets success. High school players often aspire to playing for winning teams going to upper-echelon bowl games.
"We really haven't hit where we can be yet," said O'Brien, a redshirt sophomore. "Once we do that, it'll be a lot easier to sell. You've got to win to get good recruits. There's no secret to that. Winning programs get better players and are seen in a more positive light than losing programs. That's just kind of the reality of sports in general."
In the meantime, Edsall said the team is improving.
"Alls I want to do is make sure I'm right by them in the classroom, as people and as athletes. And that's what important to me. The thing is, they're getting better. And we're getting better as a team. It just doesn't show in the win-loss record right now," he said.
Maryland was 2-10 in 2009 and 9-4 during a 2010 season in which it played in the Military Bowl after announcing that Friedgen was being dismissed.
Senior safety Austin Walker said he had harbored hopes of a turnaround following the 2-10 year. This season, Walker — the son of broadcaster and former NFL player Rick "Doc" Walker — said there are similarly promising signs.
"In my opinion, I think we should be 5-2," said Walker, whose brother, Alex, is a redshirt freshman defensive lineman on the Terps. "We've been in a lot of close games with very talented teams and we just haven't been able to put it all together just yet.
"You have to be able to handle adversity. You have to be able to handle success."
Notes: Edsall would not say who would start at quarterback Saturday — O'Brien or C.J. Brown. He said it was possible that both could play. … Maryland teams posted their best Graduation Success Rate of 82 percent in the most recent statistics announced Tuesday. The men's basketball team went from 31 percent in 2010 to 46 percent this year, while women's basketball improved from 67 percent to 81 percent. The football team's rate fell from 64 percent to 59 percent. Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson said the football program has made significant progress in recent months. This year's numbers measure freshmen who entered Maryland between the fall of 2001 and the fall of 2004.