COLLEGE PARK -- No one had any illusions about what was going to happen on Senior Day at Byrd Stadium.
The Maryland Terrapins were undermanned and overmatched in Saturday's final home game against No. 10 Florida State, so the question was not whether the Seminoles would breeze through town on their way to next week's showdown with No. 7 Florida — they did — but how the Terps' disappointing season would be perceived after their third straight lopsided defeat.
Though they may be well-hidden behind the thick competitive fog that has settled over the program during the past five weeks, there are better days ahead. That's probably small consolation for the upperclassmen who suffered through this injury-marred season and will not be around for the Randy Edsall era to bloom, but Maryland fans should neither despair nor question whether the program is moving forward.
The trick is looking past the ugly scores in the past few weeks and making an objective evaluation of the young talent that is in place for at least the next two seasons.
"Coach Edsall has definitely got things on the right track," senior tackle Justin Gilbert said. "We've got a lot of skill guys that are coming back. There are guys coming back from injury. We lose some guys at key positions, but we've got guys who can back them up. I'm really excited to see these guys next year with Coach Edsall. It's going to be a very good football program."
Nobody is going to hold a parade for a team that went 2-10 last year and probably will end up 4-8 after next week's road game at North Carolina, but it was obvious during the first half of this season that the young talent was real and the players were buying into the Edsall philosophy after an unhappy honeymoon season in 2011.
"This is a winning team," said senior linebacker Kenny Tate, who became the first Terrapin player in a decade to have three sacks in a game Saturday. "Our record doesn't show that. … we didn't reach what we wanted to accomplish but we've definitely grown and there's always a lesson in [losing]. They just have to come back next year and you'll see the difference. You gain confidence from losing games. There is definitely a winning side to everything. It's just about how you come off losses in a season like this and how you rebound from something like that."
The Terps won four of their first six games and could have been bowl eligible three weeks ago with any luck at all in a pair of razor-thin losses to North Carolina State and Boston College. Then came the unprecedented rash of quarterback injuries that turned them into little more than a punching bag for Georgia Tech, No. 11 Clemson and the 10th-ranked Seminoles.
"We're not going to sit here and make excuses or anything along those lines," Edsall said, "but in terms of what we saw in the beginning of the year and knowing that the guys that are in the program now — and there are going to be some guys leaving and some guys coming — there's no doubt that we're going in the right direction, on the right path, doing the right things and kids want to be a part of what we're doing. I think that's the biggest thing."
Terps fans can look forward to the maturation of flashy Stefon Diggs and healthy return of quarterback C.J. Brown, receiver Marcus Lee and top running back Wes Brown. With the arrival of four-star quarterback prospect Shane Cockerille (Gilman) and the return of all three other injured players at the position, Maryland is expected to have terrific depth at the offensive skills positions.
There remains some question about the line depth on both sides of the ball after the departure of several senior starters, but the best thing that came out of Saturday's loss may have been the announcement that big nose tackle Demetri McGill, a three-star recruit from Virginia Beach, was at the game on an unofficial visit and committed to Maryland.
"With the players that we have redshirted and recruited, I hope we can stay healthy," Edsall said. "We have some very talented palyers that can go out and put more points up on the board and take some pressure off the defense.
"It takes some time to build a football program, but all these young guys are getting experience and we are going to be so much better and stronger next year due to all the adversity this year."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.