There have been some painful moments along the way, but DJ Durkin's first season as a major college head coach has gone pretty much as expected, and that's a good thing.

The Maryland Terps wrapped up their Big Ten schedule with a 31-13 victory over Rutgers at Maryland Stadium and became bowl-eligible by evening their record at 6-6. Considering what Durkin inherited when he was hired last December, he couldn't have asked for much more than the chance to win a bowl game and finish year one with a winning record.


And while we're considering, that opportunity has come despite losing star defensive back Will Likely to a season-ending knee injury in mid-October and with starting quarterback Perry Hills in and out of the lineup with injuries to both shoulders.

So, it's not a time to be critical, though the Terps didn't exactly blow away a dismal Rutgers team that had lost its previous two games by a combined score of 88-0. This was not supposed to be a year of great expectations, just an opportunity to turn the page and buy time until the real team-building begins next spring.

Maryland didn't just bring Durkin in for his fresh face and wide-eyed optimism. He was the 2012 Rivals Recruiter of the Year as an assistant coach at Florida and he is looking forward to an incoming recruiting class that has been ranked as high as 11th in college football.

That doesn't mean that Maryland will be playing in next year's Big Ten championship game — since the recruiting classes of East Division powers Ohio State and Michigan rank higher, and Penn State is ascending — but Durkin spent a lot time during his postgame news conference extolling the culture that is developing at Maryland.

He knows that his team didn't look like it was comparable to the major players in the conference this season, but he wasn't about to apologize for a .500 record and a chance to play in December.

"You are what your record is," Durkin said. "That's football. That's what we play. We're 6-6. We're eligible for a bowl game and I think when you look at where we came from, where we started and what we got, I think it's a tremendous achievement for our guys and I think it really shows you and tells you where this program is headed."

The past few weeks have indeed been painful, with losses in the three games before Saturday — against Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska — by a combined score of 149-13. But the Terps won five of their first seven games to all but guarantee a bowl bid.

"If we started the season 0-4 and then came on a tear and were on a 4-0 streak going into this game, it would be like the greatest thing going. … But it didn't happen that way," Durkin said. "It happened the other way, but whatever. You go through it one by one. I've said it many times. You play each game and when you get to the end of the season, you add them up. We're at 6-6. However you get there, that's where you got to."

Durkin said earlier in the week that he does not have any illusions about the task ahead, but is confident that the foundation has been laid for a brighter future.

"We're very honest and self-aware of where we are and what we're doing," he said. "I believe with our team healthy and able to play, we're further along than where we think we are and that's a testament to our players and how they've bought in to what we've done. There's so many positives. It was about this time last year when I got here and began to look at the team and identify who's staying, who's leaving, watching film. To see where we are, it shows tremendous strides. People close to the program know that."


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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