MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

The bottom line is Maryland football finished the regular season 7-5, a record any Terps supporter would have gladly taken at the beginning of this season, meaning, despite all of our travails along the way, it has been a very good season.

It is the first seven-win regular season at Maryland since 2014 and triggered a one-year extension for head coach Michael Locksley, with his contract now running through 2027, and if the Terps win their upcoming bowl game, they will finish with eight victories for the first time since 2010.

“I’m here for the long haul,” Locksley said after the Terps’ 37-0 rout of Rutgers on Senior Day. “This is where I’ve always wanted to be … I think anybody that’s watched the trajectory of our program sees the improvement. We’re not there yet. We’re a few players away, a couple plays away, and it’s my job to go get those players and to create those plays so that we can take another step as we build a championship program.”

Being in the Big Ten East Division with the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State has been difficult for the Terps to be truly realistic about having a championship program within their own conference. However, as next season will mark the first one in which the Big Ten will eliminate the East and West divisions and merely determine its schedule and season standings as one league, perhaps that can open a door or a window for Maryland that has always been sealed shut with two divisions since the Terps joined the conference.

Yet the progress can be found for Maryland football in three difficult losses this season — one-score games against top-five teams Michigan and Ohio State, which the Terps had opportunities to win on their final possessions in both games.

Conversely, Michigan will play Purdue in the Big Ten title game this weekend, and Maryland should have beaten Purdue and would have had it not been for horrendous officiating, the worst calls going against the Terps on an extra point that was blocked by a Purdue player who was clearly lined up offsides and a nullified two-point conversion on which a bogus illegal lineman downfield was called. All of which took place at home.

This is not to say Maryland should have beaten Michigan or Ohio State, though receiving no favors in either one of those games, but they should have beaten Purdue because they were flat-out robbed.

Now, of course, there have been many frustrating displays of poor discipline on Maryland’s part, most notably the dead-ball penalties and penalties away from the play, that have been very costly, and deservedly so, in the program’s progression – at least wins and losses-wise.

This year’s senior class has been the foundation of every success Maryland football has achieved and for any more they may still reach in the upcoming bowl game. The group has been the bedrock for what’s about to follow. They held the team together and they set the example for how a winning football program operates and stays focused on the task at hand.

One member of that class, receiver Jeshaun Jones, still has a year of college eligibility remaining, given the COVID redshirt and the redshirts he has received because of two major knee injuries. Jones is a player, as well as a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, who had star written all over him from the beginning, scoring touchdowns rushing, passing and receiving in his very first game.

That seems like a decade ago, but through the pandemic and the knee injuries, Jones has persevered and never quit, scoring the game-breaking touchdown against Rutgers on Saturday. He has expressed interest in returning to College Park and Locksley has already said he will be recruiting him heavily to do just that. His return would be welcome and would continue the outstanding work this year’s senior class has established for the younger players in the program.

Locksley can recruit skill positions with anybody in the country, so there is confidence that this will continue. Yet he still must recruit bigger, stronger, faster and more talented up front on both sides of the ball. Therein lies the biggest difference between Maryland and Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, and that is where the program needs to make its biggest improvements to continue to close the gap that exists between itself and the traditional Big Ten powers.

Maryland also needs to improve on getting its fanbase more interested in what’s taking place in College Park. Saturday’s Senior Day attendance of just over 21,000 on a beautiful fall day was nothing short of embarrassing.

The metro D.C./Baltimore area has always been a tough sell for college football, even at the height of Maryland’s glory days in the ‘70s, ‘80s and early 2000’s. And with that, comes a million different lame excuses for fans not to support Maryland football and Maryland athletics in general.

Yet given all that this Maryland football program has endured and created for the present and for the foundation it has built for the future, it is on the university to do a far better job of getting fans into Maryland Stadium.

Bowl-game organizers notice a team’s following first thing, and so do the very best recruits in the DMV and around the nation, both of which Maryland is recruiting and is now doing a great in attracting.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT