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Head coach Michael Locksley said this would be the season Maryland football would be ready to compete for championships. That, of course, didn’t happen, but Maryland football competed, and competed well with the teams that would play for and win those championships — namely Michigan and Ohio State.

The 2023 Maryland Terrapins should have never lost to Illinois and to Northwestern on back-to-back weeks. They were two-touchdown favorites in both games, but walked away from both on the short end of the stick.

Those losses could have been season-busters, and the doomsayers said they would be. On a four-game losing streak after beginning the season 5-0, the Terps looked to be headed toward a 5-7 season, but they hung in there to win an ugly 13-10 game at Nebraska, played Michigan down to the last play, then went on the road to trounce Rutgers, which just won its bowl game over the Miami Hurricanes.

Then on Saturday, the Terps beat Auburn of the mighty Southeastern Conference, the same team that lost its previous game to Alabama on the final play of the game, and the Terps beat them soundly, 31-13, in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, giving Maryland three consecutive bowl victories for the first time in school history.

Not only did Maryland beat Auburn in the bowl game, Maryland beat Auburn without its starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, the all-time leading passer in Big Ten history, who is either opting for the transfer portal again if he is granted an extra year by the NCAA, or will try to turn pro.

No problem: All it took was a dominating defensive performance and second-team quarterback Billy Edwards Jr. to step in and be named MVP of the Music City Bowl game, while third-team quarterback Cam Edge passed the ball well, including a 57-yard touchdown pass to Kaden Prather.

Maryland finished the season 8-5 to win at least eight games in consecutive seasons for the first time in 20 years. Since 2017, Maryland is 8-0 against Power 5 non-conference opponents with wins over No. 23 Texas, No. 23 Texas, No. 21 Syracuse, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, No. 23 N.C. State, Virginia and now Auburn.

As Lefty Driesell promised Maryland basketball would become “the UCLA of the East” and Gary Williams said at the start of the 2001-02 basketball season that Maryland’s goal was to win the national championship, whether their prophecies came true or not (Lefty’s did not; Gary’s did) a coach has to be the one to put it out there, to put it on his shoulders, that his team is ready to climb — the way Lefty did, the way Gary did and now the way Mike Locksley has; because if you’re the head coach and you don’t believe in your players, why should the players believe in themselves?

“The last three, four groups of seniors that have come through this program,” Locksley said, “all of the different coaches that have been a part of our program, whether they’re here now and are gone, even players that just entered the portal, they all played a role in helping us establish to put Maryland football back to where people give it the respect that I think it’s always deserved.”

That Maryland did not compete for a championship this season does not diminish the accomplishment of the season; particularly given the dreadful straits the football program was in when Locksley stepped in just five years ago.

Maryland fans and boosters should not take this success for granted as they have done in the past. They should remember the dark and bowl-less period of Terrapins football after Ralph Friedgen had been railroaded as the head coach after directing the Terps to “only” seven bowl games in 10 years.

Maryland football is what it is, particularly in the Big Ten Conference, but history tells us the potential for successful football has been there all along. Under Locksley, the Terps are beginning to realize the potential that exists in the DMV and at the school itself.

Fans and boosters need to get on board and understand these are very good old days, because Maryland football is trending upward.

“As I said before, the head coach gets a lot of credit, but there have been a lot of people that have played a major role in being able to create the history that’s been created,” Locksley said. “Three straight bowl wins, that’s a big deal. Watching us in the locker room after winning the game today, I felt like that same energy, and I hope these guys understand, man, winning is hard to do in this day and age.

“These guys up here with me and the seniors in that locker room, they have earned everything that we’ve gotten because nobody gives Maryland nothing. We don’t get anything. I know it’s a double negative. They don’t give us nothing or they don’t give us anything. But our team embraces that. We like that you don’t give us, that we’ve got to go take it, and that’s the Maryland way. That’s what it’s all about.”

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]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT