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Maryland's up-and-down season ends on a high note

December 31, 2008

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- Assessing the success of Maryland's season depends on whether you see the Humanitarian Bowl as half empty or half full.

The Terrapins capped an up-and-down ride with a 42-35 win over Nevada on a chilly Tuesday night in Idaho before a crowd of 26,781. There were more empty seats than Maryland fans, yet those in attendance watched the Terps secure their fifth eight-win season in eight years under Ralph Friedgen.

There's nothing wrong with finishing 8-5, but Maryland expected much more after beating four ranked teams to put itself in position to play for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Two straight losses ruined that quest and left the Terrapins and their fans to pack for Boise instead of Florida for the Orange Bowl.

The players evidently made the best of it: Seven were suspended for part of the game for missing curfew. While such behavior is as embarrassing as it is inexplicable (breaking curfew in Idaho?), it did enable several of the team's younger players to receive more playing time than anticipated.

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"I think it's something to build on," sophomore linebacker Alex Wujciak said. "We had a lot of guys step up and show us what they had. Now we know our young guys can play in the big game."

Coming into the season, Friedgen had high hopes for a team with 30 seniors. Maryland lived up to some of those expectations by defeating six bowl teams: California, Wake Forest, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson and, of course, Nevada.

But the Terps also lost to unheralded Middle Tennessee State and Virginia.

There was no telling which Maryland team would show up in Idaho, and true to form, the Terrapins played both well and awful. Perhaps the most uplifting facet of the game was that sophomore Da'Rel Scott ran for 174 yards and two touchdowns in just 1 1/2 quarters after serving the suspension levied by Friedgen.

So, what can be expected of Maryland next season after losing nearly half the roster to graduation?

"We're going to be a younger team, and I think we have a chance to be an exciting team," Friedgen said.

And, hopefully, a more consistent team.

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has not revealed whether he will leave early to apply for the NFL draft, although it would appear likely he has made his last catch at Maryland.

While Friedgen is still waiting for Heyward-Bey to reach a decision, this much the coach does know: The Terrapins need two new assistant coaches. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh left for Kansas State and special teams coach Danny Pearman has gone to Clemson.

The Terrapins will be hit hardest by graduation on the offensive line and at linebacker. But quarterbacks Chris Turner and Josh Portis are expected to return, as are Scott and backup running back Davin Meggett.

"We've got a bunch of young guys coming back that know what it's like to be in a big game we win," said freshman Torrey Smith, who took a kickoff back 99 yards for a score against Nevada and set an ACC single-season record with 1,089 yards. "So the sky's the limit for us next year. This win gives us a lot of momentum."

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