A promising ranked start has fallen to a midseason slump with injuries insuring a finishing slide. And yet, University of Maryland football coach Randy Edsall has proven worth keeping amid the misery.
After two years of saying Edsall must go, I've done a 180-degree turn. It wasn't because the Terps beat teams earlier this season as a heavy favorite -- such as Florida International and Old Dominion -- or buried West Virginia during what was perhaps the team's best rivalry game. Please, shiny beads don't impress me.
No, it's the losses that show real leadership. When Maryland was down to a linebacker playing quarterback last season, the Terrapins were still competitive. That should have been impossible. Yet Edsall, then a second-year coach with little on a local résumé, kept his team scrapping even amid the final six straight losses.
College football coaches often need three seasons for judging when their recruits start playing. In 2013, Edsall started 4-0 with an offense that's chugging along and a defense that's playing better than it should. The No. 25 Associated Press ranking seemed overrated, but you take it anyway.
And then reality came with a 63-0 loss at No. 3 Florida State Oct. 5. That might have train wrecked the season during past years under Edsall, but Maryland rebounded for a 27-26 victory against Virginia Oct. 12.
Bad karma returned with a loss even more devastating than the Florida State one. Not only did Maryland badly lose to a sorry Wake Forest team Oct. 19, the Terps' best player -- sophomore receiver Stefon Diggs -- broke his leg. So did junior receiver Deon Long, who was becoming a real playmaker.
Meanwhile, quarterback C.J. Brown missed a couple of games with a concussion, and the Terps' offense naturally faded during a 40-27 loss to No. 9 Clemson Oct. 26, which might have been an upset win if Maryland had been healthy.
Without its three biggest offensive playmakers, Maryland seems doomed during the final month even if Brown returns Nov. 9 against Syracuse, which might be the Terps' last chance to win and become bowl eligible, most likely the Military Bowl in Annapolis.
If Maryland is 6-6 after a 4-0 start, it's not a bad season. It means Edsall went from two wins to four to six during progressive seasons. That the Terps enter the Big Ten in 2014 means continuing the growth to eight wins is a long shot, though.
But Edsall gives Maryland its best shot of not finishing dead last for the first couple of years of Big Ten play, and keeping him would be better than changing coaches. Although an overall 11-21 mark, 4-16 during Atlantic Coast Conference play, doesn't exactly bolster Edsall's resume, it is getting better. That's the whole point of keeping him.
Also, if Maryland isn't competing for a national title, as Ohio State and Alabama are, it needs to run a legit academic program. The team is graduating nearly three-fourths of its players. That's tremendous. It means the Terps get it -- college football is rarely an entranceway to the pros, and players need a degree to compete in life.
Maryland's academics fell down during the final years of preceding coach Ralph Friedgen's tenure. The football team's Academic Progress Rate for 2009-10 was 922. It grew to 937 for the 2011-12 academic year. The team's cumulative grade point average has risen for the fourth straight semester under Edsall.
Coaches aren't celebrated on their team's academic achievements, but Edsall is winning in the classroom.
And seemingly irrelevant rules, such as no hats inside buildings, have also been part of a culture change. The program was getting lazy under Friedgen and needed a no-nonsense boss in Edsall to snap players into reality that extends to life after graduation.
Maryland football needs to decide its true goals now that it's nearing entrance into a super conference. The PR blather about competing for a title is nonsense. It's not happening unless the university wants to fourfold its investment, which it won't.
So if university President Wallace Loh sold out title hopes for TV money, what is the new acceptable? Maybe 8-4 and a nice bowl game with Byrd Stadium reasonably filled?
Edsall is showing he might do that.
Rick Snider has covered Washington, D.C., sports since 1978. Read more on Twitter @Snide_Remarks.