A 7-5 record and an appearance in the Military Bowl may not have been the ultimate goal for Maryland, but it certainly represents progress.
The Terrapins' reward is a bowl game just a short drive from their College Park campus.
Maryland looks to put the finishing touches on the best season of the Randy Edsall era when it meets high-powered Marshall in the Military Bowl on Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
After losing 18 of 24 games in Edsall's first two years as coach, Maryland opened 2013 with four straight wins and even cracked the national rankings in the regular season for the first time since 2008.
Most of those good feelings, however, were erased after the Terps ran into the Florida State buzz saw and were destroyed 63-0 on Oct. 5. Although it rebounded the next week with a one-point win over Virginia, Maryland proceeded to lose its next three games as quarterback C.J. Brown battled injuries and top receiver Stefon Diggs was lost for the year with a broken right fibula.
At 5-4 and with two of its final three games on the road, Maryland's bowl hopes were dimming, but Edsall's team recovered for a surprising 27-24 win in overtime at Virginia Tech on Nov. 16 after blowing a 21-7 lead.
The Terps squandered an 11-point fourth-quarter lead the following week against Boston College and lost 29-26 on a field goal as time expired.
There were no such problems in the regular-season finale at lowly North Carolina State, as Brown ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more in a 41-21 rout Nov. 30. It was the program's final ACC game before heading to the Big Ten next season.
The Terps won't have to travel far again for a postseason appearance, with Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium about 27 miles from their campus. Maryland's last bowl game was also in the Military Bowl in 2010, but that contest -- a 51-20 win over East Carolina -- was played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
"One of the things we've talked about is Maryland pride and we get a chance to play in our state capital," Edsall told the school's official website. "For us to be able to get back and to play in Annapolis will be great. We haven't played there since 1965."
This Military Bowl appearance promises to be a much greater challenge with Marshall (9-4) bringing one of the nation's most potent offenses to Annapolis.
Led by quarterback Rakeem Cato, the Thundering Herd rank seventh nationally in scoring (43.0 points per game) and 12th in total offense (502.3 yards per game). They won seven of eight Oct. 5-Nov. 29 with the only loss coming on a last-play touchdown at Middle Tennessee. Marshall averaged 53.8 points during a five-game win streak before losing 41-24 to Rice in the Conference USA championship game Dec. 7.
"I think it all starts with Rakeem Cato. He's the guy that stirs the drink in terms of 60 percent completion percentage, 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions," Edsall said. "When you see a team that's rushed for 3,000 yards and passed for 3,700 yards; that's pretty good balance."
A victory in this game will give Marshall its first 10-win season since Byron Leftwich led the 2002 team to an 11-2 mark.
Marshall makes its 11th bowl appearance after failing to quality last season.
"Having a bowl means a lot," Cato said. "It's a chance for us to go out and continue to make a name for Marshall football. We can still win 10 games. It's been a while since (the Herd) has done that. It's another opportunity we've earned."
Cato was tied for third in the nation with 36 touchdown passes, 13 to senior Gator Hoskins, who led all tight ends in the country in that department. His 44 receptions are second only to receiver Tommy Shuler, who ranked among the national leaders with 97 for 1,097 yards and nine scores.
Marshall also has a strong ground attack led by Essray Taliaferro, who averaged 81.5 yards and 5.2 per carry. That could pose a problem for a Maryland defense that allowed 150 or more rushing yards in six of the last eight games, and over 235 in four of those.
These teams share two common opponents this season with similar results. Maryland defeated Virginia Tech in overtime and routed Florida International 43-10, while Marshall lost 29-21 to the Hokies in triple overtime and beat FIU by 38.
Maryland became bowl-eligible with a surprising win at Virginia Tech on Nov. 16, ensuring the program its first postseason appearance and winning record under coach Randy Edsall. Marshall won the C-USA East title and seven of its last eight regular-season games. Marshall lost to Virginia Tech in triple overtime on Sept. 21.
Maryland capped a 17-play, 99-yard drive on the first snap of the 4th quarter when C.J. Brown hit Dave Stinebaugh for a 2-yard touchdown. It was the first 99-yard drive in Military Bowl history, and the first in any bowl game since San Diego State had one in the 2011 New Orleans Bowl.
For the Terrapins, it was their first 99-yard drive since Sept. 13, 2003, when Sammy Maldonado scored from 7 yards out on the 12th play against The Citadel.