The Maryland football team insisted it could compete in its season opener at then-No. 23 Texas, despite having gone 6-7 in 2016 and starting inexperienced sophomore quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome.
So, when the Terps beat the Longhorns, 51-41, for their first road victory over a ranked opponent since 2008, they showed a level of confidence absent from their previous two losing seasons.
"When people doubt you, it kind of gives you that edge," running back Ty Johnson said after rushing for 132 yards in the win. "You want to prove people wrong. … We have a team that's ready to play, and people are going to see it this season."
A combination of injuries and an unforgiving schedule eroded Maryland's swagger. By the time the team ended its season with a 66-3 loss to Penn State and a 4-8 record, it showed hardly any of the energy it possessed earlier in the year.
"It's like two different seasons," coach DJ Durkin said. "That Texas game feels about eight years ago right now. We had a plan, had a mindset, had a culture, but we got hit pretty hard with injuries. … We slowly just deteriorated."
The Terps lost Pigrome and quarterback Kasim Hill to season-ending injuries in their first three games. Leading pass rusher Jesse Aniebonam fractured his ankle against Texas and missed the remainder of the campaign.
Those setbacks drove Maryland's downfall.
Third-string quarterback Max Bortenschlager struggled when pressed into duty, completing just over half of his passes and turning the ball over eight times. Maryland's defense recorded only 12 sacks with Aniebonam sidelined.
"We just needed to get healthy," linebacker Jermaine Carter said. "We weren't that bad of a team, but we did have a lot of injuries this season. Those guys get healthy, a lot of games could be different."
Maryland's season unraveled three weeks after it beat Texas. That's when Hill, a highly touted freshman who showed readiness to lead the team after Pigrome's injury, tore his ACL in the first quarter of Maryland's loss to Central Florida.
While the Terps rallied to beat Minnesota in their Big Ten opener, they never sustained success.
Double-digit defeats to the ranked gauntlet of Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State were expected, but Maryland still had a chance to become bowl eligible if it took two of three winnable conference games against Northwestern, Indiana and Rutgers. Instead, it split the contests against the Wildcats and Hoosiers before falling by a touchdown to the Scarlet Knights.
Though the year was supposed to be about the development of a promising group of young players that included the best freshmen class in program history, juniors and seniors provided nearly all of the bright spots. Four of the team's five All-Big Ten members were upperclassmen.
Junior wide receiver DJ Moore set a single-season program record for receptions (80) and led the Big Ten in that category. He also paced the conference with 1,033 receiving yards and was named the Big Ten wide receiver of the year.
Johnson built on a standout sophomore campaign in which he led the nation in yards per carry by amassing 875 yards on the ground.
Moore and Johnson are considering the 2018 NFL Draft. They said they'd assess their futures in the coming months.
On defense, Carter led the Terps in tackles as a redshirt senior, and junior defensive backs Darnell Savage and JC Jackson also earned All-Big Ten Honorable Mention recognition. Sophomore cornerback Antoine Brooks, playing in the nickel role for the first time in his career, was the only underclassman to earn conference recognition.
Still, Durkin will bring in another top-25 recruiting class next year that features two four-star recruits in defensive lineman Austin Fontaine and offensive lineman Jaelyn Duncan. Pigrome and Hill should be back to compete for the starting quarterback job. Many of the freshmen who didn't play much this year could break through next fall.
The Terps hope that will be enough to put a third straight losing campaign behind them.
"I'm ready to get started right now for next season," Durkin said. "We're going to prepare to make sure nothing like this ever happens again."