The Maryland Terrapins will have to settle for college football respectability this year, which isn't such a bad thing when you consider the lesser alternatives.
It's not very satisfying, however, when your circumstances changed so dramatically in the space of a few months that the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game suddenly seemed to be within reach.
That's where the Terps found themselves on Saturday night at Byrd Stadium, facing Florida State with a chance to advance into an Atlantic Division showdown with North Carolina State next week for a spot in the conference title game.
Pretty heady stuff.
So, forgive the Terps and their fans if they did not immediately take solace in just how far they already had come this year.
The opportunity to defeat the Seminoles was there for the taking, and the young Terps displayed enough poise and resourcefulness to keep the game within reach. But they will need a day or two to make sense of a string of early mistakes that nearly undid them before they could get their feet on the ground, and a couple of huge defensive breakdowns that would be the keys to the Seminoles' 30-16 victory that was closer than the final score.
When the sting subsides, the Terps will be able to reflect on where they've been and where they might be going, and what a long trip they have taken in a relatively short time.
"I'm proud of them," Friedgen said afterward. "The biggest thing that could go wrong [four turnovers] went wrong and we didn't flinch. …They were planning on winning that game right until the end. I'm pretty proud to be their coach.
"I think that tells you what kind of people we have here. They're disappointed because they didn't get what they were coming after."
Remember, this is a program that hit a historic bottom in 2009, losing 10 games for the first time in school history. This is a program that was promoted during the summer with billboards and newspaper ads that prodded Marylanders to "Be There For the Comeback."
No big-conference college football program wants to use the word "comeback" in its preseason marketing campaign, but that's what the University of Maryland was reduced to this year. The campaign trumpeted the opportunity to get back in on the ground floor, which was pretty close to the ground after the 2-10 collapse and another tough attendance year.
Everybody knew what that meant for coach Ralph Friedgen.
Bowl us over or go quietly into retirement.
Well, the Fridge obviously wasn't ready to turn in his whistle. He has already delivered on the program's promotional promise with a winning season, which is really all that anyone could have hoped for when the banged-up Terps opened the season as a decided underdog against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in early September.
Actually, it probably was more than Maryland fans had a right to expect, but "The Comeback" did not stop there. The Terps became bowl-eligible by Halloween and came into Saturday night with seven victories and a chance for two more. Whether they got them both or not was never going to determine whether 2010 would be a successful season. It already is.
The consensus in August was that Friedgen needed to win six games and get the Terps bowl-eligible to stick around for the final year of his contract. He got win No.6 in October with a resounding 62-14 victory over Wake Forest. The Terps also dominated Virginia on the road last week and would have come into the Florida State game on a serious late-season roll if they had not been upended in the final minute at Miami on Nov. 6.
The contract issue is now moot. New athletic director Kevin Anderson announced Thursday that Friedgen will return for the 2011 season to continue a rebuilding project that appears to have even greater promise.
The emergence of redshirt freshman Danny O'Brien gives the Terps a true cornerstone for the long-term future, and Friedgen has a solid recruiting class on the way.
Friedgen said it would be so during the days leading up to the regular-season opener against Navy.
"I'd like to look at it that way," he said before the Terps had won a single game. "I have a lot of faith in these kids. I really think we're still a very young team. We only have 12 seniors. I think the future's really bright here. With another good recruiting class, I think we have a chance to be good for some time."
Guess we never should have doubted him.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.