College football analyst Phil Steele pens one of the best, most accurate college football preview magazines in the world of CFB journalism. One of Steele's more overlooked metrics of prediction is rather simple: how well or poorly a team does in close games.
See, Steele essentially believes that very close games are supposed to even out over the course of a season and a team will generally have the same number of close wins as close losses. If that's not the case, it's a decent indicator that the team is better than their record would tell. Alternatively, if they're just chokers, then it probably foretells gained experience and thus better aptitude at facing those situations. Either way, it's safe to say that Team X's record will generally improve the following year if they had a lot of close losses the previous one.
I haven't looked at all of the teams' records, but it won't be easy to beat out Maryland's six losses of 11 or fewer points from last year's 2009-10 campaign, all of which could've turned on one play. Sure, both of Maryland's wins were close as well, but even with that being the case the Terps still have a four game deficit in close contests.
In fact, making a bowl game wasn't as far off as it might've seemed for a 2-10 team last season.
If Chris Turner's short pass to Davin Meggett against Middle Tennessee doesn't take a miracle bounce off of Meggett's foot and land in an MTSU defender's arms, Maryland wins that game. If a Virginia defensive tackle - defensive tackle - doesn't return an interception for a TD and/or Nick Ferrara makes his two makable FGs, Maryland comes out of that game ahead. If Duke's TE doesn't make an incredibly difficult catch on 3rd and goal, Duke has to settle for a FG and the game is sent to overtime.
Maybe if Maryland makes one stop on FSU's final drive or doesn't entirely sell out on a WR reverse in the 3rd quarter, Maryland exits Tallahassee with a W. The Terps had a chance to beat Boston College in their season finale, too, but gave up a 66-yard TD - the longest pass play of the year for BC - on a 3rd and 17 thanks to a blown coverage and the Eagles had the win.
In other words, had five or six plays been different, had the improbable been avoided, or had Maryland simply converted, the Terps could've actually been in a bowl game, and maybe even had 7 wins.
Keep in mind that this isn't a defense of the season. Any regular reader will tell you that no one believes in self-made luck (or self-made lack thereof) more than me, and this is still on Maryland, their coaching staff, and the players.
That said, I'm only against the "luck" excuse when it's used week and week out, and it was. But I'm not so base as to assume that there's no such thing as luck, and it certainly wasn't on Maryland's side last year. Maybe it's karma from that miracle Sam Hollenbach 9 win season, but either way it should even out next year.
Plus, those close games, if you listen to coaches, usually come down to little things, like basic execution. That was lacking last year for Maryland, but the majority of the Terps roster was a part of this team last season. Armed with the knowledge of what can happen should they lack it again, it should (and probably will) become a priority in practice.
I miss sports, and basketball recruiting rumors can only sustain you for so long. Maybe this is just a justification of an unwise desire to watch football, or maybe it's just traditional optimism, but there's at least one reason to feel at least a little better about Maryland football heading into next season.