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Cheer up, Maryland fans! Your team is getting better

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It's easy to get caught up in the fire and brimstone after a disappointing loss, but Maryland's program continues to grow.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Including this season, Maryland has had back to back winning seasons 37 times* in 116 years of football. 2014 is only the third year since 1985 that the Terrapins followed a winning record with another one. That Randy Edsall has been able to accomplish this feat in his third and fourth years in the job isn't just acceptable, it's commendable.

Maryland is not a program used to winning consistently. The Terrapins have had some major highs (the eras of Tatum, Claiborne, Ross and early Friedgen) but they are starkly outnumber by the lows (Mont, Nugent, Ward, Lester, Krivak, Duffner, Vanderlinden). If you're a fan so much moved to anger that you want Edsall fired for achieving this rare feat, you might want to step back and look at the context of the program's history and its place within the college football landscape.

When the Big Ten's recent expansion was first announced, Maryland was a punchline. No one expected the Terrapins to be able to compete in the conference when it came to football, not Maryland. By the time the move actually occurred, Maryland was a trendy sleeper pick to finish third in the division, a high expectation for the school but not an unreasonable one thanks to the growth of the program during Randy Edsall's time in the helm. The Terrapins went out and did just exactly that this season, finishing third in the Big Ten East, behind Ohio State and Michigan State.

Yes, the loss against Rutgers hurt. It hurt a lot. It still hurts. It's going to hurt for some time. It was the first game this season Maryland should have won, but didn't. It was the first game against Ralph Friedgen, Maryland's old head coach, who a significant portion of the fanbase still clings to as "the guy." It was Maryland's best opportunity to get to eight wins, a significant achievement that would easily signal to all that the program is still improving.

Maryland's loss against Rutgers was a tactical failure, not a program one.

The program is improving, even despite Saturday's disappointment. Maryland's loss against Rutgers was a tactical failure, not a program one. Friedgen, a brilliant offensive mind, hit the Terrapin defense with slant route after slant route after slant route, targeting Maryland right where it hurt: in the middle without Matt Robinson. Whenever Brian Stewart and Maryland adjusted, Friedgen would call an out or a fade, taking advantage of Rutgers' height advantage at receiver over the Terps' secondary players. The result was disastrous, as Gary Nova picked apart Maryland's defense in a collapse of the highest order.

Maryland's loss gives Rutgers bragging rights for the year, and may have saved Kyle Flood's job. It does not change this reality: Maryland's program is still in a better position than Rutgers'. Heck, Maryland still had a better year than Rutgers. One loss does not the season make, and it's easy to forget the year as a whole after such a bitter defeat.

You have to understand accomplishments within context, or they're meaningless. Everyone wants Maryland to eventually compete for Big Ten titles, but rebuilds take time. It's no coincidence that Maryland's biggest issue (offensive line) is also the position that takes longest to develop -- the Terps were left with next to nothing there when Edsall took over, and it's been a long process to try and build the depth and talent necessary at the position.

Maryland won seven games with a tougher schedule while redshirting two blue-chip offensive lineman. I will repeat that for effect. Maryland won seven games with a tougher schedule while redshirting two blue-chip offensive lineman. Damian Prince and Derwin Gray both have a very bright future with the program, as does young center Brendan Moore, incoming freshman E.J. Donahue and a host of other talented players.

Now, about that improvement. A preface, because I'm about to throw some numbers at you. F/+ is a great metric used by the smart folks over at Football Outsiders, combining the Fremeau Efficiency Index and S&P+ . More in-depth explanations are available at the link above, but basically, it's a catch-all rating that combines a team's (or unit's) efficiency, success rate and explosiveness.

Now that you've got that down, let's take a look at Maryland's F/+ rankings under Edsall. A reminder: offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, defensive coordinator Brian Stewart and special teams coordinator Andre Powell were all appointed to their positions after the 2011 campaign, and Maryland's quarterbacks spontaneously combusted in 2012.

Maryland F/+ ranking Offense Defense Special Teams Overall
2011 75th 81st 97th 92nd
2012 116th 50th 101st 86th
2013 75th 64th 58th 63rd
2014 53rd 59th 6th 44th

Football programs take time. Maryland is still in the midst of an intense rebuild after a large chunk of the roster left during the coaching change, but that's about to be over. 2015 is the fifth year of Randy Edsall's tenure, which also means it's the first year in which his roster will be made up entirely of players he's recruited. Edsall's strength is as a program-builder, not an in-game tactician, so the successes (or failures) over the next two seasons will be much more telling than results from his first four years. It's not easy to have patience when there are frustrating results like Saturday's, but all signs point to progress.

*We're counting the number of winning seasons that followed a winning season. 10 of these occurred before 1920, with significantly shorter schedules (a 4-1-1 mark in 1918 counts, for example).