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After an October to forget, Maryland football has one month to correct course

The Terps went winless in October with distractions mounting.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football’s season was firmly on schedule when it entered the month of October. Now it’s looking to put a rough four weeks far behind it.

Holding an unblemished 5-0 record, the Terps started the month prepping for an Ohio State matchup that, with a win, could’ve propelled the program to heights not seen in decades. They came out on the wrong side of the scoreline that afternoon, but a loss to the Buckeyes was no reason for concern — a competitive first half against the team recently ranked No. 1 by the College Football Playoff committee was in many ways encouraging.

But then came a homecoming loss to Illinois, which was previously winless in conference play, and alarm bells began to ring. The off-the-field noise grew louder too.

During the subsequent bye week, assistant coach Kevin Sumlin was arrested in Florida under DUI charges. Also, wide receiver Tyrese Chambers left the team, citing personal reasons. And shortly after, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was linked to the Michigan sign-stealing scandal that has dominated negative headlines in the sport of late.

Related or not, the next time the Terps took the field was a defeat at the hands of Northwestern — a gut punch that managed to one-up the blow they suffered against Illinois and send them tumbling back down to where they have all too often found themselves in recent years: searching for answers.

“When that happens, you’ve got to look at everything, including myself and all the way down on the roster,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said after the defeat.

Maryland’s play on the field has brought it here before, but the expectations surrounding the team — expected to be the best under Locksley — make the circumstances different this time around. At Big Ten media day before the season, Locksley curated headlines by claiming his program was ready to compete for Big Ten championships. Not necessarily win them right away, he clarified, but prove its capability of holding its own in the highest echelon of the conference.

Eight games and a winless month later, Locksley was clear: “We’re just not there yet.”

A November similarly rough to October would solidify this season as a missed opportunity and, if it hasn’t already begun, offer doubt to the direction of the program. Inconsistent play has led to tough conversations, putting the Terps in a spiral with time running out to break free.

“It’s very disappointing to be in the situation that we’re in, especially with the high expectations that we had coming into the season,” running back Roman Hemby said. “... I feel like we are one of those teams that we kind of say we’re good enough to beat anybody, and we could be bad enough to lose to anybody any day.”

Finishing strong is an easier task said than done. Of the Terps’ four remaining games, two are against Penn State and Michigan — in which they will be hefty underdogs — and the other two come on the road. It seemed as if Maryland had graduated to a tier of the sport in which bowl eligibility is a given rather than a challenge, but as it stands right now, that doesn’t seem like a certainty.

“There’s a lot of distractions,” defensive back Beau Brade said. “You know, right now we’re trying to focus on this upcoming week [and] Penn State. … Trying to, you know, get that first [win] in the last four weeks and try to start some good ball for the last half of the season.”