Michael Locksley said two months ago he felt Maryland football was ready to compete for Big Ten championships.

The Terps were on track to justify that belief, entering October a perfect 5-0 with a pair of Big Ten wins secured. Then came a blown 10-point lead in a 20-point loss to No. 3 Ohio State, followed by a home defeat to Illinois, which was previously winless in conference.

That sent Maryland into its bye week 5-2 and offered a much-needed reset before a trip to Evanston on Saturday, but its nosedive continued in a 33-27 loss, the Terps’ third consecutive defeat after a promising start to the season.

“They outplayed us, they out-hustled us, they out-hit us,” Locksley said. “When that happens, you’ve got to look at everything, including myself.”

The Terps are now 5-3 with four games left in the regular season. They will face two top-10 teams in Michigan and Penn State then surging Nebraska and Rutgers squads, which have both won three of their last four games.

[Maryland football’s free fall continues in 33-27 loss to Northwestern]

Locksley believed his group could challenge for a conference championship. There’s now a chance Maryland doesn’t even reach six wins to clinch a bowl game.

“The only thing we can do is to get back on track,” Locksley said. “It starts with me.”

The loss to Northwestern came in a familiar spot — The Terps are now 0-4 in games immediately after bye weeks since Locksley became the head coach in 2019.

“The past doesn’t define our present,” Locksley said Tuesday. But the present turned out to be the same as the past. Self-inflicted mistakes that popped up in frustrating losses in previous seasons appeared again Saturday.

Taulia Tagovailoa fumbled the first play of Maryland’s second drive of the day, and the Wildcats took advantage of the short field with a touchdown three plays later. The Terps failed to gain a yard on three straight plays from Northwestern’s 1-yard line to waste an 11-play drive in the second quarter.

[DJ Glaze has remained a constant in Maryland football’s shuffling offensive line]

Tagovailoa’s game-sealing interception came on an overthrown ball that sailed past a slipping Corey Dyches. Maryland was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct twice, kick-catch interference and unnecessary roughness — the roughness provided Northwestern a free 15 yards on a touchdown drive that gave the Wildcats a lead they didn’t relinquish.

“This loss is self-inflicted, we did this to ourselves,” Ruben Hyppolite II said. “… We’ve got to get back to playing to our standard. We’ve got to get back to just wanting to win. It’s as simple as that.”

Locksley’s tenure with the Terps has been filled with miserable stretches like this. A seven-game losing streak to end 2019, a pair of three-game losing skids in 2021 and a combined 1-10 record versus Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State have prevented Maryland from competing with the conference’s elite.

But the Locksley era has also had its share of ups: back-to-back bowl wins — the program’s first since 2010 — and its first winning season since 2014.

Maryland’s winning percentage has grown each year since Locksley took over, but his overall record is still a measly 25-26. He’s 12-25 in the Big Ten.

The next step for the coach was to build off last year’s eight-win campaign and be in contention at the top of the conference. Maryland has instead endured a three-game losing streak in the middle of the season, with the most recent defeat coming against the team picked to finish last in the Big Ten West.

This year can still be a success for the Terps, who have a schedule with daunting opponents that also represent chances to erase some concerns, but Saturday’s loss heightens the difficulty of achieving that.

“I have to evaluate what I’m doing to make sure we’re prepared to play well,” Locksley said.