ORONO — The defense was salty. The offense was bland.

The University of Maine football team wrapped up a 5-6 season Saturday that disproved the old adage that defense win championships. While trying to defend their 2013 Colonial Athletic Association championship, the Black Bears were undone by a young offense that never found its footing.

“Five-and-six isn’t pleasing, but growth is,” Coach Jack Cosgrove said. “I think in particular the last month or so we’ve really found a way to learn how to win and what it takes to win and learned how to prepare better. I think that’s a good characteristic to carry forward.”

Maine got off to a 2-5 start in which it lost quarterback Dan Collins to a shoulder injury, then won three consecutive games behind his replacement, Drew Belcher. But those victories were fueled by a stout defense that suddenly found ways to generate turnovers, consistently setting up the offense with short fields.

The disparity between the performances of the two units was exposed in Saturday’s season-ending 20-12 loss to No. 1 New Hampshire. Maine’s defense forced six turnovers and limited an offense that was averaging 462.5 yards per game to 287. The Black Bears offense turned all that good fortune into a mere 12 points while gaining a season-low 179 yards.

Now Maine heads into the offseason with the same question it had at this time last year: Who will be the starting quarterback next season? The good news for the Black Bears is that they will have two quarterbacks battling for the spot who have extensive experience. The bad news is that neither demonstrated much in the way of proficiency.

Collins, a redshirt sophomore, won the starting job after a drawn-out competition during training camp. He proved to have the better passing touch, completing 53.8 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. But it was clear from the outset that his coaches weren’t completely sold on him, and they started using Belcher as a complement in Maine’s third game, at Boston College.

Belcher, a true freshman, showed a surprising poise and a rugged running ability, rushing for 312 yards. But he wasn’t as effective in passing situations, completing only 50.7 percent with three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Neither quarterback was asked to do anything exotic as Maine kept to its low-risk mantra on offense.

They figure to be dueling for the job again when spring practices arrive – and possibly well into the summer.

Whoever emerges will have a much more experienced offense around him. There were only two seniors among Maine’s top 22 offensive players on the depth chart for the New Hampshire game. The entire offensive line, led by center Bruce Johnson, will be back. Nigel Beckford, another true freshman, proved to be a durable and skilled running back, leading the Black Bears with 471 yards and five touchdowns.

Jeremy Salmon (13 catches, 288 yards) will be back at tight end, along with receivers Jordan Dunn, Jared Osumah and Micah Wright.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re in the weight room, getting faster, stronger and learning from the mistakes we made during the season,” Belcher said.

The defense learned how to prey on other teams’ mistakes as the season went on. Maine forced 22 turnovers, but 14 of them came in the final three games. The Black Bears must replace run-stuffing nose tackle Matthew Wilson and superb defensive backs Khari Al-Mateen and Axel Ofori Jr. But nine of the team’s top 10 tacklers will return. Ace pass rushers Trevor Bates (5.5 sacks), Zachary Hume (5.5) and Patrick Ricard (4.5) will be back, and defensive end Michael Kozlakowski, who was lost to injury in the first game, has another year of eligibility remaining.

“They never seem to let the play before affect them,” Cosgrove said of his defense. “We have playmakers on that side of the ball. It’s exciting to have a lot of those guys coming back, it really is. Because they’ve been through a lot this year together and that can only lead to better things in the future.”

Bates, a junior from Westbrook who could earn preseason All-America honors, indicated that the future was already beginning.

“Losing this game and how the season turned out is definitely going to be a constant reminder throughout the offseason, throughout spring ball, throughout the summer, and is going to push us and force us to take our team to another level,” he said in a somber postgame interview session Saturday.