Wisconsin's suffocating defensive effort in the second half of the Badgers' 31-24 win over Maryland last weekend not only shut down any hopes of the Terps snapping their lengthy losing streak but also choked out any possibility of bowl eligibility.
With two wins and three games left, Maryland can't reach the six-win threshold needed to qualify for the postseason.
It's the first time since the injury-marred 2012 season that the Terps won't play in a bowl game. But entering Saturday's contest with No. 13 Michigan State, Maryland isn't letting a postseason absence loom over a season that's already been filled with strife.
"It definitely stinks not being able to have the bowl game, but we're a family and we get to go out and do what we love every single day and that's play football with each other," quarterback Perry Hills said. "We still are having fun and we still get to have that bonding together."
Maryland's Military Bowl appearance in 2013 and Foster Farms Bowl appearance last season gave the team the added exposure of playing in the postseason in nationally televised matchups. But it also gave the Terps the opportunity to practice through December, giving younger players more reps and more opportunities to learn the system and advance their games, while also prolonging the careers of the seniors.
This season, the end is already marked as Nov. 28 at Rutgers.
"We won't be able to extend our season with a bowl opportunity," said interim coach Mike Locksley, whose tenure hit the one-month mark Wednesday. "But as I told the guys, this is also the start of, for young players, I feel this is the nucleus or could be the nucleus for a team that would contend for a Big Ten championship and that they've got to continue to prepare, give the effort of that type of team, and as I told the seniors, this is their legacy."
Middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. is drawing on his personal experience for the final stretch of the season. The redshirt sophomore has emerged as one of the leaders on Maryland's defense this season. With the Terps graduating much of their front seven from a season ago, the coaching staff was counting on Carter to step up in the middle of the unit and be a vocal presence.
Carter has succeeded this season, both as a leader and with his play — he leads the Terps with 78 tackles. And he said he isn't going to let his team go down easy.
"It's just something instilled in me growing up," Carter said. "Just a quote that I always think of: 'Carters don't quit and Carters got pride.' It's something my dad always taught. I'm never going to give up no matter how bad things get. I'm going to keep pushing and keep fighting to the end."
Maryland's past three losing seasons have all ended with lengthy streaks. In 2009, the Terps lost their last seven games. In 2011, it was an eight-game losing streak. The next year, it was the final six games.
The Terps are mired in a six-game losing streak. They haven't won since they beat South Florida on Sept. 19. They want to end the season on a high note. Maybe, in the process, they'll spoil things for some other teams.
"I think the only thing you can really do now since there's no chance of going to a bowl game is just going in every game trying to fight, trying to upset teams," Levern Jacobs said. "We've got a great challenge ahead of us with Michigan State. That's a team that's only been beaten once. They're kind of wounded right now coming off a loss from last week."
Locksley has turned to many of Maryland's younger players, assigning them specific roles in an effort to raise the level of practice and get more players experience on the field. Eligibility will expire for only 14 players, leaving a core that could be built upon in the future. The end of the season is time for the youth to become seasoned.
"We've kept our spirits up by continuing to come out and work hard and make ourselves better," running back Wes Brown said. "Just because your season's bad doesn't mean that you should stop improving on technique and stuff like that. We just focus on doing things right that we need to do and keep fighting."