COLLEGE PARK — The dream of bowl eligibility for Maryland died a few weeks ago with a one-score loss to Wisconsin. So in the weeks since, the Terps have adopted the role of spoiler entering games against Michigan State, which is in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth, and Indiana, which is trying to rally to reach bowl eligibility.
Maryland fell short in both of those attempts, but the Terps will have another shot at ending an opponent's season for good Saturday against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are clinging to an outside shot of getting a bowl bid despite their seven losses this season, but Maryland could end any of Rutgers' uncertainty with a win at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
"We can't go, so hopefully we can bring them with us," defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson said. "That would definitely be nice."
Outside linebacker Jalen Brooks said the Terps "definitely don't want them to be celebrating their last game, especially when we have our seniors playing."
Maryland entered this season with optimism. Even though many key contributors of the past few years had left, the Terps were still coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in more than a decade. Coach Randy Edsall had built a program that had held its own in its first season in the Big Ten Conference.
Quinton Jefferson started chuckling when the topic was broached. The defensive tackle knew the questions were coming. After all, it's nearly impossible to talk about Saturday's matchup between Maryland and Rutgers without bringing up last year's matchup, also a season finale, at Byrd Stadium. Jefferson, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the season, could only watch from the sideline while the Scarlet Knights erased the Terps' 35-10 lead en route to a shocking 41-38 victory in College Park on
Ever since Bowling Green outscored Maryland 42-14 in the second half of a 48-27 Falcons win on Sept. 12, the Terps have struggled. Edsall was fired on Oct. 11 after Maryland lost four of its first six games. The Terps are winless in five games under interim coach Mike Locksley. They limp into the season finale with a 2-9 record and on an eight-game losing streak. In 2012, they lost their final six games. In 2011, they dropped their final eight.
Maryland hasn't dropped nine straight games in a single season since the 1967 team went 0-9.
While a win against Rutgers can't undo anything that has happened over the past three-plus months, it could go a long way toward providing a building block toward next season. The Terps want to send their senior class out with a victory, but the younger players want something positive to take into offseason workouts.
"Just to get that taste out of our mouth and start to build on next year," Jefferson said. "I know a lot of teams, they look back at your last couple games, how you played, and I feel like that really reflects on how you go into the next season. So, it would be good to start the next season on a good note."
Much will be different when Maryland opens next season. The coaching staff likely will look much different. There could be the standard attrition of players transferring, choosing to move on or even declare for the NFL draft.
But there's a young core of players who will return next season. While they're going through the grueling offseason workouts, they want their final memory of the 2015 season to be of a victory, not of another defeat.
Last season, Maryland blew a 35-10 first-half lead against Rutgers in an eventual 41-38 defeat in the season finale. The Terps were listless in a 45-21 Foster Farms Bowl loss to Stanford a month later. Nothing has really worked on a consistent basis since.
As Brandon Ross rounded the right side of the offensive line against Indiana last Saturday, the running back's eyes darted between his teammates and the sideline. He needed wide receiver Malcolm Culmer to hold his block on Hoosiers cornerback Rashard Fant just long enough for Ross to get to the sideline where he could turn up field. Ross pointed at Culmer, directing traffic through the secondary. He slipped up the sideline, and 79 yards later, he had his third touchdown of a career day. Though
"We know our season's over after this game, but we always want to go out on a high note," middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. "If we can spoil their season, it would be nice to spoil their season. You always like to go out on top because next season when we're working out, we're going to remember we won our last game."
The stakes lessened weeks ago, but Maryland has still played aggressively against some of the nation's top competition. Under Locksley, the Terps have been playing a freerbrand of football. Eventually, the Terps hoped that could help them break through down the stretch.
It hasn't happened yet. But Maryland can't deny how much of a boost — for seniors and younger players alike — a victory against Rutgers could prove to be.
"For the young guys that are playing, it leads into next season," Locksley said. "You always want to finish as best as you can, and that's what we've talked about. We've got a group of seniors that have laid it on the line week in and week out for us, and those feel-good juices that come along with having a win do carry some weight."
Maryland offense vs. Rutgers defense: Terps running back Brandon Ross is coming off of a career day against Indiana with 245 yards and three touchdowns, and he'll be facing a Scarlet Knights unit that ranks 12th in the Big Ten Conference in rush defense, allowing 166.5 yards per game. Maryland might need to rely heavily on Ross, too, with quarterbacks Perry Hills (mononucleosis) and Caleb Rowe (concussion) set to be game-time decisions. If neither are able to play, sophomore Shane Cockerille (Gilman) could be in line for his first career start. Rutgers outside linebacker Quentin Gause is a defensive stalwart for the Scarlet Knights and ranks 13th in the Big Ten in tackles (7.9 per game) and is tied for 12th in tackles for loss (1.09 per game).
Maryland defense vs. Rutgers offense: Last season, the Scarlet Knights torched the Terps secondary in their epic comeback victory in College Park. Rutgers had three 100-yard receivers in that game, and all three — Andre Patton, Leonte Carroo and Janarion Grant — returned this season. Maryland standout cornerback Will Likely (ankle) missed practice earlier this week, so the Terps could need a younger corner such as Darnell Savage Jr. or Jarrett Ross to play a more significant role. The Rutgers offensive line, though, has allowed the third-most sacks in the Big Ten, which defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson could take advantage of. Rutgers has three running backs averaging at least 47 yards per game in Robert Martin, Josh Hicks and Paul James.