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 contest at Byrd Stadium, also a season finale.
Jefferson, who suffered a knee injury earlier last 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. With the teams meeting Saturday in Piscataway, N.J., Maryland has the opportunity to erase those sour memories while also formally ending Rutgers' season. The Scarlet Knights (4-7) still have an outside chance at bowl eligibility.
"We know this team's going to fight," Jefferson said Tuesday. "I feel like it's going to be a good game. They have one more win, they can get five wins, and I think now they might dip down and pick five-win teams to go to bowl games. So really, they're fighting for a bowl game. We can't sleep on them, so it's going to be a good game."
The trajectories of both schools have changed drastically over the past 12 months. Maryland was on the verge of an eight-win season, a record over .500 in league play in its first year in the Big Ten Conference, and seemed positioned for an invitation to a more prominent bowl game entering its 2014 regular-season finale.
But the Terps tumbled down to the Foster Farms Bowl in Santa Clara, Calif., where they were trounced by Stanford. The end of a promising season was marred by two losses, and the program failed to recapture any momentum this fall, with former coach Randy Edsall fired on Oct. 11 and the team limping down the stretch with a 2-9 record.
Rutgers clinched a winning season with its comeback against Maryland and beat North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl to finish with eight wins.
Little has gone right for Rutgers this fall, though. Multiple players have been arrested this season, and coach Kyle Flood was embroiled in an academic scandal. Even with everything surrounding the program, the Scarlet Knights still have an opportunity to reach a bowl if there aren't enough six-win teams.
On Saturday, the Terps will have to avoid the shortcomings that plagued them against Rutgers a year ago, some issues that bled over into this year.
"We just didn't do a good job of finishing the game last season," middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said. "We got off to a 35-10 start, and we didn't do a good job of executing defensively, finishing the game. ... It's just we had to do our thing. We weren't able to execute."
This season, Maryland blew a 13-6 halftime lead against Bowling Green in a 48-27 loss on Sept. 12, and last week the Terps squandered a 21-3 first-quarter lead against Indiana in a 47-28 defeat.
"Like [coach Mike Locksley] says, you've got to go out and you've got to work hard the whole time because these teams that we're playing, they're all really good at fighting throughout the entire game, never giving up," outside linebacker Jalen Brooks said. "You never see them give up in their eyes. I'm [not] going to say that we don't look the same way. But we've just got to execute."
Some of the same characters from last season's cast return to the matchup Saturday. Maryland running back Brandon Ross, who is coming off a 245-yard, three-touchdown day against Indiana, rushed for 108 yards and two scores in last year's meeting with the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers returns Leonte Carroo (six catches, 104 yards, two touchdowns against Maryland last season), Andre Patton (eight catches, 101 yards, two touchdowns) and Janarion Grant (eight catches, 105 yards) in its wide receiver corps.
But beyond planning for certain players or the prospect of playing a team desperate to keep its season alive, Maryland is focusing on itself and some of the things that have proved problematic over the past 12 months.
The Terps know that if they want to snap an eight-game losing streak and win their first game in two months, they'll have to play a full four quarters.
"You've got to keep fighting, no matter the score," Carter said. "You've got to act like it's 0-0 or you're even down in a game where you've got to fight and claw your way back into a game. That's the mentality you've got to have and be able to finish. We led a couple games this season that we probably should have won. The Rutgers game last season is a good example. We've just got to do a good job of finishing."