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Maryland and Rutgers struggling, but football series has been fun so far

A late-season college football matchup between teams on four- and eight-game losing streaks in which they were outscored by a total of 398 points doesn't typically signal anything of significance.

For Maryland (5-6, 2-6) and Rutgers (2-9, 0-8), Saturday's meeting at Maryland Stadium represents the continuation of what has been a wild two-year series since they joined the Big Ten and a chance for the Terps to become bowl-eligible.

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After what Maryland did last season, when it erased a 21-point deficit to win 45-41 in Piscataway, N.J. and ruin any chance for the Scarlet Knights to play in a bowl game, the Terps are well aware that revenge could play a factor for Rutgers.

Last year's game followed an even bigger comeback — or meltdown — in 2014, when Maryland blew what had been a 25-point lead to lose, 41-38, here with its former coach, Ralph Friedgen, in the press box calling the offensive plays for Rutgers.

"We were in their place last year, we were the 2-9 team trying to knock off them from getting bowl eligible," Maryland senior nose guard Azubuike Ukandu (Towson High) said Wednesday. "We went to go to their place and beat them. You can't look at their record. The last day of the season, anything can happen."

The 2014 game against the Scarlet Knight still angers senior offensive tackle Michael Dunn.

Though it didn't cost the Terps a bowl game, it came after Maryland had won late-season road games at Penn State and Michigan. It cost former coach Randy Edsall his first eight-win season at Maryland and signaled the start of a rapid unraveling that ended with Edsall's firing midway through last season.

"The loss definitely hurt more than the win [was satisfying]," Dunn said.

Asked if that was the roughest loss of his career, Dunn half-smiled and said, "There's been a good amount of rough losses, but it's definitely up there."

Offensive coordinator Walt Bell said that these senior day games — whether it be Michigan at Ohio State on Saturday or the far less hyped Rutgers at Maryland — are often impacted by the emotions going in and what's riding on the game's outcome.

"I think it has a lot to do with 18 to 22-year-olds being 18 to 22-year-olds," Bell said. "Maybe it's not their last day as a senior, but it's their buddy's last day. Anytime you involve emotion in a lot of things in such a performance-based business, people typically do things that are out of character.

"If we really want to do this the right way, and we want to honor these and what they've been through, we've got to make sure that we're using that emotion to drive focus and to drive home details, not drive something outside of ourselves. I think that's a big part of why you see so many of these last games get crazy."

Despite the competitiveness of the series since the teams joined the Big Ten, first-year Maryland coach DJ Durkin is not ready to declare Maryland-Rutgers a rivalry, because it hasn't built up over time, he said. It might have to also do with the fact that Durkin spent last year at Michigan, and also spent time coaching at Florida and Stanford.

Still, Durkin understands the importance of Saturday's game, which could be played out in front of a light crowd, considering the students are on Thanksgiving break and the idea of jumping on I-95 to watch these teams end long losing streaks might be as tempting as week-old stuffing.

Regardless of the fan attendance, the Terps have something tangible to play for in terms of an invitation to a bowl game.

"It's kind of clear cut," Durkin said. "Our players understand that and we've made mention of it to them already."

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Given what has transpired the past two years, with wild swings and plenty of points, it seems likely that more of the same is in store Saturday at Maryland Stadium.

"They're struggling, so are we, but we've got to go out there and just attack the field," said Maryland senior linebacker Roman Braglio (McDonogh). "We're fighting for bowl eligibility and they're going to try to stop us."

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