With each passing loss, this year’s season finale grew increasingly vital.
Between the crippling injuries and the unfortunate fallibility that plagued this year’s Maryland football team, it’s likely that nabbing win number six against any of the Terps previous three opponents would have taken a miracle effort.
But instead of being faced with the Herculean task of earning bowl eligibility as an unranked side against ranked opposition, Maryland was blessed with one last ordinary adversary.
Rutgers (5-6, 2-6 B1G), a fellow Big Ten East bottom-dweller, does not boast an electric Heisman trophy candidate, is not brimming with All-American talent and is far from ranked — it’s actually more like Maryland than any other opponent on its hellish schedule.
Like Maryland (5-6, 2-6 B1G), the Scarlet Knights started the season strong and hit a brick wall of ranked opponents. Along with their identical records, both of their Big Ten wins come against the same teams — Indiana and Illinois. And both teams are searching for their sixth win.
The only significant difference between the two sides is that Rutgers inability to score at high marks (116th in the nation in points per game) mirrors Maryland struggles to defend (Big Ten-worst 33.9 points allowed per game).
“We’re still chasing that sixth victory and we’re out of time,” head coach Michael Locksley said. “This opportunity is kind of — like I told our team — it’s like being in the wild card playoff game. It’s win or go home … As a program, obviously one of the first next steps is becoming a bowl eligible team where that becomes our standard.”
Indeed, this consequential game has all the makings of a classic, win-or-go-home prize match. And for Maryland, a win marks a major step forward for the development of the program.
Just three seasons ago in 2018, Maryland enjoyed a similar position in its final four games. After capturing its fifth win, the Terps had four separate opportunities to earn its sixth. But despite being within arms reach of a bowl game berth, the Terps went on a four game losing streak to close out the season and ended with a 5-7 record.
In 2021, Maryland, with its fourth chance to earn a spot in the postseason, has a new opportunity to be a truly improved version of the team that fell short before Locksley took the helm.
A win on Saturday would offer a more ceremonious sendoff for a set of seniors who have developed the most under Locksley’s tutelage. A win over Rutgers would vault Maryland into a new status as a postseason contender — a distinction it hasn’t held for half a decade. A win in this highly anticipated season finale would signify a rewarding payoff in year three of Maryland’s ongoing culture shift.
“We’re just kind of like brothers,” defensive back Jakorian Bennett said, “You know, it’s gonna be kind of a bittersweet moment to play our last game with each other, but I feel like it’s gonna make us go harder on Saturday.”