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Maryland football’s season is shaping up to be similar to its 2016 campaign

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The Terps are on the edge of becoming bowl eligible.

Maryland v Michigan State Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

It’s starting to feel like 2016 all over again.

Maryland football may not have the likes of D.J. Moore, J.C. Jackson, Ty Johnson and other NFL players that were on the Terps’ roster five years ago, but there are some comparisons to be made when looking at the current condition of the program.

From 2016-20, Maryland’s best record came in 2016, when it went 6-7 overall under head coach D.J. Durkin. The Terps kicked off their campaign five years ago with three straight wins, all of the victories coming against Howard, FIU and UCF. Maryland swept its nonconference opponent slate that year going 3-0, something it accomplished in 2021 as well.

The Terps went on to win their fourth straight game to start the season in 2016, defeating Purdue in a 50-7 annihilation in College Park. This year’s Maryland team mimicked that effort, winning four straight games over West Virginia, Howard, Illinois and then Kent State to rattle off an early-season momentum swing.

Even after the success in the first half of the season from both the 2016 and 2021 teams, a collapse soon followed for each.

Maryland’s program from five seasons ago had its four-game winning streak snapped after dropping back-to-back matchups to Penn State and Minnesota. Though it did take down Michigan State to capture its fifth win in seven games, Maryland quickly lost to three consecutive Big Ten teams. In the latter two of those three losses, the Terps scored just three points to top-6 teams in the country. Its record in 2016 through 10 games? An even 5-5.

Then taking a glance at head coach Michael Locksley’s program this fall, after it claimed four victories over its four nonconference opponents, the downfall began, similar to what it saw in 2016. Maryland’s woes initially came to fruition with a letdown defeat to then-No. 5 Iowa. That loss stemmed into another two defeats, this time in road meetings against then-No. 7 Ohio State and Minnesota. Maryland then took down lowly Indiana 38-35, before falling to then-No. 22 Penn State and No. 8 Michigan State.

Maryland’s record through 10 games in 2021? Once again, it sits with a split 5-5 record with two games to go in its regular season, the same record it had in 2016.

But the comparisons don't stop with that team from five seasons ago in College Park.

That 2016 team faced an identical situation to the 2021 team schedule-wise. In its second-to-last game of the season with just one win separating it from becoming bowl eligible, that roster took on then-No. 19 Nebraska, a ranked team in the Big Ten. It lost on the road after putting up just seven points, forcing it to come away with a victory in its season-finale if it wanted to compete in a bowl game.

That team eventually eclipsed the six-win mark, something that Maryland hasn't been able to accomplish since. The Terps went on to play in the Quick Lane Bowl against Boston College, though the Eagles won, 36-30.

But what’s intriguing is the program that Maryland took down in 2016 to become eligible for a bowl game. It was none other than Rutgers, the Terps’ final opponent of 2021 after they square off with ranked Michigan on Nov. 20.

The program has the same record and the same late-season scenario, just five years later.

It will need to emulate its one win in the final two games of the season as it did in 2016 if it hopes to secure a bowl game appearance.

But how has Maryland fared in the final two games of the season dating back to 2016 and are the Terps likely to claim victory in one of their two final matchups? If you look at the details, it’s easy to tell that history isn’t on Maryland’s side.

In the final two games of the regular season, going all the way back five years ago to its last bowl game appearance, Maryland has a combined record of 1-9. That one win was the victory over Rutgers in 2016. This means that from 2017-20, the last two games of the season that the Terps competed in ended in defeat.

That’s a trend that Locksley and the rest of his program will try to change this time around.

The only way to take a step forward as a program is to capture that sixth win that has dodged Maryland for five years. And to do that, Maryland will have to overcome either Michigan or Rutgers.

“Our goal and the mission that we’ve kind of put on ourselves as a program is to find a way to get this done, extend the season,” Locksley said.

The meeting with Michigan, which will be the Terps’ final home game of the 2021 season, won't be any easier than the matchups with then-No. 22 Penn State or then-No. 8 Michigan State.

The Wolverines are coming into Saturday’s game in College Park with nine wins in their 10 total games. They have rattled off two straight wins after dropping its game to Michigan State in late October and they still have a top-10 ranking in the nation.

Michigan is once again atop the country and it has plenty of talented pieces on both sides of the ball. The program boasts the No. 4 scoring offense and the No. 3 scoring defense in the Big Ten. It’s safe to say that Maryland will be getting another tough ranked opponent this season.

And Maryland hasn't been able to handle ranked opponents this season. The closest ranked battle came against then-No. 22 Penn State, though it ended up losing 31-14. Elsewhere, it wasn’t as tight. Maryland lost by 19 to then-No. 8 Michigan State, 37 to then-No. 5 Iowa and 49 to then-No. 7 Ohio State. The Terps are 0-4 against ranked opponents in 2021, two of those defeats coming in College Park.

“Thinking of the last six weeks, four top-10 teams that we faced and we’re competitive and we’re playing with great effort but not necessarily playing probably with the detail necessary in terms of the execution of the things we need to get accomplished to be able to win these types of games,” Locksley said.

With Maryland likely to be double-digit underdogs in its final home game of the season, it’s looking as though it will have to look ahead to the season finale, which is set to come on the road against Rutgers on Nov. 27.

Rutgers currently has a 5-5 record, the same as Maryland’s. The Scarlet Knights will play Penn State this upcoming Saturday, and the Nittany Lions have fallen off as of late but still remain as one of the better programs in the conference. Penn State opened as an 18-point favorite earlier this week, signaling that Rutgers is likely to go into the final week with a 5-6 record.

With one more week separating Maryland from visiting Piscataway, New Jersey for a matchup with Rutgers, both programs look destined to be vying for that sixth win in the final week of Big Ten play before the postseason arrives. It’s becoming clear that a bowl game appearance for both programs might rely on the last game.

“It would mean a lot, I mean I haven’t been to a bowl game since I’ve been here and I would definitely like to do that,” defensive back Jordan Mosley said. “It would extend my career and give me one more game and it would just mean a lot. Sometimes it’s about the journey and not about the outcome, but in this case I really want to go to a bowl.”

As we inch closer to the season finale, it seems as though Maryland will have to overcome Rutgers to breathe life into its postseason hopes, just as it did in 2016.

“To still sit here with two games guaranteed left in our season with an opportunity to, again, advance the program,” Locksley said. “You’ve got to continue to fight you’ve got to continue to find ways to put ourselves in the best chance to get that No. 6, which we haven’t had in quite some time.”