This isn't how it was supposed to go. The Maryland football team didn't plan to lose six games in a row this season, go through a coaching change and miss postseason play with three games still left to play. No matter external expectations, this has always been a confident bunch of players and coaches. If it weren't, none of them would be here at all.
But with Maryland at 2-7, the motivational allure of a bowl game is no longer plausible. Yet the team still has a quarter of the season to play, not yet done with the brutish grind of Big Ten football. As the Terrapins get ready to visit No. 13 Michigan State as two-touchdown underdogs, they've had to dig in – business as usual. .
"You can't really look at it like that. You've just got to go into it as, ‘The past is the past, and we have a game this week.' With a competitive mentality, you have to want to win no matter what the situation is, the circumstances," quarterback Perry Hills said Wednesday. "You have to prepare as if you have another game, which we do."
At the very least, Maryland's players still get to play together. Some of them have bonded within this program for four or five seasons. Many are about to dress for the final organized football games of their lives.
"It definitely stinks, not being able to have a bowl game," Hills said. "But we're a family. We get to go out and do what we love every single day, and that's play football with each other. We still are having fun, and we still get to have that bonding together."
All the while, Maryland has had to compartmentalize. Running back Wes Brown – starting ahead of senior Brandon Ross against the Spartans – said players have "kept our spirits up" with a workmanlike attitude.
"Just because your season's bad doesn't mean that you should stop improving on technique and stuff like that," Brown said. "We're just focusing on doing the things right that we need to do and keep fighting."
On Tuesday, interim head coach Mike Locksley sounded a similar message.
"I said to the guys that obviously our goal is to prolong the season," Locksley said. "We won't be able to extend our season with the bowl opportunity, but as I told the guys, this is also the start for young players. I really feel that this could be the nucleus for a team that could contend for a Big Ten Championship, and that they have to continue to prepare, give the effort of that type of team. And as I told the seniors, this is their legacy."
Beyond that, Maryland players and coaches said they're driven by a simple love for competition.
"It's competition. Every game's a competition," defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said. "You don't stop playing because everything's against you."
Inside linebacker Jermaine Carter, the Terrapins' leading tackler on the year with 64.5 stops, said his desire for Maryland not to simply roll over in the season's home stretch has deep roots.
"This is something instilled in me growing up," Carter said. "Just a quote that I always think of: ‘Carters don't quit, and Carters always got pride,' something my dad always told me. I'm never going to give up, no matter how bad things get. I'm going to keep pushing and keep fighting until the end."