If you are a Rutgers fan, you've probably heard the phrase a million times by now: the same old Rutgers. If you don't follow Rutgers football, let me fill you in: Rutgers football has built a reputation in recent years as a team that can't quite get to the next level, and somehow fails to win the big game when it matters most.
Take this year, for example…
Dropped passes and botched field goals against Louisville, just as things were getting interesting? Yup, same old Rutgers.
A 17th straight loss to division rival West Virginia? Sounds like the same old Rutgers.
Last week of the season, and still playing for all the marbles? Nah, won't happen, same old Rutgers.
2006 was the last year the Scarlet Knights posed a legitimate threat to the conference, the year it seemed the pieces might actually fall into place, when Ray Rice and company saw a failed two-point conversion in triple overtime dash their hopes of slaying the giant in West Virginia and conquering the Big East.
Since then, coach Greg Schiano's team has stumbled backwards, his rallying cry of keep choppin' seeming to fall on deaf ears as seven frustrating losses ended last year's season.
This Saturday, however, after five long years of watching the Scarlet Knights chop, Rutgers fans may finally get to see the tree come down.
On Saturday, November 26th, a win against UConn guarantees that Rutgers takes at least a share of the Big East's top spot. If the football Gods swing a few other conference games our way, Schiano's team may just shock the world of sports with an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game. Not too shabby for a team projected pre-season to finish 8th in its conference.
But before we even go there, let's stop and look at what Rutgers just did on Saturday against Cincinnati, a team that has dominated them for five years running, including last year's 69-38 slobber-knocker. Rutgers went into the game desperately seeking vengeance, a win their only shot at staying afloat in the topsy-turvy race for the Big East title. And guess what Rutgers fans heard as the moment finally neared? Same old Rutgers, Cincinnati owns them...not gonna win.
But Rutgers did win, and with authority. Yes, I know, doubters are quick to point out that Cincinnati was without their starting quarterback Zach Collaris. But how exactly does that factor into Jawan Jamison's breakout 200 yard rushing performance, despite averaging just over 50 yards per game on the season? Or zero turnovers from quarterback Chas Dodd, undeterred after riding the bench for nearly a month? And what about the 347 of Rutgers' 385 total yards accounted for by players not named Mohamed Sanu?
Yes, Rutgers fans (and skeptics), believe it or not, it's late November and Rutgers is playing for something huge. Whether or not they claim the Big East outright, we can say with confidence that this season wasn't defined by "rebuilding," or "growing as a team," or any other clichéd sports excuse for losing. This season was about finding ways to win football games, despite quarterback controversies and preseason polls.
Will the same old Rutgers team be back next year? I for one sure hope so.
Joe is a graduate of Rutgers University and longtime fan of Scarlet Knights football.
- Rutgers football