It no doubt came as a surprise to many that the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, despite the fact that they are 6-0 on the season, debuted at No. 15 in the BCS rankings.
More surprising still may be that the team that currently sits behind them at No. 16—Louisville—was the overwhelming pick to win the conference in the Big East preseason poll. Then again, that same poll picked USF to finish second overall.
Many analysts look at the running game for the Scarlet Knights, their sound special teams play and a defense currently ranked third overall in points against and consider them to be a legitimate BCS threat. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the ever-maturing play of their sophomore quarterback Gary Nova, who has kept interceptions to a minimum and spread the ball around to a deep receiving corps.
“We have a lot of weapons everywhere,” said Nova (as quoted by Joey Gregory of The Daily Targum on DailyTargum.com). “It’s just a testament to everybody doing their job when they get an opportunity.”
In truth, their next three games are winnable, against Temple (3-2), Kent State (5-1), and Army (1-5), but far from easy. That would put them at 9-0, but a quick review of their first six victories may give critics reason to consider Rutgers nothing more than paper tigers:
Tulane: At 1-5, the Green Wave finally broke their five-game losing streak last week with a one-point victory over Southern Methodist, 27-26. In their five losses, they were outscored 212-45, with the low point a 63-10 loss to Louisiana Monroe. Tulane ranks 93rd nationally in passing yards and 124th in rushing yards.
Howard: With a 4-2 mark for the season, the Howard Buffalo have not beaten a single team with a winning record. Sitting third in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the most convincing win Howard has produced was over an 0-6 Savannah State team, 56-9.
South Florida: Currently last in the Big East, USF is just 2-4 this season, currently mired in a four-game losing streak. Their signature win this season is over the 6-1 Nevada Wolf Pack. USF will likely slip to 2-5 this week, as they face the undefeated Louisville Cardinals on Oct. 20.
Arkansas: Easily the biggest win of the season so far for Rutgers, the victory over the Razorbacks is somewhat tainted by the fact that the Hogs are obviously having a down year. Currently at 3-4 on the season, Arkansas has rebounded in the last two weeks, defeating Auburn and Kentucky. Continued success by the Razorbacks only assists Rutgers' strength-of-schedule.
Connecticut: An 0-2 record in the Big East and 3-4 overall does not help convince detractors that the Rutgers' victory over Connecticut was an impressive win. The Huskies' victories this season have come over Massachusetts (0-6), Maryland (4-2) and Buffalo (1-5).
Syracuse: Rutgers had a tough game against Syracuse before their defense and special teams locked up the win against the Orange, who are just 2-4 on the season. Other than a surprise win against Pittsburgh, the only other victory for the Orange this season came against Stony Brook at the Carrier Dome on Sept. 15.
“I think what we’ve shown this season is we can win games a lot of different ways,” said RU head coach Kyle Flood (as quoted by Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger on NJ.com). “When you say you won the game with defense and special teams, that doesn’t mean the offense wasn’t a part of it.”
Should Rutgers get past a scrappy Temple club in Philadelphia this week, defeat an improved Kent State team and handle the Army Black Knights, the 9-0 Scarlet Knights would then face the toughest stretch of their 2012 schedule. In the final three weeks, Rutgers plays No. 21 Cincinnati, Big East rival Pittsburgh and current No. 16 Louisville.
If all breaks right for college football fans, the Scarlet Knights-Cardinals matchup on Nov. 29th could decide the Big East title.