Rutgers: Best and Worst of Times in Joining Big Ten Conference
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Rutgers missed out on a second chance to secure its first-ever outright Big East football title and BCS bowl berth with a 20-17 loss to Louisville last Thursday night before 52,978 fans at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
The Scarlet Knights now have one more shot to get both goals accomplished in 2013, before moving to the Big Ten Conference the following fall.
Don't plan on buying tickets to Pasadena for a while, though.
The news last month that Rutgers University was moving from the Big East Football Conference it helped found over 20 years ago to the much more storied Big Ten was seen as a win-win situation for the athletic and academic departments of New Jersey's largest public university.
Yet, how competitive will it be on the field?
The Scarlet Knights were in the Top 25 and on a 9-1 roll (5-0 in the Big East) heading into Pittsburgh on Nov. 24. Now, following two losses to the unranked Panthers and Cardinals (disputed call or not), they didn't earn an undisputed conference crown or a berth in the Orange or Sugar Bowls.
Rather, Rutgers had to share the league title with several other schools, and will now head to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28 to face former Big East foe Virginia Tech.
The only blemish for the Scarlet Knights in their first 10 outings this fall was a loss to now-18th ranked Kent State; but along the way, Rutgers ultimately only defeated two FBS (formerly Division I-A schools) with winning records, in Syracuse and Cincinnati.
How long will it take Rutgers to reach the Rose Bowl upon joining the Big Ten?
Rutgers has done a good job of keeping New Jersey players home under former head coach Greg Schiano and successor Kyle Flood. It should definitely get good and even better recruits now, with the Big Ten name backing it up. How could it not?
Still, don't be surprised to see new conference opponents like Michigan, Ohio State and especially "nearby" Penn State step up their own recruiting efforts in the Garden State, instead of merely just welcoming the new kid on the Big Ten block with open arms. It's dog-eat-dog, of course, and those schools can and likely will tout their longer traditions of success than what Rutgers has already accomplished, to potential four- and five-star recruits.
Rutgers is probably better off now than at any other point in its football history, all the way back to that historic first game against Princeton in 1869. The Schiano era helped to erase a lot of the frustration and futility the school had suffered on the football field in recent decades, and a title this year would have been a boon for the Scarlet Knights entering the Big Ten.
Barring a superlative 2013 campaign, it likely was also their last league title (and BCS bowl appearance) opportunity for a while.
The Scarlet Knights probably stand a chance of beating schools like Indiana or Illinois when they join the Big Ten in 2014; but lining up against Wisconsin, Nebraska and even Penn State and Michigan State will be a lot tougher than facing UConn and South Florida on a weekly basis. Never mind the "Big Two" of Michigan and Ohio State.
If the goal is at least making it to the (former) "Granddady of Them All", it's not going to be an easy one, especially in the early going.
Just look at some of the other, more established Big Ten schools not named Michigan or Ohio State. Purdue hasn't played in the Rose Bowl since 2001, while other long-time droughts belong to Northwestern (1996), Iowa (1991), Michigan State (1988), Indiana (1968) and Minnesota (1962).
So don't expect a Rose Bowl berth for Rutgers for several years after it joins the Big Ten. Maybe even longer. Actually, expect times to get tough again on the gridiron in Piscataway.
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