I remember the feeling like it was yesterday.
A win would have essentially secured both a Big East Title and a BCS Bowl berth: two achievements never before experienced by the Rutgers University Football program.
Before kickoff, I was buzzing. In more ways than one.
What I had anticipated being a warm, hazy victory on a Saturday night in November turned into a sobering, depressing night followed by an even worse hangover.
As the fourth quarter game clock struck 0:00, the reality that had been lingering and building as the game progressed finally affirmed itself: Cincinnati stunned Rutgers 30-11, and the undefeated season (and so much else) had vanished.
Mike Teel, the future owner of virtually every passing record for Rutgers, threw four interceptions, one of which was an 83-yard pick-6.
Ray Rice and Brian Leonard, arguably the best 1-2 punch in the school’s history, combined for 57 yards rushing.
And the Rutgers defense, a unit that had averaged just under 11 points against over the first 9 games of 2006, practically took off their spikes, pads, and helmets as if to say, “Well, we won’t be needing these.”
Disappointment. Shame. Embarrassment.
To add insult to injury, the Bearcats (showing their impeccable sportsmanship and class) mocked the motivational gesture the 2006 Scarlet Knights had adopted and coined “the chop,” and “chopped wood” all over Rutgers’ collective faces.
Ben “Never give up” Mauk continued the mockery when Cincy bullied Rutgers in Piscataway in 2007. (Is he still trying to forge another year of eligibility? I stopped looking, but I assume so.)
After yet another defeat at Nippert Stadium in 2008, their meeting on Labor Day (at 4 p.m. on ESPN) will represent four years since Rutgers last took care of the Bearcats.
I can’t be the only Rutgers fan out there who gets a bad taste in their mouth when Cincinnati is mentioned, but if I am, please comment.
They have had Rutgers’ number the past three years, and each year they have managed to throw a wrench in the Scarlet Knights’ post-season aspirations.
I’m not one to go predicting what the Big East standings will look like once the final regular season game is played in early December. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, but I do know this:
Week One is important.
More important than Week One’s of years past.
First: It’s a Big East game. Win and you are in the driver’s seat in the conference. Lose and you have to play catch-up. (Duh.)
Second: Momentum. Rutgers has a young team, primarily at the offensive skill positions. Fifth-year senior Dom Natale attempted eight passes in 2008, and true freshman Tom Savage is nipping at his heels.
Mohammed Sanu, also a true frosh, is starting opposite Tim Brown at wide receiver. Jourdan Brooks and Joe Martinek are red-shirt sophomores, but only have 176 carries between them.
After Cincinnati, Rutgers will play Howard, Florida International, Maryland, and Texas Southern. A win in Week One would lay a solid foundation for the entire team which can be quickly and effectively built upon against the next four opponents.
Third: It will be the first game played in the newly-expanded Rutgers Stadium. The expansion project, which Rutgers’ Athletic Director, Tim Pernetti has recently engaged “light speed” for to complete before Week One, adds over 12,000 seats and completely encloses the lower-tier bowl structure.
The fans will be hungry for a win after 8 months of waiting, and given the current economy, an early loss could drive single-game buyers away for a while.
More so, a full stadium of tens of thousands of Scarlet-Maniacs screaming their lungs out will be an undeniable advantage for the home team.
Fourth, and finally: It’s Cincinnati, a.k.a. the "thorn in RU’s side.” As if their mere field presence wasn’t enough motivation to win, they are also the defending Big East Champions.
To put Brian Kelly along with his “modest confidence” (ha) and the rest of the Bearcats in their place, Week One would be such sweet justice.
Coach Schiano, in his usual non-ambiguous but optimistic self, left the media with a quote after the 2006 crushing defeat:
“We weren’t very good tonight…but we will be again.”