Cinderellas or Big East Champs: Rutgers Still Figuring Out Which Shoe Fits Best

Andrew WeaverCorrespondent ISeptember 22, 2009

EAST HARTFORD, CT - NOVEMBER 3: Coach Greg Schiano of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights watches the action against the University of Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field November 3, 2007 in East Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Three long years ago this fall, the Rutgers football program was awoken from its decade-long coma was and introduced to “big time college football.” 

After a few cups of very caffeinated coffee, Rutgers took on the country and became the darlings of college football.

A perennial Division I bottom feeder, Rutgers put together one of the most memorable seasons the school had ever witnessed (11-2, first bowl victory in history) and stole the hearts of thousands of college football fans across the country.

What wasn’t to like? 

A fiery coach in Greg Schiano, a Northeast school with a big city attitude, and a group of underrated, overachieving student-athletes out to prove the doubters wrong.

All from a football program that co-authored the book, College Football in the 20th Century: Finding New Ways to Lose at the Division I Level.

The 2006 Rutgers story was a charming one and it forever raised the bar for New Jersey collegiate football.

It’s 2009, and the bar is still collecting dust.

Mired with high expectations and a newfound intolerance for defeat, the Rutgers Football program has failed to achieve the heights it reached in the fall of 2006.

Two consecutive 7-5 seasons have left Scarlet Knights fans feeling cheated and unsatisfied.

Entering this fall, certain media outlets, ranging from local Middlesex County newspapers to ESPN, had picked Rutgers to win the Big East.

But after Cincinnati’s trouncing of the Scarlet Knights in Week One, those same newsrooms found themselves enjoying delicious bowls of shoe.

So, how did a team with no quarterback and one returning wideout receive the blessing of these voices?

The analysts believed that the return of the entire offensive line and all running backs, along with a veteran defense, could make up for an inexperienced quarterback and group of receivers.

Well, the defense was shredded by Cincinnati in Week One and played 50 good minutes against the current bottom feeder of the FBS, FIU, before giving up two late-game touchdowns.

The running game has been coming along, with back-to-back 100-yard games achieved by Jourdan Brooks and Joe Martinek, but the competition it faced was simply elementary compared to any other team Rutgers will face this season (well, maybe with the exception of Texas Southern...geesh).

After two underachieving seasons, many worry that the program has stalled.

Some may believe that Rutgers is suited better as the “Cinderella” or the underdog and cannot handle the pressure that comes along with success. 

Maybe that’s true. 

After all, it wasn’t until the Scarlet Knights had earned a putrid 1-5 record that they won six consecutive games en route to a third straight bowl victory in 2008.

No one thought they could come back from 1-5 and reach a bowl, but they beat the odds and nay-said the naysayers.

But I’m not one to really harp on shortcomings, so I can see the good in Rutgers' first three contests this fall. If you take away the first half of the Cincinnati game, the Scarlet Knights have played efficiently and, more importantly, almost mistake free.

Tom Savage is finding his groove with each snap. The defense is getting quicker and more impenetrable with each third down. The offensive line is incrementally starting to gel and open up running lanes.

(I should say, the defense was lights out in the first 50 minutes versus FIU and returned two interceptions for touchdowns)

So, could this be the start of something in Piscataway? Could the worst be behind Rutgers this year?

Could be. 

But you’re not going to see me penciling in wins and bowl matchups for the Scarlet Knights—I know better than that.

But I do know that since I’ve been following Rutgers football, they prefer to work quietly and behind the façade: a place where they certainly reside now...comfortably.

The fact is, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone picking Rutgers to win the Big East from here on out—and maybe that’s how they like it.


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