As Week 14 of the 2008 college football season is set to begin, only six teams from BCS conferences are currently riding winning streaks of five or more games (streak): Alabama (11), Florida (7), USC (7), Oregon State (6), Oklahoma (5), and Rutgers (5). Five of those six teams share one thing in common: a BCS ranking of 17th or better.
Hmm. That sentence makes me think of a song I once heard. I think it went something like, “One of these things is not like the other...” Bet you can’t guess who is excluded from the rankings!
Well, unless you thought it was the fall of 2006 or something, the obvious answer would be Rutgers. Once the not-so-proud owners of a 1-5 record, the Scarlet Knights have bounced back from college football oblivion to become bowl-eligible for the fourth consecutive year.
The beginning of the 2008 season was not only bad from an overall record perspective, but from a league perspective, too. The Scarlet Knights dropped their first three games to Fresno State, North Carolina, and Navy.
After trouncing Championship Subdivision team Morgan State in its fourth game, Rutgers continued on its path towards irrelevance by losing to West Virginia and Cincinnati.
It was just the halfway point of the season, and the 1-5 Scarlet Knights were staring directly into the face of bowl ineligibility, as well as an 0-2 Big East record with five league games to go.
“Twelve One-Game Seasons”
In 2008, this phrase has been referred to game after game, interview after interview by Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. It’s been his mantra to take things one game at a time and never look too far ahead. Focus on the upcoming game and prepare your tail off, and results will follow.
Maybe it took six or seven weeks for the entire Scarlet Knights team, coaches included, to grasp this concept, but since Week Seven, this concept has appeared to pay healthy dividends.
After squeaking by Big East rival Connecticut on their homecoming weekend by a score of 12-10, Rutgers has been smooth sailing to their current 6-5 record, leaving a path of destruction behind them and taking no prisoners along the way.
In their last four games, the Scarlet Knights’ points totals are as follows: 54, 35, 49, and 30. That’s 168 points, or 42 points per game. Okay, so why is that important? Well, take Rutgers’ points totals the first seven games: 7, 12, 21, 38, 17, 10, and 12. That’s 117 points in seven games, roughly 17 points per game.
Jumping from an average of 17 to 42 points is quite a margin by any measure, so it’s no surprise Rutgers is emerging with victories week after week with this type of production.
So why may Rutgers be the hottest team? Well, if “hot” can be defined by win streaks of five or more and points per game differential from the first seven games versus the last four games, here is where these streaky teams stack up.
Team: First seven games PPG / Last four games PPG / Differential (+/-) / Percentage Change (+/-)
Alabama: 32 / 31 / -1 / -5 percent
Florida: 42 / 54 / +12 / +29 percent
USC: 38 / 39* / +1 / +4 percent
Oregon State: 35 / 29 / -6 / -18 percent
Oklahoma: 47 / 63 / +16 / +34 percent
RUTGERS: 17 / 42 / +25 / +151 percent
By this metric, Rutgers is emitting liquid hot MAGMA-like heat, while some of its peers are keeping a pretty warm campfire close by.
This is not to say Rutgers is the best team on this list—not by a long shot. But when you look at it this way, Rutgers is playing miles above how it was in its first seven games, as evidenced by their offensive output in the past four weeks. They’ve more than doubled their point totals.
In an ideal world, a team would ride a hot streak from the beginning of the year right on through the end, steamrolling any opponent who dared stand in the way. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way for Rutgers in the first half, but now the Scarlet Knights have taken care of business and posted a modest 6-5 overall record and a very respectable 4-2 Big East record, with one game left.
With a win in Piscataway against Louisville on Thursday, Dec. 4, the Scarlet Knights can keep their fire burning right through the holidays and look to scorch their next opponent in their once-thought highly improbable fourth consecutive bowl appearance.
* USC has only played 10 games, so this number is the average of their last three games.