Rutgers Start Raises Comparison With 2006 Season
A new coach inspires Rutgers to rise to the next level.
New Jersey is the birthplace of college football with the Rutgers Queensmen defeating the New Jersey Tigers 6 to 4 in 1869. That Rutgers team later became the Scarlet Knights and the College of New Jersey has since been renamed Princeton.
Despite hosting and winning the first college football game, it took all the way until 2006 for Rutgers to field a top-ranked team. Certainly its 11-0 record in 1976 should not be dismissed, but clearly the 2006 team had the tougher schedule and fielded the best players Rutgers has ever enjoyed.
Move forward to 2012 and the Scarlet Knights are now coached by Kurt Flood, a one-time assistant to Greg Schiano, who left Rutgers for the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Four games into the season, the Knights are undefeated, with three of those victories coming on the road. Its last victory vaulted Rutgers into the national limelight, a come from behind win in Fayetteville over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
This year’s start immediately has people comparing the 2012 Knights with the 2006 edition and for several very good reasons. First, Jawan Jamison continues to run the ball, evoking comparisons with Ray Rice, the best running back in RU history and a current NFL star. Second, this team’s defense is one of the best in the nation, with ESPN’s Andrea Adelson calling it championship caliber. Third, the Knights’ quarterback, Gary Nova, has found his arm as he tossed for five touchdowns and 397 yards against the Razorbacks.
Just as Rutgers started the 2006 season at 9-0 and peaked at No. 7 in the nation, this year’s team is also expected to continue with its success. A well-deserved off-week will give RU extra time to prepare for an Oct. 6 date with UConn, followed by Syracuse, Temple, Kent State and Army. Only Temple is a road game and the way the Knights are playing a 9-0 start is quite possible.
Where Rutgers may have problems is with its last three games, with road contests against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, followed by Louisville at home to close out the regular season. Rutgers beat Cincinnati last year to snap a five-game series losing streak that began with a 30-11 blow out loss that handed Rutgers its first loss in 2006.
Pitt got off to an awful 0-2 start, but got its first win of the season over Virginia Tech before hammering Garner-Webb. Taking Pitt for granted in 2012 could bring about the same disastrous result that Cincy inflicted on RU in 2006.
Louisville is, of course, the favorite to win the Big East Conference this year, but like 2006, the Cardinals are a home game for RU. In 2006, RU turned a 25-7 deficit into a 28-25 victory, for one of the most memorable games of RU’s history.
Should Rutgers manage to win its remaining games, it will head to the Orange Bowl to play an ACC team. Unfortunately, no matter how good Rutgers proves to be, the Big East won’t have a team playing for the BCS game. The Knights’ schedule and the diminished strength of the conference will work against the team, but a top bowl appearance will certainly raise the Scarlet Knights’ visibility and help it continue to recruit in its home state. Like Schiano before him, Flood will recruit the “state of Rutgers” and may usher in what Kristian Dyer suggests could be the beginning of the team’s “golden era.”
In the meantime, Rutgers will need to keep chopping and figure out a way to keep its secondary from being scorched as it was against Arkansas. The banks of the Raritan has been waiting for more than 140 years for a championship-caliber team, one that sports a big scarlet “R” and makes New Jersey proud.