Sunday, November 22, 2009

12 Hours Later (Plus)..... Rutgers Football; Its Time- For The Second Time

This is part of my ongoing series reviewing the 2009 Rutgers Football season. Today we'll look at yesterday's loss to the Syracuse Orange, 31-13

I've been a Rutgers football fan for many years, attending my first game back in elementary school in the 1960's. And I've attended games spanning five decades. The reason I'm telling you this is to show that I've been around for awhile and just didn't jump on the bandwagon when Jeremy Ito hit that game winning field goal to beat Louisville in 2006. I've seen dramatic wins, a lot of losses, spent afternoon on the road following the team, and have missed maybe three home games in the last 20 years. With a certain amount of shame, I'll admit now, I ducked out of my aunt's wake to listen to Rutgers getting pasted by Miami way back in 1998.

Yes, I bleed Scarlet, even though I am not an alum.

This is a piece that actually troubles me to write, but I feel I have a responsibility to do so. And I'm not going to sugar coat my feelings about the 31-13 road loss of then #25 Rutgers Scarlet Knights to a last place Syracuse team.

This was an unfathomable, incomprehensible, mind boggling loss, one that any deserving ranked team should never have suffered. It follows a familiar pattern of Thursday night wins over ranked opponents being followed on the Saturday that follows nine days later with an embarrassing double digit loss, Its happened during the 2006, 2007, and now the 2009 seasons. You can read the stats here if you like. Its pretty ugly from the RU side of it. I won't go into the minutiae of it- but Syracuse, statistically one of the worst offensive teams in the country, was able to dominate Rutgers from start to finish with twice as many first downs and three times the total yardage. Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage was sacked an incredible nine times. The offense was bad, the defense was worse, and only the special teams seemed to have shown up at the Carrier Dome.

While following the game I started to think that maybe the premise of The Prisoner was taking place- a separate reality where people and things are the same yet different in a corner of a dreamer's subconscious. If that were the case "the dreamer" was wearing Syracuse Orange and RU was in for a few hours of torment in the Village otherwise called the Carrier Dome.

This was not the team that destroyed South Florida, so I thought....and it wasn't. But who were these guys?

Now naysayers and critics will start yelling "fraud". I won't, because any program that keeps going to bowl games and winning them while graduating their players is NOT a fraud. But its getting harder for even the most supportive fans to keep arguing their case to the critics. And frankly, its getting redundant.

Every Rutgers fan should be happy to have Greg Schiano as our coach. He took a program that was in the tank and rebuilt it the right way, without recruiting violations and with a minimum of off the field embarrassments. He recruits good kids who play hard and get their degrees. The fanbase has grown, and much of New Jersey has embraced Rutgers as New Jersey's College Football Team.

When Coach Schiano took over the program in 2001 the Rutgers Touchdown Club gave its members long sleeved tee shirts that had two words printed on the back.....It's Time.

It was time for the losing to stop, for the culture to turn around, for New Jersey to get its college football team, for the world to see Rutgers in a new light. Coach Schiano said he wanted to win a national Championship at Rutgers.

In 2001 we fans thought about first things first- it was more important for Rutgers to win a Big East Conference game. Things were so bad at Rutgers in 2001 that RU was in the midst of a eight game Big East losing streak that extended back to a 24-21 win over Syracuse in 1999. They lost the next game to Miami, and continued to go 0-7 in conference 2000. When Schiano took over Rutgers wouldn't win a conference game in 2001 or 2002, going 0-14 in the Big East. In 2003 RU lost to Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pitt. They had a 25 game conference losing streak going to then conference member Temple on October 25- Rutgers won that game at The Linc, 30-14. Think about it- a 25 game conference losing streak that spanned five seasons, two decades, and two millennium ended only a little more than six years ago.

Respectability as a program came that year and in 2004, though both were losing years. The turnaround began -and "the Chop" was born in 2005 with a 7-5 record and the first bowl appearance in in 27 years. Three more bowls followed, as will another after the 2009 season.

But once again...Its Time.

Rutgers is in a mode now of taking two steps forward and one back. The bowl appearances, the Thursday night wins, the 50,000 seat expanded stadium, the buzz on campus and in the state are great....but the program is treading water.

The goal for Rutgers is to be one of the elite programs. Elite programs don't have hangover losses after significant wins. Consider this- what do you think the likelihood Ohio State following up a win at Penn State with a loss at Indiana would be? Or maybe perhaps Florida smacking down LSU and getting beat at Vandy?

Slim and none. And that's what many prognosticators said about a Syracuse win over Rutgers. They saw RU as ready for Prime Time, that the arrival that was hinted at was finally here. They were wrong, we were wrong...and, sad to say, Rutgers was not worthy of a Top 25 ranking.

And because of this shocking loss, they probably won't see the Top 25 again in 2009. And probably deservedly so.

Rutgers has made great strides in the past decade, but now It Time once again. Its time to make the move and be a challenger to the Big East title, and not be eliminated from contention by Halloween. Its time to follow up big wins with wins over teams they are supposed to beat. Its time to reach and fulfill the promise they have hinted at over the past four years. Its time to shut the critics up once and for all. Its time for the fans to demand the team and its Coach, but not be satisfied.

Its time for the Rutgers program to emerge from adolescence and hang out with the Big Boys. There is not a reason in the world for them not to be.

Everyone....Its time..

Some notes on other games Kudos go out to UCONN after their 33-30 double OT win over Notre Dame yesterday. It was the most significant win in the history of the program, and for all intents and purposes knocked Notre Dame out of contention from Gator Bowl consideration, and will probably go to the second place Big East team, which could be Cincinnati, Pitt, or even West Virginia. UCONN has had five losses by a total of 15 points, while the Irish have now lost three in a row, and back to back losses to Big East teams.

The win was for Jasper Howard, the slain defensive back was lost his life hours after UCONN's win against Louisville.

The question of whether Notre Dame will retain head coach Charlie Weis has yet to be determined.. My guess is that next week's game at Stanford would be his last.

And I wonder this out long will the rest of college football allow Notre Dame to be treated as a separate but equal partner in the BCS when they have not been relevant in the national discussion since the era of Lou Holtz, which ended in 1996? Notre Dame in the 21st century is like old world aristocracy, living off the reputation and accomplishments of their distinguished ancestors. And how long will it take before the Notre Dame administration comes clean and has to make a decision- are they serious about winning a national title as an independent where they make a fortune through TV and other revenues that they don't have to share with a conference? Or should they break down and join a conference where they can play their way to a conference title and a BCS bid? Do they want a return to football glory and a shot at a national title, or do they just going to keep the money, live off of past glory, and continue this tiresome kabuki dance they've been doing for a generation now?

Also yesterday- BJ Daniels and USF bounced back with a 34-22 win over Louisville after losing to Rutgers 31-0 a week ago last Thursday. Maybe they can win out the last two games, against Miami and Connecticut, and finish the regular season with nine wins. Rutgers fans should be thankful for USF; without them RU would be known as the most unpredictable team in the conference.

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