Monday, December 7, 2009

12 Hours Later (Plus + Plus)- Rutgers Falls to WVU, St . Petersburg Bowl Bound

This is part of my season long look at the Rutgers Football team's 2009 season from my seat in Section 104.

There was rain, there was cold, there was snow, there were 50,000 plus people in the stands at the start of the game (and don't believe those members of the media who say it was only 40,000; you can't get a good view of the stands from a heated press box next to your complimentary hot meal courtesy of the tuition payers and taxpayers, Rutgers being the State University of New Jersey).

The result was the same- for the 15th straight year Rutgers was beaten by West Virginia, 24-21. Think about this- the last time Rutgers beat West Virginia was the second game of the new Rutgers Stadium. For the trivia minded out there- and check the name of the blog, if you will- Ray Lucas, now the radio analyst for Rutgers was the winning quarterback in both of Rutgers last two win against WVU. He started the last game ever at old Rutgers Stadium in November, 1992 and was the winning qb in the Dedication Game of the new Stadium in September, 1994 against the Mountaineers.

(To take it a couple of RU Trivia steps further, Lucas- besides being the winning qb at the last game ever played at Old Rutgers Stadium, was also the winning qb for the first game ever played at the new Rutgers Stadium, against Kent State in September, 1994. He is also the only Rutgers qb to win Rutgers home games in three different stadiums- Old and New Rutgers Stadium, and at Giants Stadium, where Rutgers played home games during the 1993 season.)

Was I disappointed in the outcome of the Rutgers-WVU game? I wouldn't be much of a fan if I wasn't. At some point Rutgers will have to end the streak against WVU in order to be taken seriously by the media and the college football community. Don't get me wrong- I think anytime you turn your team over to a true freshman quarterback (Tom Savage) and still make it to a bowl game the season is a success and the bigger picture says the future is bright. And this will be five straight bowl games- this has to be called the most successful period in the history of the Rutgers football program. And remember this- it was only six years ago that Rutgers ended a 25 game Big East losing streak that spanned five seasons, five years, two head coaches, and two centuries (1999 to 2003). It was only a short time ago that Rutgers was not just a Jersey joke, but a national one as well.

The bowl streak began with the 2005 season (7-5)and a trip to the Insight Bowl and a loss the Arizona State. The following years Rutgers was 11-2 and clocked Kansas State in the Texas Bowl. What we had was a team that went from being a perennial loser to being a seven win team to being an eleven win team. And RU actually skipped a step- when building a football program teams usually don't go from 6 and 7 wins to 10,11, and 12 wins without spending some time in the 8 and 9 win area. That 10 win per year territory is usually reserved for the college football elite. What Rutgers did in 2006 was the result of a remarkable year in which they began the season 9-0.

The following three years saw Rutgers at 8-5, 8-5, and currently at 8-4. This is where they are, and this is where the program (as of this moment) probably should be. Right now this program, considering its history which has been long but not very storied, seems poised to take the next step- that is, getting to that 10 win plateau. Its not easy, but having a Top 20 recruiting class in 2009 helps, coupled with incrementally better recruiting classes each year since the bowl appearance streak began in 2005.

If getting to that next level and staying there was such an easy task, don't you think guys like Charlie Weis would have done so for job security's sake? People, like WFAN (NYC) radio's Mike Francesa, have called Rutgers a "total fraud" because they have not improved after that 11-2 season. He has a bully pulpit, which at times he does tend to use as a bully....but I won't take to task any program that finds itself in bowl games every year while seeing its classes ranked in college football's APR in the top five ever year, along with the likes of Navy, Stanford, Duke, and Air Force- they go to bowls and they graduate their kids, they fill their expanded stadium to 95% capacity, and their fan base travels better than anybody in the Big East not based in Morgantown, WV.

Pardon the language....some f-ing fraud.

There was speculation that Rutgers would be invited to the Meinecke Bowl in Charlotte, which has become one of the more prestigious second tier games in a relatively short period of time. Truth be told, Rutgers didn't deserve it; with Cincinnati off to the Sugar Bowl with a date with Florida, West Virginia to meet FSU in the Gator, Pitt- by virtue of being the third place team in the Big East, beating Rutgers at home, and having a winning record in the Big East and a better overall record (9-3) deserved that bowl. Rutgers was in a tie for fourth place with UCONN and South Florida at 3-4 in conference but held a tie breaker with wins over them and a better overall record (8-4 to their 7-5 each).

Rutgers will meet the University of Central Florida in the second St. Petersburg Bowl. The good news is its a warm weather city, its Florida, its sun and fun for the fans who want to go the game. The bad news- its in less that two weeks (December 19) which will make things tight for the RU faithful in the middle of the holiday season with short notice. And Rutgers will not get much of the extra practice time allotted to bowl teams since the game is among the first bowl games to be played in the first bowl weekend. This really amounts to the same prep time in a bye week situation. Also, the game is being played during the final exam period at Rutgers- who knows how this will play into the mental preparedness for the game?

On a personal note, the timing of this game could not be worse for me- not only will I have to contend with all the holiday trials and tribulations that other fans, but I have the prospect of jury duty on December 15. If I'm selected for the trial I'll be performing my duty as a solid citizen of New Jersey and Middlesex County instead of drinking a Corona (with lime) on the beach in the Tampa Bay area, counting down the hours till kickoff with my beloved football team.

The sacrifices one must make for truth, justice, and the American way....especially that justice part.

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