Back-to-back bowl bids for the first time in school history is something Rutgers can be proud of.
The Scarlet Knights have to be wondering what might have been, though.
Instead of playing in the BCS spotlight, No. 16 Rutgers will cap a stunning season with a matchup against Kansas State on Dec. 28 in the inaugural Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
The Scarlet Knights (10-2) nearly won the Big East title for the first time in school history—which would have earned them an Orange Bowl berth. Instead, Rutgers lost 41-39 to West Virginia in triple overtime on Dec. 2 in its final regular season game, giving the conference championship to Louisville, a team Rutgers rallied to beat in November.
The Scarlet Knights had a chance to extend the game against the Mountaineers, but quarterback Mike Teel’s 2-point conversion pass was knocked away in the end zone.
“Certainly, there’s disappointment,” said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, the Big East and national coach of the year. “We had an opportunity to be in the BCS, and more importantly to be league champions. To come close and not get it hurts.
“But in 137 years of football, we’ve only been to two bowl games, so we’re thrilled to be going to another bowl game—and for the first time in our history, to be going to back-to-back bowl games.”
Rutgers captured the nation’s attention by starting 9-0, upsetting then-No. 3 Louisville 28-25 on Nov. 9 to enter the Top 10 for the first time in the program’s history. But the Scarlet Knights lost two of their last three games and finished tied for second in the conference with West Virginia, though the Mountaineers earned the Big East’s second bowl tie-in with the Gator Bowl.
“We had a pretty somber team meeting (following the West Virginia loss), but that’s my job, to get us out of the funk and get back to the task at hand,” Schiano said. “(The Texas Bowl) is another opportunity for this program to take a step forward.”
After some concerns, Rutgers fans will be able to watch the game. The Texas Bowl is one of two bowl games being carried by the NFL Network—the Insight Bowl between Minnesota and Texas Tech is the other—and the channel isn’t carried on two cable companies that serve more than one million of New Jersey’s 2.5 million cable subscribers. The channel is also unavailable to most of New York City.
The dispute was solved when both Time Warner and Cablevision reached an agreement with the NFL Network that will allow its customers to see the game.
Rutgers fans can take comfort in that Schiano appears to be staying at the school he’s suddenly turned into a contender.
Long rumored to be the top candidate at Miami, where he was the defensive coordinator in 1999 and 2000, Schiano removed himself from consideration for the Hurricanes job, saying he was happy at Rutgers, where he’s led the team to consecutive bowl berths after a 27-year absence.
“Rutgers is where I am going to be and Rutgers is where I want to be. I am not a candidate for that job and I won’t be a candidate for that job,” Schiano said.
Schiano is happy continuing the job he’s done at Rutgers, where the school nearly won its first Big East title and has gone 17-7 the past two seasons after going 12-34 in Schiano’s first four seasons.
After losing 45-40 to Arizona State in the 2005 Insight Bowl—Rutgers’ first postseason appearance since 1978 and second overall—the Scarlet Knights will try to win a bowl game for the first time.
This is the first matchup between Rutgers and Kansas State. Both teams played Louisville this season, with the Wildcats losing 24-6 to the Cardinals.
Kansas State finished 7-5 under first-year coach Ron Prince this season, winning three of its last four games to become bowl-eligible. While his turnaround job wasn’t as daunting as Schiano’s—Kansas State won the Big 12 as recently as 2003—Prince was charged with leading the Wildcats back to a bowl after missing out the last two seasons.
Replacing coach Bill Snyder, who turned Kansas State from one of the worst programs in Division I-A into a perennial contender, Prince’s program was picked to finish last in the Big 12 North.
However, the team went 4-4 in the conference and put an exclamation point on the season with a 45-42 upset of then-No. 4 Texas on Nov. 11, effectively ending the Longhorns’ hopes of repeating as national champions.
“Obviously, we’re delighted to be back in the bowl business,” Kansas State athletic director Tim Weiser said. “Having set out for couple of years, we’ve gained a greater appreciation of how difficult it is to get to a bowl, and to do it in Ron’s first year is a great accomplishment.”
Prince is the only coach in school history to lead the program to a bowl in his first year, and he had to do it with two starting quarterbacks, finally settling on freshman Josh Freeman, who engineered the upset of Texas and finished with 1,651 yards passing, a Wildcats freshman record.
Kansas State is 6-6 all-time in bowl games. The Wildcats made 11 straight bowl appearances from 1993-2003.