For the first time in almost three years, Rutgers will play as a ranked team.
Off to their best start in six seasons, the No. 22 Scarlet Knights look to remain undefeated Saturday when they try for a fourth straight home victory over Connecticut.
It's been two weeks, but Rutgers (4-0, 1-0 Big East) finally gets the chance to play as a ranked team this weekend. The Knights actually debuted in the AP Poll at No. 23 on Sept. 23, the day after they won 35-26 at underachieving Arkansas.
"I'm really proud of the football team," said first-year Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, whose team was picked to finish third in the Big East preseason poll. "(It's) a win that we're really proud of.
"Now the challenge is to take the success we've had and to build on that."
After struggling through a 4-8 season in 2010, Rutgers went 9-4 last year and beat Iowa State 27-13 in the Pinstripe Bowl. Though head coach Greg Schiano left to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the program continues to make strides under its promoted offensive line coach.
Flood is the third coach in Rutgers history to start his career 4-0, and first since John Bateman in 1960.
After moving up a spot in the poll while idle last weekend, the Knights are eager to get back on the field and attempt to continue the school's best start since the 2006 team opened with nine straight victories. Rutgers' most recent stay in the Top 25 came Nov. 15, 2009, when they were 25th.
While the Knights' scoring defense is tied for 10th nationally, allowing 12.8 points per contest, the play of sophomore quarterback Gary Nova and running back Jawan Jamison also has contributed to the team's early success.
Nova, who beat out junior Chas Dodd for the starting job, is 48 for 77 for 674 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in the last two wins at South Florida and against the Razorbacks. He threw five of those TDs at Arkansas, and his 397 yards through the air in that contest were the third-highest single game total in school history.
"I'm proud of the evolution of Gary Nova," Flood said. "All I wanted from Gary is to get a little bit better each week, and I think he's done that. It's starting to show up on game day, which is great."
Jamison, who had 118 yards on 33 carries and caught a touchdown pass versus Arkansas, has averaged 122.8 on the ground this season.
Nova was 11 of 18 for 298 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions - relieving the ineffective Dodd - while Jamison added a 1-yard score in Rutgers' 40-22 loss at Connecticut in 2011.
Though the teams' last two meetings in New Jersey have been decided by five points, Rutgers might have a good chance to avenge last year's defeat against the Huskies, who allowed 37.7 points per game while losing their three Big East road contests in 2011.
UConn (3-2) tries to avoid losing its fourth straight conference opener while looking to build on a 24-17 home win over Buffalo last Saturday. Chandler Whitmer was 15 of 22 for 227 yards with a touchdown while sophomore Lyle McCombs ran 29 times for 97 yards and a TD as the Huskies scored 24 points for the third consecutive contest.
"There's obviously some work to do but we're making some progress," coach Paul Pasqualoni told the school's official website.
McCombs rushed for 1,151 yards in 2011, 95 of which came with two touchdowns on 20 carries in last season's win over Rutgers. He also caught four passes for 30 yards in that contest.
The Huskies look to snap a seven-game losing streak against Top 25 teams that dates to a 22-15 win over No. 11 South Florida on Oct. 27, 2007 - their lone victory over a ranked opponent in 18 contests since becoming a Division I team in 2000.
- Big East