PISCATAWAY, N.J. — By the time the BCS releases its poll Sunday evening, there could well be more teams from the MAC in the rankings than the Big East. Such is life in a conference that a decade ago was winning national championships and is now trying to win respect.
It hasn't won much of that over the last two weeks.
With Cincinnati upset by Toledo 29-23 on the road last week and Rutgers losing 35-23 to Kent State at home this Saturday afternoon, the Big East has seen two of their three ranked teams lose in consecutive weeks. Only Louisville, which outlasted Cincinnati 34-31 in overtime Friday, remains undefeated among the Big East's teams. With the Bearcats loss last weekend, they dropped out of the polls and now Rutgers could do the same.
Rutgers was outplayed, and perhaps most surprisingly, outmuscled by the Golden Flashes who controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
"We're certainly disappointed, we're not happy with the way this second four-game season ended," head coach Kyle Flood said. "But as we sit here going into the bye week 7-1, we got to evaluate the reasons why today happened and the reason why the other seven days happened."
Seven turnovers, including six interceptions by sophomore quarterback Gary Nova — who entered the game with just three interceptions all season - doomed the Scarlet Knights to what can only be said is a bad loss to the Golden Flashes. On paper, nothing suggested that Kent State had any right to be in this game but after falling behind 3-0 early, the Golden Flashes never trailed.
In many ways, this was a season where the Big East needed Cincinnati and Rutgers to step up, especially with the loss of perennial powerhouse West Virginia to the Big 12. The Big East has been on the losing end of recent conference expansion and with two anchor programs in Pittsburgh and Syracuse leaving for the ACC next season, something needed to be done to preserve whatever identity the conference had left. With three teams in the Top 25 last week, it seemed like the Big East was set to turn a corner and be relevant again.
Instead, it's now irrelevant again with a drop in the polls or potentially out of the polls likely for all but Louisville. If Rutgers wants to carry the banner for the conference at any point this season, it will need to win out with a bye week coming up then games against Army, at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh then Louisville to close out the season.
"I don't care about the rankings personally, I don't really care about the rankings," sixth-year defensive back Mason Robinson told Yahoo! Sports. "The world doesn't give us a chance, no one gives us a chance; every one is waiting for us to fail. I care about anyone but us. The guys in the locker room, if they have a nametag in here, I care about them and the coaches. That's it."
The season certainly isn't lost for 7-1 Rutgers. Despite what will likely be a drop from relevancy after this weekend, the Scarlet Knights are still 4-0 and atop the Big East. They still have a very legitimate shot of winning the Big East for the first time in program history. But from a national perspective and in terms of carrying the banner for the Big East, the season slipped through their fingers on Saturday afternoon.
"One goal is gone, that's the reality for most teams in the country," Flood said. "With the exception of maybe three, four or five teams in the country - to play for a national championship you have to be undefeated. That's the reality of the system we're in right now; until we go four-team playoff, I don't know that's going to change.
"But there is a goal for us in front of us that's never been done here at Rutgers and that's win a Big East championship and we have an opportunity sitting in conference play at 4-0 to do that over the last three conference games of our season. I think it'll be motivating, there's no doubt about that."
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Kristian Dyer is a freelance writer. Follow him @KristianRDyer
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