UConn, Rutgers Provide Good and Bad for Big East

UConn, Rutgers Provide Good and Bad for Big East Not long ago, Rutgers was an afterthought in college football. It feels like just a few years ago they were fighting Temple to see who the worst major conference team in American was. But times have changed and the Scarlet Knights have become a consistently good Big East team.

The first collegiate football game ever played was between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. According to the Rutgers Web site, one of Rutgers’ players described the game as “replete with surprise, strategy, prodigies of determination, and physical prowess.” I’m not sure what all of that means, but it sounds quite exhilarating. Bully!

In 1991, the Big East decided to add football to their conference, and Rutgers was among the charter members. At that point, the Scarlet Knights were a decent team, but things got worse from there — much worse.

Rutgers quickly became a consistent Big East cellar-dweller. From 1993 to 2004, Rutgers went 12 consecutive years without a winning season. From 1999 to 2002, the Scarlet Knights won a grand total of seven games and were nothing more than a punch line to a bad joke.

But times have changed. This year Rutgers will be going to its fifth straight bowl game (the school has won its past three).

The main difference, in addition to the coaching of Greg Schiano, is better recruiting. According to Rivals.com, each of Rutgers’ past four recruiting classes is ranked third in the Big East. The Scarlet Knights have done a particularly good job of signing some of the better in-state players from New Jersey.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of most college teams. As long as Rutgers can continue to have strong recruiting classes, the Scarlet Knights will be a legitimate team in the Big East.

It should be noted that this was written before Rutgers was throttled by Syracuse this weekend. However, the Scarlet Knights do have the right formula for sustained success.

Syracuse (4-7, 1-5 Big East): 31, No. 25 Rutgers (7-3, 2-3 Big East): 13
Where did this come from? A week after losing to Louisville, Syracuse does a complete 180 and earns its first Big East victory of the season. The Orange dominated this game, holding Rutgers to 130 yards and 11 first downs. The front seven was particularly impressive, sacking Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage nine times, tying a ‘Cuse school record.

This loss is bad for both the Big East and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights came in ranked and then laid an egg at the Carrier Dome. Their normally solid defense was terrible, allowing over 200 yards through the air and another 200 on the ground.

This is a great win for the Orange, but a terrible loss for the Big East.

Connecticut (5-5, 1-4): 33, Notre Dame: 30
This is more like it: a good win for the Big East. This is the second consecutive year that a lower-level Big East team went into South Bend and knocked off the Irish on Senior Day. Last year it was Syracuse, this year it was UConn.

UConn won this game in the trenches. The Huskies' offensive line dominated Notre Dame’s defensive line, allowing Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon to rush for over 100 yards each.

This might be it for Charlie Weis. The offense is good, but the defense is just not good enough. Over the past two weeks, Pittsburgh and UConn have rushed for 424 yards against the Irish. They are a decent team, but in South Bend, decent is not good enough.

South Florida (7-3, 3-3): 34, Louisville (4-7, 1-5): 22
South Florida freshman quarterback B.J. Daniels continues his roller-coaster season. This was the good Daniels. He threw for 300 yards and rushed for more than 100, accounting for three touchdowns. Next week, South Florida faces Miami at home. They have already beaten Florida State this year. A victory over Miami would be great for this program.

Last week was Louisville’s Super Bowl, and they won it against Syracuse. In this game, Louisville kept it close throughout, getting within five points in the fourth quarter. They show momentary signs of potential, but not enough to be taken seriously.

What we learned:
1. Even with a hard-luck season, UConn can still play in a bowl game. They only need to win one of their final two games to become bowl eligible.
2. Syracuse is still playing hard and earned its first Big East win by dominating Rutgers.
3. Rutgers clearly did not deserve the No. 25 ranking in last week’s AP Poll.

Respect Barometer:
The good news is that an average Big East team (UConn) defeated Notre Dame in South Bend. The bad news is that Rutgers was crushed by Syracuse. This is a sum loss for the conference. The Big East now has only two teams ranked in the new AP poll: No. 5 Cincinnati and No. 8 Pittsburgh. As of right now, the SEC and Pac-10 are clearly the two best overall BCS conferences, followed by a second tier consisting of the ACC, Big East and Big 12, with the Big Ten pulling up the rear.

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