On this day, July 1st, one year ago, Rutgers made the move to the Big Ten. Through the highs and lows, our staff looks back at the top moments for the Scarlet Knights in their first year in the conference.
GS: Prior to my unbiased days as sports editor and Rutgers football beat writer at The Daily Targum, I was just an average college kid who attended every home game. Seeing that the tickets for the Rutgers-Maryland game in College Park were dirt cheap ($16 for 45-yard line seats behind the Rutgers bench...total steal), eight buddies and I made the road trip down I-95. But through the first 30 minutes, we thought we'd made a huge mistake. Rutgers was getting pounded into the ground by a mediocre offense led by an average sixth-year quarterback. The scoreboard read 35-17, but it might has well have read "THIS ONE'S OVER." Another Big Ten blowout looked imminent, but not to Ohio State or Michigan State — to Maryland. MARLYAND. At the half, I even tweeted how there was no reason why Kyle Flood shouldn't be selling used cars by the end of this game because honestly, that's the direction this one was headed.
Kyle Flood should be selling used cars next year. No reason not to fire him -- and don't try to convince me otherwise.— Garrett Stepien (@GarrettStepien) November 29, 2014
But whatever went down in that locker room at halftime registered in the mind of each and every single player on that roster, and an entirely different team came back out onto the field in the second half. Nova, so accustomed to folding in the big moment, had the game of his life (28/42, 347 yards and four touchdowns), carving up the Terps defense with three wideouts (Leonte Carroo, Janarion Grant and Andre Patton) each going for 100 yards. The two-headed monster of freshmen Josh Hicks and Robert Martin (a combined 29 carries, 126 yards and one score on the ground) was born. The defense was absolutely relentless, coming back out onto the field to make stop after stop after stop. The 41-38 thriller capped the largest comeback in program history — and it changed the entire feel of the season after Rutgers stomped out North Carolina in Detroit to finish the season with another bowl game win and a 8-5 record to show for it. I wanted to say the Michigan game for obvious reasons, but this one, by far, meant the most to why this season was viewed as a success and why there is a reason to raise the bar in 2015.
TW: From a former ACC school to a current one, the win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl was beautiful to watch. They said Rutgers was just happy to be there. They said the struggling Rutgers defense couldn't stop Marquise Williams. These same people also said, prior to the season, Rutgers had no shot at even making a bowl game. And they were all wrong.
Rutgers went out and manhandled a talented North Carolina team to put the finishing touches on a fine first season in the Big Ten, defeating the Tar Heels, 40-21. A pair of freshman running backs, Josh Hicks and Robert Martin, gashed the UNC defense for a combined 302 yards and three touchdowns. Rutgers got whatever they wanted on offense.
The bowl win was symbolic of the recent rise of Rutgers football. Yes, Rutgers is a good team, but they will never play in a big conference. Rutgers moved to the B1G. Yes, Rutgers is now in the Big Ten, but they will never be successful. Rutgers goes 7-5 in the regular season and makes a bowl. Yes, Rutgers had a good season, but they are just happy to be in a bowl game, let alone win it. Rutgers goes out and dominates a talented UNC team.
Rutgers football defied all odds in its first season in the Big Ten. Now, let's hope they can continue to do so.
GW: Rutgers 26-24 Michigan. The pinnacle of the football season. A 5-1 record heading into the toughest part of the schedule with the only blemish being a game I won't talk about. It was big play after big play for the Scarlet Knights from the long TD to Andrew Turzilli to Davon Jacobs' interception and finally, this gem:
This was my first time in person witnessing the students storm the field and a night I will always remember. The blackout atmosphere really made a difference as the sell out crowd was on their feet the entire game. I have been to countless Rutgers games over the past few years and none tops this. Although I was not there for Louisville in 2006, I am sure this game is right up there. Although Michigan was no top-15 team, you need to remember that RUTGERS beat MICHIGAN. This is a feat that not many fans would have dreamt of in the near future which is why it holds so much importance. In a matchup of the oldest team vs the winningest team, The near 150-year-old Scarlet Knights showed the Wolverines and Jabrill Peppers what it really means to "put on for Jersey." For any of you who want to relive the historic night:
AE: There have been a handful of times over the past few years where Rutgers' membership in the Big Ten went from something I was aware of intellectually, as a concept, to awesome reality. One of those moments came before the Michigan game - for some reason, walking into the stadium with my dad, and seeing those famed winged helmets in maize and blue warming up in OUR house, for a conference game, on the BTN, at night, was really special for me. I know the ttfp game came first on the calendar, but that game was so full of crazy excitement and rivalry rage-ahol and terrible weather and interesting things to see all day, that the B1G-ness of it got a bit lost for me.
Not Michigan. I don't care that Michigan had one of their worst seasons in a long time, or that they were dealing with all sorts of head coach hot-seat drama. Our first B1G win came against the winning-est program of all time, the bluest of B1G/college football blue-bloods, and the history books will say that forever, no asterisks necessary or permitted. Griffin does a great job of capturing the game itself above, but for me, I got a special feeling about that one before they even kicked off. I'm not sure why - maybe because it was my annual game with my dad, who has joined me for a lot of one-sided beatdowns of Norfolk State and Howard over the years, because he generally likes to go to early-season, nice-weather "shorts-wearing games," as he calls them. Not this year: I told him you are going to a REAL game this season, and I'm so happy it was that one.
DW: While some of the football stuff was great, there was one moment that topped the Rutgers sports year. There was a moment where everything came together on a cold night. Rutgers beat Wisconsin. The favorite to win the National Championship. The number 4 team in the nation. Sure, Frank Kaminsky was out that night. But Rutgers emptied the tank in that second half. Myles Mack, Junior Etou, Shaquille Doorson, Kadeem Jack, and Bishop Daniels all had their moments in that game. I was there that night, and the arena was a throwback to what it used to be.
Rutgers got every break, and sometimes--for history to happen--that's what you need. "MAAAAACKKK... YES!" That final lay-up. Eddie crying because he loves his school.
That night was what college sports are about. I'll always remember it.
Rutgers won that night.
Rutgers beat Wisconsin.
AB: While all the games mentioned were special victories, especially Wisconsin, my favorite moment was actually not related to a game. After growing up following Rutgers sports basically my entire life, it was a surreal feeling for me when it was announced we were entering the Big Ten. My initial thoughts were shock and disbelief. What is the catch? Does being invited to be a permanent member of the conference actually mean forever? How much money do I personally owe Jim Delany? Is this a massive, drawn out practical joke? Once the initial shock passed I was still in a bit of denial.
That's why my favorite moment from the last year was July 28th, 2014. It was the Big Ten's football media day and I had taped it to watch after work. When Kyle Flood was announced and spoke at the podium, it was truly the first great moment for Rutgers in the Big Ten. He was there to represent the football team, but this was the first moment that Rutgers University was on a public stage as a part of the Big Ten conference. No matter how you feel about him as a coach, Flood was damn impressive and represented the entire university, alumni and students in a way that still makes me proud to this day. His presence and the confidence he projected set the tone for his team's upcoming season, but more importantly our arrival as a university. He spoke of the tradition of Rutgers, of the academic excellence of the school and the athletic achievements of his program. And then he said "I don't think there's any better choice that the Big Ten could have made than to add Rutgers University" We had officially become a part of the Big Ten!