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Rutgers & B1G football—finally we belong

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Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers football tailgaters believe last weekend was a positive tipping point for the Scarlet Knights. The belief among the brats and B1G fans was we are about to become the first class program envisioned in November 2012 when we were invited to the Big Ten. The tailgaters agree—we’re finally acting as if we belong in the B1Gs.

If you don’t tailgate (or attend Rutgers games) you are missing a unique, incredibly fun college experience. Pro game tailgating at Giants, Jets, or even (gasp!) Eagles games is OK. Yet, college level tailgating is mellower, friendlier and less confrontational. My NFL tailgates often gave me the feeling we were about five minutes away from the wrong people erupting into a shouting/brawling brouhaha.

When the Giants host the Eagles, Jets, Cowboys, or Redskins, it’s dicey for visiting fans to set up their team colors when tailgating before the game. Not so in college football. While every crowd has its share of idiots, the predominant college attitude is welcoming, inclusive and friendly. Sure, there’s banter (cue the "We Are…" chants), but it is truly (no pun intended) collegial.

This year’s Spring Game atmosphere was picnic-like. Fans and acquaintances reconnected. Most said the Rutgers program has turned a corner. Our third year in the B1G is starting to feel like home for both fans and athletes. Fans believe we have finally determined what we need to do to compete effectively in this league.

We’re also holding our own outside of the two revenue sports. Women’s Soccer was wonderful. Wrestling captured everyone’s attention. The men’s Lacrosse program is doing an incredible job this Spring. They secured a tournament berth last Friday and play their final regular game this Friday against the Buckeyes in Columbus (broadcast on BTN).

The new AD brings a new attitude. Pat Hobbs mingled with the fans Saturday outside of RU Stadium. He and Sarah Baumgartner dropped by my spot. After saying hello, he took a seat in one of our inflatable chairs and declared: "Now THIS is a seat for an AD!" Unlike his predecessor, Hobbs knows how to connect with a crowd while spreading positive energy. Yes, I’m a big Pat Hobbs fan!

This year fans feel a part of the program—part of the conference. Even the half-time activities focused on fan involvement. A"quickest fan" contest pitted a guest against Janarion Grant in a 40-yard dash (Grant smoked him).

The game—like most spring football games—was sloppy, uneven and highlighted needed growth. Coach Ash noted he was happy with some things but RU has a long way to go. Fans agreed with that assessment. The difference this year is fans believe we can get to where we need to go. That’s a refreshing change.