We are now less than ten Saturdays away from the start of the college football season. The real start of the Chris Ash era is rapidly approaching. While we know about half of the scheduled times and TV assignments so far for next season, there is a full listing of the themes & promotions for the home schedule. We know there will be a stripe out game against Michigan. We know Homecoming is against Illinois. We know there is a doubleheader on the last home game of the season with the Rutgers wrestling team, as they host Princeton and football hosts Penn State.
What hasn't been announced is whether Rutgers will honor it's most important team in program history, the 2006 team. It's the ten year anniversary of a team that changed the trajectory of the program forever. They are monumentally important to our history, and they are a major reason that Rutgers is a member of the Big Ten conference. But should we honor them now, or even at all? Rutgers chose not to honor the 1991 men's basketball team for their 25th Anniversary, the last squad to make the NCAA Tournament. Maybe athletic director Pat Hobbs will choose not to honor the 2006 team either. Let's first look at the reasons against honoring the 2006 team and why we should.
The Argument Against Not Honoring The 2006 Team
The 2006 team didn't actually become champions of anything other than winning the Texas Bowl over Kansas State. They didn't win the Big East and actually finished third behind West Virginia and the league champion, Louisville. They did finish the highest in the polls in program history at #12, but it wasn't a top ten finish. Also, it's actually the 40th anniversary of the 1976 team, which went undefeated with an 11-0 record. How can you honor an 11-2 team over one of two undefeated teams (1961) in program history? If Rutgers does honor the team during a high profile game, will the rest of the Big Ten, and even the country, laugh and consider how bad our history is that we would choose to honor a non-championship team? Shouldn't we just recognize the team with just a nice one pager in the media guide and game program and call it a day?
The Argument For Honoring the 2006 Team
The win over Louisville on November 9th, 2006 remains the iconic victory in program history. Our own Jim Hoffman wrote over weekend that Jeremy Ito's game winning field goal is the most important play for Rutgers football this century. That game still resonates among both fan bases and hard core college football fans, as evidenced by the amount of activity this tweet received over Jim's article. That game and that team put Rutgers football in the national consciousness in a positive way that unfortunately has been all too rare in recent years. It was also the first Rutgers team to win a bowl game in program history. They should be celebrated always and why not at the ten year anniversary mark? So then, let's assume we are all in agreement the the 2006 team should be honored, which game this upcoming season is the most appropriate to honor this team? Let's take a look at three possibilities that make the most sense.
Sept 24 - Iowa - Big Ten opener
The positive's are it's the Big Ten opener and the same week Ohio State is on a bye, so in theory Greg Schiano could attend. Heck, he might even be planning to be in New Jersey that weekend to recruit or visit family. It would be a great way to get the conference season started and give the crowd a little more juice against the Big Ten West defending champions. A potential negative to consider is that it's Ash's first conference game as head coach of Rutgers, so having Schiano there could be awkward or take away from the new regime. However, the positive is that a passing of the baton could occur that would be really special for the program. Ash and Schiano are friends and you would think this could be a fun, formal way to publicly acknowledge their connection and the changing of the guard. It is parent's & family weekend, which signifies another type of change, but the two could blend well together.
Oct 8th - Michigan - Stripeout in Primetime
Michigan returns to the scene of the crime where they lost in 2014. There has been a ton of back and forth between the two schools on social media the past few months with coaches, secret societies, satellite camps, high school principals, graphic designers, and fans being involved. It's the first ever stripe out for a home game, with the plan to have sections rotate between black and red. The game is national television, still to be determined between ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2. It will be a great showcase for Rutgers and makes it a perfect night to honor the 2006 team. It was the breakthrough season for the program, and one in which most to all serious college fans remember. Why not highlight the most important team in Rutgers history under the national spotlight. It would also add some juice to the already highly anticipated matchup against Michigan.
Oct 15th - Illinois - Homecoming
It's a winnable game and it's a sentimental weekend to begin with, so why not honor the 2006 team on a day when a lot of Rutgers alumni return to campus to celebrate great memories. It is a noon game, so it would probably get the least amount of national press due to the opponent, the time (noon kickoff), and the lack of added pomp and circumstance versus the other two games. It would definitely be a fun weekend to celebrate though, and it's clearly the best shot of the three games that Rutgers has to pick up a victory. Of course, if they were to honor the 2006 team against Iowa or Michigan and Rutgers pulled the upset, that would result in an epic weekend. There is another potential conflict though, as it's Hall of Fame & Letterwinners day. I honestly am not sure, does it make perfect sense to honor the 2006 team at the same time, or would it overshadow Hall of Fame inductees. Could they induct the entire team? Lots of things to consider.
No matter which game it is, Rutgers really should honor the 2006 team in some way. Just like they should honor the 1976 team in some way as well. However, 2006 will always be the most important season in program history, when Rutgers officially entered the national championship conversation in November. That team stopped the many years of prolific losing, and directly led to the program to take several steps forward in the decade since. We wouldn't be in the Big Ten if 2006 didn't happened. Why not honor their ten year anniversary, at a time that not only the football program, but the entire athletic department, is transforming in a positive way once again. It could be a great public relations story, it would honor our history, and it would celebrate the Schiano era in a formal way that hasn't happened since he left as coach in 2012. While Schiano had his shortcomings and isn't loved by the entire fanbase, there is no denying he elevated the program like never before. It bridges the gap between the coach that built the program and the coach that we hope will take it even farther in Ash. It's okay that it wasn't a successful season by the standards of the greatest programs in college football. But it is R history, and it's ours to celebrate the way we think is best. What do you think?