I am a firm believer in embracing the heartbreaks that happen today, as they make the success of tomorrow that much more sweeter. Cherishing the journey with its ups and downs, on the way to glory....eventually we hope. When I think of tough losses, the context in which the game is played is very important. For example, the collapse against Maryland at home to end the 2015 season was a terrible loss. However, it had no impact on whether the team would make a bowl game, and we found out later it had no impact on the removal of Kyle Flood as head coach. Would I have preferred Rutgers have won that game? Of course, and it will always hurt to lose to Maryland, but considering the circumstances, I don't consider that game an all-time tough loss.
With that in mind, I present what I consider the ten toughest losses that Rutgers football has suffered this century. We are looking at the past 15 seasons, when Rutgers football became relevant and played in many more significant games than they did in the two previous decades combined. Today we cover losses six through ten, with the top five coming tomorrow.
10) 2015 Washington State 37 Rutgers 34
It's very rare for a non-championship contending team to suffer what feels like a season ruining loss so early in the season, but this game did for me. We all had high hopes for last season, after Rutgers finished 8-5 in their Big Ten debut in 2014. This game was brutal to attend and there were ominous clouds hanging over the stadium for most the second half. When it started raining, I remember hoping this was the cleanse Rutgers needed to hopefully pick things up in the second half and win the game. They lost in heartbreaking fashion on a late touchdown, wasting the best performance of Janarion's Grant career. After the game Leonte Carroo got into "the incident" outside the stadium and the next morning he was suspended indefinitely. With that happening so soon after the previous player arrests and the Flood investigation, the air went out of the 2015 season balloon quicker than you could say R-U. The shine of 2014 was quickly tainted by the stench of a failed season, almost as quickly as it began.
9) 2009 Syracuse 31 Rutgers 13
Rutgers entered November with a 7-2 record and rolled into the Carrier Dome against Syracuse on a three game winning streak and ranked #25 in the AP Poll. Louisville and West Virginia followed on the schedule with a potential Big East title at stake. And then Rutgers laid an egg on the road against a bad Syracuse team. Former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus was the quarterback for the Orange as a grad transfer, and led them to their first conference win of the season on senior day. Losing to a Duke basketball player in football was excruciating. The fact that it was Syracuse made it even worse. Ugh. The Orange jumped out to a 21-2 lead midway through the 2nd quarter and Rutgers could never recover. It was a bad loss that occurred too often in the Schiano era, one that prevented the team from making a leap from 8 wins most seasons to that 10+ mark, which was only achieved in 2006. This team lost another heartbreaker at home to West Virginia to end the season, but this one really stung as a game they should have had.
8) 2004 New Hampshire 35 Rutgers 24
One week after Rutgers opened the season with an upset victory over Michigan State at home, they blew a 10 point halftime lead and lost to Division 1-AA (now FCS) New Hampshire. 2004 was the first season that there was real hope that Greg Schiano was going to take Rutgers to a bowl game, something that had only been done once before in program history at this time. This loss certainly brought expectations back down to earth and what followed was the tenth consecutive losing season for the program. Two steps forward, one step back. Again, this type of loss happening so early in the season really put a damper on things and brought back doubts that Rutgers could ever truly become a consistent bowl team. However, as we realize now, this marked the low point of the end of the dark ages of Rutgers football. Signs were present that progress was being made and Rutgers broke through the following season with a 7-5 record and a trip to the Insight Bowl. Rutgers hasn't lost against a I-AA or FCS team since this game.
7) 2011 West Virginia 41 Rutgers 31
This was probably the most memorable snow game in Rutgers history, and Eric LeGrand led the team out of the tunnel before the game. Rutgers jumped out to a big lead with the game shown regionally on ABC, and then fell apart in the second half in the snow. It was deflating for several reasons. Everyone wanted to win for Eric. It's sad to say, but West Virginia owns us in football. It was the Big East hump we could never get over, and was a big reason why Rutgers never won the conference championship outright. They are the only school I put on this list more than once. West Virginia owns a 17 game winning streak against Rutgers, and this game was the last between the two schools. Losing to them always hurts a bit more, in my opinion. It was a showcase game on national television and not pulling that game out was a missed opportunity. Rutgers was 5-2 entering this game and the loss meant another season without a Big East title. It also turned out to be Schiano's last season at Rutgers. I dream of a bowl game that we come across West Virginia for a chance to end that losing streak.
6) 2006 Cincinnati 30 Rutgers 11
It was all going too well, as Rutgers was coming off a historic come from behind win at home on national television against #3 Louisville. How did they respond after the greatest win in school history? The next week, they went on the road at Cincinnati in primetime and came out flat as a pancake. The game was never close, Rutgers got pushed around and the national championship dream was over at 9-1. On a personal note, I asked to get out of work early on a Saturday night for this game, and by the time I got to a bar to meet friends, they were already losing big in the first half. So that sucked. I also remember it being disheartened to see our team beat up so badly that night. They just hadn't recovered from the biggest win in program history, which is understandable, but hurts just the same. Although the idea of going undefeated before the season was a pipe dream, actually getting into mid-November without a loss made this letdown game so tough to take.
Click here for Part II, featuring the Top 5 Worst Losses this century.