Unbeaten Rutgers football team takes on unbeaten Louisville
It will be, simply put, the biggest college football story in New Jersey history when Rutgers faces Louisville tonight (Thursday, Nov. 9) at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway.
For the first time in the 137-year history of the school, a ranked Rutgers team will face a ranked opponent as the unbeaten Scarlet Knights, No. 14, face the unbeaten Cardinals, No. 3.
Rutgers is 8-0 for just the third time in school history, and Louisville is 8-0 for the first time since 1925.
Rutgers and Louisville are not exactly household names when it comes to college football. But they have been this season, which means that tonight's game will be televised nationally by ESPN.
With Louisville ranked third in the BCS poll -- which decides who plays for the national championship -- this game might be even bigger for the Cardinals. Rutgers is currently ranked 13th in the BCS standings.
The fact that Rutgers -- that's right Rutgers -- is in the mix and unbeaten is a story in itself. For years coaches like Dick Anderson and Doug Graber came to Piscataway and promised to keep the New Jersey kids home and bring back the state university's football program.
That was easier said than done, as many New Jersey schoolboy athletes never really identified with Rutgers as New Jersey's school. There are still many people who believe that the name Rutgers should be changed to New Jersey University.
Enter current coach Greg Schiano, who came to Rutgers from Miami where he was an assistant coach. Schiano knew that if Rutgers wanted to keep the best athletes in New Jersey, he was going to have to win first, so he decided on another strategy: He chose to recruit the talent mine that existed in South Florida.
One of the first things Schiano did when he was named the RU coach was buy billboards in the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., area espousing Rutgers football. He knew that he was not going to get AAAA players from Florida. However, he knew there were enough AA players in the South Florida area that Florida, FSU and Miami would not recruit, but that could turn Rutgers into a winner.
This season there are 21 players on the Rutgers roster from Florida, including five starters. Last season two Florida standouts accounted for 52 percent of the team's receiving yards (led by Tres Moses), and the leading tackler on defense was also a Floridian, Derrick Roberson. Rutgers will feature four starters from Florida on defense tonight and one on offense.
The South Florida strategy worked brilliantly as Rutgers began to win, and went to a bowl game last season. The strategy was successful because Schiano had good relationships with the powerhouse high school football coaches in South Florida -- like St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale -- from his days at Miami.
Now the better athletes in N.J. know that Rutgers is finally about winning, and it won't be as easy for other major college to come in and raid the state of its football talent.
Schiano, of course, will be mentioned for the Miami job, which will become available when Larry Coker is inevitably let go by Miami at the end of the season. But don't be so sure Schiano will leave Rutgers. At Miami nothing less than a national championship is expected, while at Rutgers every win is greeted with joy.
Rutgers will be the underdog tonight -- but so what?
Isn't that way it has always been in New Brunswick?
This will be a grand stage, so look for RU and Schiano to pull the upset. Make it RU 31, Louisville 28.
And please give a major assist to those Fort Lauderdale-area billboards.
Chuck Betson can be heard on WIBG 1020AM every Friday at 8:30am on the Hurley in the Morning show and during his The Betson Connection program every Saturday from 10am-1pm.