However, that upset – Louisville's 28-20 win at Syracuse – also left second place in the Big East in flux, with seven teams sitting with two conference losses while first-place Pittsburgh (5-3, 3-0 Big East) has a commanding lead for a BCS berth with less than a month remaining. As for Rutgers and its bowl possibilities, anything from a spot in the Champs Sports Bowl vs. the ACC on Dec. 28 to missing out on a bowl game for the first time since 2004 remain realistic targets.
First of all, Rutgers needs two wins to be bowl eligible, so any discussion about possibilities has to begin with the Scarlet Knights at least splitting their final four games.
In breaking down what is transpiring, let's look at the easy part first:
- If Rutgers (4-4, 1-2) wins its last four games – Syracuse, at Cincinnati, Louisville and at West Virginia – it is in excellent position for the Champs Sports Bowl.
It would mean the Scarlet Knights can finish no worse than tied for second in the league with South Florida (5-3, 2-2) and Connecticut (4-4, 1-2). Notre Dame (4-5) will have to beat Utah at home, Army at Yankee Stadium and Southern Cal in Los Angeles to go to the Champs Bowl.
Given Rutgers' alumni ties in Florida and its head-to-head win against UConn, it could come down to Rutgers and USF for the Champs Sports Bowl. The Bulls won a one-point decision last week against the Scarlet Knights, but also have league games remaining at Louisville and home to Pittsburgh and UConn.
Where Rutgers' bowl situation begins to cloud is if the Scarlet Knights win two or three of their remaining games.
If Rutgers wins three of its last four games, the Scarlet Knights should have no problem getting a bowl because it will mean other schools will have difficulty getting to seven wins, and the Scarlet Knights would be attractive to bowls because of wins in three of their last four games.
And while it would likely mean the Champs Sports Bowl in out of the picture, the Pinstripe New Era Bowl (Dec. 30) at Yankee Stadium and the Meineke Car Care Bowl (Dec. 31) in Charlotte, N.C., are in play. Conventional thinking says the Pinstripe Bowl is the destination, but the Big East may want to place Syracuse in that game since the Orange would be making its first bowl appearance in six years. And the Meineke folks want Rutgers badly.
Where it could get dicey for the Scarlet Knights is if they finish 6-6, because the Big East could have seven teams eligible for six slots. If that happens, the Big East will try to work a deal to get a seventh team into a bowl with tie-ins to another conference that cannot fill its quota.
Here is what awaits other Big East teams in their quests to gain bowl eligibility:
- Pittsburgh (5-3) – Connecticut, at South Florida, West Virginia, at Cincinnati (1 win needed).
- West Virginia (5-3) – Cincinnati, at Louisville, at Pittsburgh, Rutgers (1 win needed).
- Syracuse (6-3) – at Rutgers, Connecticut, Boston College (1 win needed).
- South Florida (5-3) – at Louisville, Pittsburgh, at Miami, Connecticut (1 win needed).
- Louisville (5-4) – South Florida, West Virginia, at Rutgers (1 win needed).
- Rutgers (4-4) – Syracuse, at Cincinnati, Louisville, at West Virginia (2 wins needed) .
- Connecticut (4-4) – Pittsburgh, at Syracuse, Cincinnati, at South Florida (2 wins needed)
- Cincinnati (3-5) – at West Virginia, Rutgers, at Connecticut, Pittsburgh (3 wins needed).
The toughest roads for bowl eligibility are with Cincinnati, Rutgers, Connecticut and Louisville.
Rutgers' television audience and proximity to New York (and ratings), as well as a strong reputation for traveling fans to what amount to mid-major bowl games, makes it likely Rutgers will get to a Big East tie-in bowl with six wins, providing there aren't six Big East teams with seven wins since they must be chosen ahead of a six-win team.