BCS Quest: Rutgers' Program-Shaping Defeats

Rutgers clinches its first BCS bowl berth with a win Thursday at High Point Solutions Stadium vs. Louisville. As a countdown to the event, ScarletReport.com is running a feature a day geared to look at the history of the program, and this story ranks the top 5 program-shaping loses.

Rutgers is a win away from its first BCS bowl berth, and getting that win Thursday against Louisville would be one of the bench mark moments in the history of the nation's oldest program.

But success usually comes after adversity hits, and is a result of strengthening the program from it.

As the showdown for a BCS berth approaches, ScarletReport.com looks at the top five losses that helped shape where the program stands today.

5. Nov. 20, 2010: Cincinnati 69, Rutgers 38:
Cincinnati amassed 661 yards and running back Isaiah Pead ran for 213 yards and scored five touchdowns in a game in which more questions surfaced about Rutgers' ability to play against a spread offense, and was embarrassing from the standpoint of the Bearcats were 3-6 entering the game.

It was the most points Rutgers allowed since the infamous 80-7 loss to West Virginia in 2001, and also was the game that virtually ended the program's string of five straight bowl berths.

"That's about as poorly as we played or coached here, maybe ever, at least in some phases," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said after the defeat.

The Scarlet Knights were slow on defense and couldn't match up with Cincinnati's speed.
Reason for inclusion: It forced Schiano to go back to having a quick, fast, albeit undersized defense in which speed and pursuit were the most important components. It is the philosophy that brought Rutgers to prominence a few years earlier, and the one they have now.

4. Dec. 2, 2006; West Virginia 41, Rutgers 39, 3OT
Rutgers fans still remember James Townsend being open in the end zone late in the fourth quarter and having the ball go through his hands. It was a painful loss, and one many followers of the program still point to as the most frustrating because a berth in the Orange Bowl was at stake.

The Scarlet Knights lost on a failed two-point conversion in the third overtime, and it didn't help the loss came against Mountaineers backup quarterback Jarrett Brown, who was sensational in replacing Pat White.
Reason for inclusion: The memory of this game won't be exorcised until Rutgers plays in a BCS game.

3. Sept. 23, 2000: Pittsburgh 29, Rutgers 17:
It may look innocuous, but this is where the turnaround of the Rutgers program began. The Scarlet Knights were not competitive despite Pittsburgh turning the ball over seven times. Rutgers was also plus-5 in turnover margin but couldn't make it competitive as the final score did not dictate the lopsidedness of the game.

It was another six weeks before athletic director Bob Mulcahy accepted coach Terry Shea's resignation, but this was the game pointed to by the administration as the reason a change was made. Not being competitive in the fifth year of Shea's tenure despite getting seven takeaways was too much.
Reason for inclusion: This was the game that sealed Shea's fate, and allowed Mulcahy to hire a new coach, who turned out to be Greg Schiano.

2. Oct. 9, 1997: Syracuse 50, Rutgers 3:
It was ugly. Ok, beyond ugly. It was a Thursday night game on national television and the Scarlet Knights weren't even close to competitive. The Scarlet Knights were outgained 615 to 80. It was so bad Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni instructed his team to take a knee on four straight downs when the backups got to the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter.

"I think that was a little more embarrassing (than if they'd scored)," Rutgers safety Thomas Kelly said after the game.

It was in the middle of an 0-11 season, and the following day athletic director Fred Gruninger resigned after 25 years.
Reason for inclusion: The stale thinking of Gruninger, who decades earlier turned down an invitation to join the Big East conference, gave way to the forward thinking and aggressive approach of Mulcahy, who re-shaped the athletic department.

1. Sept. 3, 2005: Illinois 33, Rutgers 30
The Scarlet Knights blew 27-7 third quarter lead and melted under the pressure on the road against a program that was struggling just as much as Rutgers.

Kicker Jeremy Ito was 4 of 7 on field goal attempts and what could have been a benchmark victory, which included Brian Leonard's 83-yard "Leonard Leap" and run for a score, turned into yet another dismal defeat in which the Scarlet Knights were left answering questions about the Same ‘ol Rutgers.

In the wake of the crushing defeat, though, Schiano, whose seat was getting warm after four years of losing, came up with his biggest source of motivation and imagery. He said if you're in a forest and there are trees everywhere and all you have is an ax, just keep choppin' if you want to get out.
Reason for inclusion: The program was at a crossroads when Schiano came up with the "Keep Choppin' " mantra, and the Scarlet Knights turned it into the first bowl berth in nearly three decades, and the phrase continues to be a focal point for the program.

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