Commentary: Why the Final Two Games Matter

The latest blowout loss -- 41-17 to UCF on national television -- has Rutgers limping into the final two games of the season. A winning record in the American is now out of the picture, but upcoming games against Connecticut and South Florida remain meaningful for the future of the Rutgers football program.

Rutgers is not going to the BCS, or a high-level bowl game, but the final two games of the regular season are far from meaningless. Rutgers and its fan base have plenty invested in upcoming games against Connecticut and South Florida, and it begins with a bowl game.

The New Era Pinstripe Bowl, or the Belk Bowl, does not have the same juice as a late December game in Florida, but can go a long way in what Rutgers needs to move forward.

It starts with a bowl game, but here are five reasons why the final two weeks of the season truly matter for the Scarlet Knights.

1.) Bowl Game -- The only way the young Rutgers defensive secondary gets better is with practice. Rutgers needs to make a bowl game for exactly that reason. Bowl practices are one of the best developmental times of the season, and young guys like Anthony Cioffi, Ruhann Peele and Nadir Barnwell absolutely need it.

Left tackle Keith Lumpkin and cornerback Ian Thomas took tremendous strides thanks to extra time last December. The best way to build toward the Big Ten is with extra practice time.

The bowl options remaining for Rutgers are not pretty ones, but it was not that long ago when any bowl game was a big deal. The bowl game is a reward for the true-freshman heavy roster experiencing their first winter in the program.

2.) Quarterback -- Rutgers and Flood have a chance to change things at quarterback. The current approach with junior Gary Nova is not working, but he remains the best option for the 2013-14 season. But the best option for the 2012-13 season is to give Chas Dodd the opportunity to lead Rutgers against Connecticut.

Rutgers does not need Peyton Manning under center to beat winless Connecticut, and Dodd consistently played hard off the bench. He has beaten the Huskies before, and could do it again. The decision at quarterback, which Flood will address this afternoon on a teleconference, can send a message for the future.

For one, Nova needs motivation to play and prepare harder. A spot on the bench might provide the same spark that his poor showing against Virginia Tech did last year. Secondly, it sends the message to quarterback recruits that the best player will play. If Nova remains the unquestioned starter, what does that say to the new recruiting targets at the position?

3.) Work for Young Players -- Rutgers is not getting its best football from some of its seniors, and getting a look at the future with younger players could be helpful. Flood continues to stick with youngster Chris Muller over Antwan Lowery at guard, and went with Taj Alexander over Andre Civil for the second straight game.

Defensively, coordinator Dave Cohen used more Quentin Gause at weakside linebacker where he projects to start next year. On the defensive line, young players like Daryl Stephenson, Djwany Mera and Max Issaka can get valuable in-game action behind seniors wrapping up their careers.

Rutgers will have just one quarterback (Nova) that has in-game experience going into the spring unless Mike Bimonte or Blake Rankin gets a late-game look against Connecticut or South Florida.

This includes the development of new leaders. Rutgers needs stronger locker room leadership next season, and the intensity shown by guys like Darius Hamilton and Kevin Snyder during tough times says a lot. Remember how guys like Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais responded as seniors after disappointments? Rutgers needs to find more guys like that in the locker room.

4.) Pride -- Nobody likes losing, and Rutgers has a recent history of poor finishes dating back to 2010. Rutgers has major talent advantages over its last two opponents, and needs to change the trend of poor Novembers and Decembers. Rutgers lost its last six games in 2010, chocked against Connecticut in 2011 and lost three straight to end 2012.

5.) Recruiting -- Recruiting is about relationships first, but maintaining those gets significantly tougher with highly publicized blowouts and negativity in the national news. Winning has a way of fixing things. And although UConn and USF are bad teams, 7-5 makes keeping the class together (or reeling in de-commitments) a lot easier than 5-7.

Rutgers needs something positive in a month where everything seemingly went wrong. USF is a big recruiting weekend with official visitors. Solidifying commitments, or adding some new ones, is a lot easier in a happy post-game Hale Center.

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