The Scarlet Knights (7-5, 4-3 Big East) produced their first winning season since 1992 and played in their first bowl game since 1978. Rutgers finished third in the Big East -- the school's best conference finish ever -- and had six players named to the All-Big East team. Fifth-year coach Greg Schiano was rewarded for his efforts with a lucrative seven-year contract extension that will keep the New Jersey native at Rutgers through 2012.
"We will continue to build Rutgers into a championship-caliber football program that serves as a source of great pride for our university and the state of New Jersey," Schiano said.
The Scarlet Knights came close to making history by winning their first postseason game, as well.
Rutgers stunned heavily favored Arizona State, the same team that defeated the Scarlet Knights in the 1978 Garden State Bowl, by grabbing a 33-31 lead with 12:56 to play in the Insight Bowl. But the tired Rutgers defense couldn't stop the Sun Devils' potent passing attack when it mattered most.
Arizona State, which produced an Insight Bowl record 678 yards of total offense, scored on a 42-yard pass play early in the fourth quarter and then struck again when RB Rudy Burgess capped a 69-yard drive with a 4-yard TD run with 4:26 remaining to make it 45-33.
"In the end, we started to get tired and started missing tackles," Schiano said before adding, "We didn't execute everything the best we could, but they're a good offensive football team that we had trouble stopping."
Rutgers senior QB Ryan Hart, who ended his stellar four-year career as the school's all-time leading passer, was terrific in his final start. Hart, who made it 45-40 when he hit Rutgers all-time leading receiver Tres Moses with a 29-yard TD pass with 2:00 left, completed 24 of 38 passes for 374 yards and tossed three touchdowns and one interception.
Freshman RB Ray Rice, who developed into one of the best young players in the Big East with a 1,000-yard season, rushed for 108 yards on 20 carries in the Insight Bowl loss, while junior FB Brian Leonard, an All-Big East selection, scored two touchdowns and churned out 144 yards of total offense.
If Rice continues to develop, and with Leonard sticking around for his senior season, and freshman QB Mike Teel, who split time with Hart for much of the season, is as good as Schiano thinks he is, Rutgers fans have more exciting bowl games to look forward to in the near future.
Notes and Quotes
GAME OF THE YEAR: Rutgers 31-21 victory over Navy on Oct. 29 wasn't just the game of the year, it was the game of the decade for the Scarlet Knights because it vaulted Rutgers to 6-2, making the Scarlet Knights bowl eligible for the first time since 1992. Two losses followed, but a win over Cincinnati in the regular season finale assured Rutgers a trip to the Insight Bowl.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: FB Brian Leonard -- The junior did it all for Rutgers in 2005. Leonard rushed for 740 yards and 11 touchdowns and led the Scarlet Knights potent passing attack with 55 receptions for 568 yards and six more TDs. RAPID REVIEW: Rutgers won six of its first eight games to become bowl eligible in late October. But back-to-back losses to South Florida and Louisville threatened the Scarlet Knights' postseason hopes before a 44-9 win over Cincinnati locked up an invite to the Insight Bowl, where Rutgers lost a shootout to Arizona State, 45-40.
FAST FORWARD: With a young, talented offense, Rutgers has a lot to look forward to over the next few years. QB Mike Teel and exciting RB Ray Rice will both be sophomores next year, while versatile FB Brian Leonard will return for his senior year and become the leader of one of the most explosive backfields in the Big East. The defense, which features a young secondary, will have to find a way to replace a pair of talented senior defensive lineman and two steady senior linebackers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's great for us that we're able to have the chance to show that we're building something very special and very big. I'm from New Jersey. I love it here. They know there's a coaching staff that wants to be here." -- Rutgers coach Greg Schiano after signing a seven-year contract extension.
Strategy and Personnel
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2006: QB Mike Teel -- The freshman threw 10 interceptions and only two touchdowns this year before being sidelined late in the season by a sore right (throwing) shoulder. But that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm surrounding the strong-armed New Jersey native, who showed plenty of promise by completing 50.5 percent of his passes for 683 yards.
RB Ray Rice -- The freshman exploded onto the Big East scene this fall, rushing for 1,120 yards in the regular season and 108 more in the Insight Bowl loss to Arizona State. The speedy Rice, who finished third in the Big East in rushing, will keep Rutgers fans on the edge of their seats for years to come.
CANDIDATES FOR NEXT LEVEL:
--DE Ryan Neill was the catalyst for a defense that finished tied for first in the nation in sacks. Neill led the Scarlet Knights with 10 sacks, up from nine in 2004, and made 71 tackles. Neill (6-3, 260 pounds) may be undersized for an NFL DE, but he's quick off the ball and has the kind of nonstop motor that should allow him to play on Sundays.
--WR Tres Moses, Rutgers all-time leading receiver, had 45 receptions in 2005 for 758 yards and five touchdowns. His average of 16.8 yards per catch was second best in the Big East. Moses, who hauled in 81 passes for 1,056 yards in 2004, is a sure-handed, productive receiver who can stretch the field with his speed.
ROSTER REPORT: Injuries robbed Rutgers of some of its most productive players early in 2005. The Scarlet Knights lost sophomore DT Eric Foster, starting senior LB Terry Bynes, and backup FS Jason Nugent to season-ending knee injuries in the first month of the season. Quarterbacks Ryan Hart and Mike Teel both battled injuries to their throwing shoulders late in the year before recovering in time for the Insight Bowl, while senior LB Will Gilikson missed time with a nagging hamstring injury.