But don't question the team's potential. Ranked for the first time in 30 years -- the Scarlet Knights are ranked No. 23 in the country this week after the program's first 4-0 start since 1980 -- Rutgers is as willing as any to bury the program's miserable history and move forward. The undefeated 1976 team made it into the rankings on Nov. 15, after beating Toledo to go to 9-0.
"I didn't know they were ranked 30 years ago," says fullback Brian Leonard. "I didn't know they'd even been ranked before (they were ranked in 1961, too).
"It's a big step for the program. I'm really excited to get our name out there and show people we are going to compete in the Top 25."
But it all goes out the window if the Knights don't go down to Tampa and beat South Florida this Friday night in the Big East opener for both teams.
People are questioning the relevance of Rutgers' four victories - over North Carolina, Illinois, Ohio and 1-AA Howard. They will question those wins even more if Rutgers lays an egg against a pretty good South Florida team.
The Scarlet Knights come into this game after suffering a big personnel loss last week - wide receiver Shawn Tucker broke an ankle and will be out of the lineup until the final games of the season. He was the key receiver in a passing attack that has struggled while quarterback Mike Teel tries to find his way.
Notes and Quotes
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With vital wide receiver Shawn Tucker gone with a broken ankle, a shaky Mike Teel's job becomes that much tougher. But, remember, this an attack driven by running backs Ray Rice and Brian Leonard so the Knights should be able to continue to produce.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Scarlet Knights lead the Big East in total pass defense, are No. 2 in pass defense efficiency and pass defense and No. 3 in turnover margin through the first four games. This week, the group faces a freshman quarterback in USF's Matt Grothe, a kid who can play.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's definitely a benchmark. But we're in the middle of a season right now." - Rutgers coach Greg Schiano after the Knights joined the AP's Top 25 (No. 23) for the first time in 30 years.
Strategy and Personnel
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at South Florida, Sept. 29 - Turn on the bright lights of national television, two teams fighting for Big East identity square off in Tampa in both team's league opener. This is a huge game for two teams trying to establish themselves -- 4-0 Rutgers wants to prove it belongs in the Top 25 and South Florida (3-1) tries to get over losing at Kansas last week while making the point that it belongs in the Big East.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Mike Teel - He continues to struggle, and now he has to get along without his best wide receiver, Shawn Tucker, gone until at least the last two games of the regular season with a broken ankle. Coach Greg Schiano stands firmly behind Teel and the players are backing Teel, too.
RB Ray Rice - The numbers continue to build for Rice (see image to the right/below), who has 604 yards and nine touchdowns rushing in the first four games of the season - all 100-yard games. Another 100-yarder this week matches the school record of seven straight. Rice earned conference honor-roll mention this past week.
P Joe Radigan - Last week against Howard, Radigan punted five times for a 52.8-yard average.
ROSTER REPORT: With WR Tucker out with a broken ankle, Tiquan Underwood and Willie Foster are listed on the depth chart, but the Knights have only 11 catches in four games from the available wide receivers. "Tuck was a big key to our team," says Foster. "It's going to have to be a collective thing, trying to replace him. We'll push on. We have to."
Freshman TB Kordell Young scored his first two career touchdowns last week against Howard.