A Weekly Commentary on the State of Rutgers Football. This week: Rivals.

We're not Connecticut's rivals.

A few years ago the Big East tried to brand the annual UConn/Rutgers contest as a rivalry.  That plan fell flat on it's face in the wake of the 18th meeting between the two teams, a Thanksgiving day contest that went to Connecticut 35-41 in front of a half-empty Rutgers Stadium.  That was the first sign that this was not to be a rivalry.

Some rivalries like the famed Keg of Nails game between Louisville and Cincinnati are known for a trophy that can be coveted and brought home.  Others like the Army-Navy game are an extension of a rivalry in everything that the schools do.  Other rivalries like "The Game" between Harvard and Yale have nothing but bragging rights and a history that goes back for decades (in this case, back to the earliest years of football - 1875).

If there is one thing that all "true" football rivalries have, it's an emotional attachment that exceeds any other game.  Rutgers has played West Virginia 33 times, but few people have any more of an attachment to that game than any other.  Last season's game at Louisville had the emotion, but being only the fourth meeting between the teams, nobody can really call it a rivalry.

At one time, the oldest rivalry in football was the contest between Rutgers and Princeton which dated back to the birth of College Football in 1869.  That rivalry ended with a 44-13 Rutgers victory in 1980 as Rutgers started their slow move to "big-time football" and replaced opponents like Princeton, Cornell and William and Mary with Alabama, Pittsburgh and Boston College.

Having dissolved their ties to the Ivy League, Rutgers no longer has any active football rivalries.

Or maybe not.

What about Syracuse?  Rutgers has played their neighbors 36 times since their first meeting in 1914 (a 14-14 tie).  This marks the longest running series with Rutgers of any current Big East member.  Maybe not.  After all, this rivalry has been mostly one-sided with Rutgers winning only 7 games over Syracuse during that period.  Most of the time, Rutgers played the role of annual patsy on the Syracuse schedule.  On the other hand, the feud between these two Colleges has gotten pretty combustible over the past few years as Rutgers has improved recruiting and has begun to not only keep top New Jersey players from crossing the border, but has even stolen some of the best athletes from New York such as Ray Rice, Courtney Greene, the McCourty brothers and of course Brian Leonard.  Making things more interesting, Rutgers has won 3 of the last 7 meetings and will likely be heavily favored when they play in front of a sell-out crowd at Rutgers Stadium later this year.

How does the Syracuse game turn into a rivalry?  Maybe it already is.  More than a few Rutgers fans have a passionate hatred of Syracuse.  For myself, it is always the game that I look for first on the schedule.  I'm not so sure about the attitude of the Syracuse faithful, however.  Many of them might need to see a few more winning seasons from the Scarlet Knights before they would be willing to bestow their grudging respect, and considering Rutgers past record, they would be justified in that.

Maybe a trophy would make it more interesting.  New York and New Jersey already play for the "Governor's Trophy" in the annual High School contest between the states.  Maybe a College Governor's Trophy should be put up for grabs.  I'm sure Greg Schiano could find a suitable spot in the Hale Center lobby for it.  Maybe Governors Corzine and Pataki should get together on this.

UConn/Rutgers?  Not a chance.  Maybe these two schools will develop a passionate rivalry in the future, but Connecticut has only recently joined the ranks of Division IA football.  Syracuse/Rutgers?  As far as I'm concerned, that's already as big as it gets, and the 2006 season will not be a complete success in my eyes until the Scarlet Knights take down the Orange.

Sunday Night Dinner
In preparation for Rutgers' first ever Sunday night game, (and the inevitable Sunday Night Tailgate Picnics), here's the TOP 10 Favorite Sunday Night Tailgate Dishes:

#10 - Schiano Slaw (Just keep chop, chop, chopping away at the cabbage)
#9 - Anthony Cali's Macaroni and Gravy
#8 - Willie's Weiners with sauerkraut
#7 - Mean Greenes with Courtney's Vinaigrette
#6 - Raymell Rice Pilaf
#5 - Radigan's Radical Chili
#4 - Dennis Campbell's Tomato Soup
#3 - Manny-wich Sandwiches
#2 - The Zuttah-Burger
#1 - Everything else in Zaire's Kitchen

Around the Big East
Undefeated Louisville and West Virginia get to savor their status for one more week before entering the Thunderdome next Thursday.  Two teams enter undefeated.  One team leaves undefeated.

Until then, this week is quiet in the Big East.  West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Louisville and South Florida all have a bye on their schedules.  All except South Florida are already bowl eligible.

Louisville will have to deal with some off-field distractions during the week.  Backup wide receivers Chris Vaughn and Scott Long were suspended after being arrested on charges of second-degree assault for allegedly shooting a woman with a paintball gun outside a Louisville Hotel on Sunday.

For the second straight week, Louisville had to struggle before dispatching a seemingly lesser opponent.  The previous week, Cincinnati had a last minute chance to tie the game before a clutch defensive play kept the Keg of Nails in Louisville hands.  This week, despite Louisville's generosity in coughing up the ball 3 times, Syracuse tried their hardest not to win, rushing for only 19 yards on 28 attempts and committing 9 penalties.  Syracuse managed to close to within a touchdown in the 4th quarter, but had no way to stop Louisville's rushing game.  Louisville went on to win 28-13.

Syracuse's remaining schedule includes road games at Cincinnati and South Florida, a home meeting with UConn and their season finale at Rutgers on November 25th.  With two more losses they will be eliminated from bowl contention.

West Virginia had an easier time, knocking off the Uconn Huskies 37-11 and extending their winning streak to 14 games, the longest in school history.  Mountaineer Quarterback Pat White and Running Back Steve Slaton ran for a combined 230 yards and each rushed for a touchdown with White throwing for another.  Uconn's uncertainty at Quarterback continued as Matt Bonislawski split time with D.J. Hernandez.  Neither put on a particularly inspiring show and the rushing game faltered with 95 yards rushing.

UConn stands at 3-4.  After Sunday's contest against Rutgers, they will take on Pittsburgh, at Syracuse, Cincy and at #6 Louisville.  They will be hard-pressed to get the three wins that they will need to become bowl eligible.  The November 18th meeting with Syracuse is likely to determine last place in the Big East.  (Compare this to the annual Temple-Rutgers contests of years past).

Cincinnati's surprisingly gutsy football season had it's latest surprise as the Bearcats easily handled South Florida by a score of 23-6 last Sunday night.  Cincinnati's defense scored on a first quarter safety and a third quarter fumble return and held the Bulls scoreless until 50 seconds remained in the game.  Cincinnati held South Florida's usually potent offense to it's lowest output in 15 games, 220 yards.

With a 5-3 record, South Florida remains one win away from bowl eligibility.  After their bye they have home games remaining against Pittsburgh and Syracuse and away games at #6 Louisville and #4 West Virginia.

4-4 Cincinnati's remaining games include Syracuse, UConn and ranked West Virginia and Rutgers.  Cincinnati will need to win at least two of those games to be eligible for a bowl.  This is an achievable feat, but unfortunately there may not be any bowl invitations for Cincinnati unless they can defeat Rutgers or West Virginia.

Besides UConn at Rutgers, only one other Big East game is played this week.  Syracuse will travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats at Noon on Saturday.  That game will be available locally on MSG.

Magic_Al's Bowl Predictions
Unfortunately for Big East fans, Notre Dame will not win at USC on November 25th.  That loss will push them out of BCS eligibility and the Gator Bowl will snatch them up, causing another Weis tirade about the injustice of the BCS system.  With one more win, the Meineke Car Care Bowl will offer Navy a bid.  With upcoming games against Temple and Duke, they should manage that handily.

The MPC Computers Bowl normally pits a WAC team against the ACC #8 team, but with a mediocre ACC and Boise State likely getting an automatic BCS invite, that bowl will probably go looking for at least one, if not two opponents.  South Florida may receive that bid.

- Big East Champions (Orange Bowl): West Virginia
- Gator Bowl: Notre Dame
- Sun Bowl: Big 12
- Meineke Bowl: Navy
- Texas Bowl: Rutgers
- International Bowl: Louisville
- Birmingham Bowl: Pittsburgh
- MPC Computers Bowl (At-Large): South Florida

-- The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect those of  If those views differ from yours, visit the message boards and tell everyone what you think.

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