"They certainly have nothing to be ashamed of," RU coach Greg Schiano said of his players. "They played their hearts out."
They did -- both at West Virginia, where the Knights fell to 0-15 lifetime, and through this entire dream season. After taking the first step last year, the Knights took a giant leap this season, setting up the program for good times to come.
One question, though, that will not dog this team through the bowl prep, or at least until Miami hires a coach not named Schiano, will no longer center around Schiano, who has said repeatedly he's not going anywhere. Miami asked to speak to its former defensive coordinator with the hopes of luring him down there, and the Rutgers Football Head Coach asked to be removed from any possible candidacy.
In Kansas State, the No. 16 Knights (10-2) face a 7-5 team that upset Texas on Nov. 11 only to lose at rival Kansas the following week. The Wildcats have shown the ability to score AND be shut down, making them an apparent delicious target for Rutgers and its hungry defense.
But you just don't know how the Knights will handle the inevitable letdown of dropping so far down the bowl ladder and of living amid the Schiano talk.
The Rutgers fan base, which has gone crazy over its team, could have worse places to travel to this time of year than Houston, but you have to wonder what the attitude of the fans will be after coming up short.
Notes and Quotes
TURNING POINT: South Florida failed to convert a two-point conversion that would have forced overtime and then had an onside kick come up a half-yard short Sept. 29, giving Rutgers its fifth win in as many games en route to a 9-0 start.
BOWL HISTORY: All-time bowl record: 0-2; last bowl appearance (Insight, 2005, Arizona State, lost 45-40). This is the first Rutgers bowl game NOT against Arizona State.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: The Rutgers defense against an inconsistent Kansas State offense. This Rutgers group can really get after teams that struggle offensively, and K-State scored only six points on a Louisville team that Rutgers beat.
PRO PROSPECTS: FB Brian Leonard -- A John Madden type waiting to happen, Leonard will help some team doing something, including leading.
TE Clark Harris -- The size, 6-6, 255, is perfect for the NFL. So are the hands.
WR Willie Foster -- His speed makes him an NFL special teams possibility.
LB Devraun Thompson -- He's only 5-11, but the kid's tough.
P Joe Radigan -- An unsung hero on this Rutgers team.
C Darnell Stapleton -- One of the six finalists for the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the nation's best center.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just feel bad for the seniors. It's one of those situations. You work so hard all season, and to come up short is disappointing." -- Rutgers QB Mike Teel after the Scarlet Knights failed to win the Big East title.
Strategy and Personnel
GAME SNAPSHOT: Rutgers vs. Kansas State, Texas Bowl, Houston, Dec. 28 -- This is the first Texas Bowl, and the two schools have never played in football. Kansas State will come in looking to knock off the upstarts from the Big East.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Mike Teel had what people like to call a breakout game in the regular-season finale at West Virginia, but the Mountaineers get passed on by everyone. Rutgers will still try to win with the Ray Rice-led run game, even though the Knights dipped to No. 20 in the country in that category.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: They're fast, they're active and they love to cause turnovers. The Knights are seventh in the country in overall team defense, even with the numbers put up by West Virginia.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Jeremy Ito missed a 52-yard field goal that would have won the Big East, but he's solid. Punter Joe Radigan is better than solid. The return game is strong, led by Willie Foster.
COACHING EDGE: This has to go to Greg Schiano, over first-year K-State coach Ron Prince. Schiano, after all, is coach of the year in most eyes.
INTANGIBLES: We go back to the Schiano situation. How this plays out is a major intangible in this game. So is Kansas State playing in its home area. This isn't a big trip for the Wildcats.
ROSTER REPORT: There were no reports of injuries coming out of the West Virginia game.