In case you didn't notice, Friday Night Writes was not posted two weeks ago. This was Thanksgiving week, and my excuse was simple. I was way too busy in the short work-week to complete an article. There's only one problem with that excuse, however. It was a lie. Sure, it was a busy week, but I found it impossible to write a coherent article after the poor showing against Cincinnati. This week, I was feeling the same, but I decided to force myself. No excuses. I'm going to write, and I hope you are going to read.
Rutgers fans all around the country responded to last week's loss by being grouchy to their neighbors, snapping at their kids, and trying to avoid all thought of Rutgers. That's a lousy way to end a season, particularly a record-breaking season like we've just had.
How do I delve into the disappointment that we are all feeling? It occurs to me that a diehard fan such as me should have no problem accepting a loss, yet, somehow the two losses of 2006 are harder to take than the 11 losses of 2002. Why is that year's 40-0 loss to West Virginia more palatable than last week's 41-39 loss?
It has been said that the worst thing that one person can do to another is to fail to meet their expectations. This is the year that we learn just how true that saying is. We were never particularly disappointed in 2002. We expected Rutgers to lose and except for a win at Army, they did exactly that.
Maybe the biggest change at Rutgers is the change in expectations. Each win raised our expectations for the next game. Going 6-0 meant that we had to go to 7-0. Defeating Louisville made us think that Rutgers could take on and defeat any opponent. The words "Rutgers" and "National Championship" were uttered in the same sentence on every sports channel. Why not? Rutgers was the little football team that could!
Is it possible that our expectations are too high? Before the season, getting to a second consecutive bowl game would have been an achievement. Winning 8 games fort the entirety of the season would have been monumental. Defeat Louisville? Nobody dared think it. Play for the Conference Championship? A pipe dream.
Rutgers has done all that and more. Maybe we didn't make it onto the big stage, but heck, make the most of the stage that you've got. The Hale Center Lobby has plenty of room for more decorations, and a first-ever bowl championship trophy will find a proud place.
Ten Most Important Big East Games of 2006
Sept. 2: Pittsburgh 38, Virginia 13 – The Big East starts the season with an impressive defeat of an ACC team.
Sept. 14: West Virginia 45, Maryland 24 – A dominating performance by Steve Slaton draws national attention.
Sept. 16: Louisville 31, Miami (FL) 7 –Louisville loses Brohm, but shows Miami what happens to teams that don't respect the bird.
Sept. 29: Rutgers 22, South Florida 20 – An exciting game on National TV shows ESPN that Big East games mean ratings. An intense locker room celebration makes waves on YouTube.
Oct. 14: Louisville 23, Cincinnati 17 – Cincinnati doesn't win, but shows that they are determined to be a force in the Big East.
Nov. 2: Louisville 44, West Virginia 34 – A Thursday night showdown between two Top 5 teams.
Nov. 9: Rutgers 28, Louisville 25 – The upset that shocked the world.
Nov. 18: Syracuse 20, UConn 14 – Syracuse ends their slide and avoids the Big East basement. UConn takes their place.
Nov. 25: South Florida 24, West Virginia 19 – South Florida makes a statement in this upset.
Dec. 2: West Virginia 41, Rutgers 39 – A game to decide the Big East champions does not disappoint as Rutgers battles back from a 10 point deficit, but loses in triple overtime.
Around the Big East – Coaching Changes
The 2006 Big East season was a break-out year by any standard. The Big East dominated out of conference competition and finished with three teams ranked in the top 16.
If there's one result of this success that was bound to happen, it's the suddenly successful Big East coaches being courted by other schools looking to replace their coach.
Last Sunday, Cincinnati responded quickly to the loss of head coach Mark Dantonio by hiring Central Michigan head coach Brian Kelly. Kelly took only 3 seasons to coach the Chippewas to a 9-4 record, the MAC Conference Championship and their first ever Division I-A bowl berth in the Motor City Bowl, but he will not be with Central Michigan for that game. In his first press conference, Kelly promised a Big East Championship "right away." Kelly will start out by coaching Cincinnati in the inaugural International Bowl against Western Michigan.
West Virginia head coach Rich Rodriguez has taken an interview with Alabama officials. Alabama fired Coach Mike Shula after a 6-6 season. The Crimson Tide will be taking on Oklahoma State in the Independence Bowl. Having been rejected by Greg Schiano, Miami has also made inquiries into to hiring Rodriguez and has set up a meeting, but some news sources have reported that Alabama has placed a firm offer on the table, and Miami has not yet done so. Several sources have also reported that Rodriguez told his players that he would not be leaving West Virginia.
In six seasons at his alma mater, Rodriguez is 49-24. Last season the Mountaineers were Big East champions and defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. In June, he signed a seven-year contract that pays him $1.1 million this season. The contract also included provisions to increase pay for assistant coaches and over $6 million of improvements to the facilities. Finally, there is a $2 million buy-out clause through August 2007.
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