1. Nothing is guaranteed.
Rutgers had designs on a Big East title and a Bowl Championship Series bowl at the beginning of the year, but a rough 0-3 start to the season that turned into 1-5 after the first two Big East games put the Scarlet Knights on the edge of a horrible season. RU battled back and won its final six games to earn a bowl position, but this season taught us that previous success does not guarantee that you're just going to walk in to a bowl year after year.
2. Playing the "what if" game is meaningless.
Sure, if Rutgers' offensive explosion started in the Week 1, we could be talking about a much different situation instead of lamenting what could have been. However, that formula can be applied to negative situations as well. What if Connecticut kicker Tony Ciaravino hit one of his three missed field goals against Rutgers? What if quarterback Mike Teel never had his gut-check moment? What if the first three opponents rolled over for RU and never forced the Scarlet Knights to define themselves? You could play this game all day and go nowhere.
3. QB Mike Teel has grit.
Many wrote the season off following Rutgers' 1-5 start to the season that included an 0-2 beginning to the Big East slate. Teel threw three touchdowns to seven interceptions through the first six games of the season as Rutgers limped to a 1-5 record and appeared dead. But RU's fifth-year senior signal caller turned his game around and tossed 20 touchdowns to five picks over the second half of the season. Over the last five games, Teel registered three games of at least 300 yards passing and set several Big East and Rutgers records for touchdown passes in a game. He finished the regular season with 3,099 yards and 23 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. As Teel went, so went the Scarlet Knights this year.
4. WR Kenny Britt is the real deal.
The true junior from Bayonne posted his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, the first player in Rutgers history to accomplish that feat. Britt, who finished the regular season with 81 catches for 1,252 yards and six touchdowns was the most exciting offensive player for Rutgers this year and was one of the best in the Big East Conference. He was second in the nation in yards per game with 113.8 and he also scored a rushing TD. Britt, who holds the school record for career receiving yards, will be on several national player watch lists if he returns for his senior season in 2009.
5. The offensive line came together in the second half of the season.
One of the reasons Rutgers struggled so mightily in the beginning of the season was because there was no continuity in the offensive line. Rutgers averaged 113.2 yards rushing per game and 318.3 yard of total offense through the first six games of the season and allowed 10 sacks. There was a different starting five on the line for each game through the first seven. Over the six-game winning streak, RU has averaged 144.5 yards rushing per game, 472 yards of total offense, and has run for more than 125 yards per game in four straight. The Scarlet Knights allowed eight sacks over the final six regular season games. Starting with the Pittsburgh game, RU had the same starting five in the trenches, and it paid off with explosive offensive numbers.
6. The defense played consistent football most of the season.
During the 0-3 start during which Rutgers was outscored 91-40, the defense was consistently burned for long touchdown plays. The Scarlet Knights buckled down in the second half of the season and kept offenses in check, limiting the opposition to 15.6 points per game over the final seven contests. The Scarlet Knights, who were minus seven in turnover margin through the first seven games, were plus four over the final five games of the regular season.
7. The third quarter was the deciding period for RU this season.
A big reason for Rutgers' slump in the first half of the season was the inability to put the ball in the end zone, especially during the third quarter. Opponents outscored the Scarlet Knights 48-0 in the third quarter through the first five games (1-4 record). RU held a 75-29 advantage in the third quarter of the final seven games (6-1 record).
8. There is no clear-cut No. 1 running back.
Kordell Young was the heir apparent to Ray Rice at tailback after Rice left Rutgers for the National Football League. But Young was sidelined a good portion of the season, opening the door for running backs like Jourdan Brooks, Joe Martinek and Mason Robinson to step up as RU's top back. Brooks and Young were the only two backs to register at least one 100-yard game this season, and Martinek fell two yards short of the century mark in the South Florida game. The upside is that there is plenty of young talent in the backfield for Rutgers, and the running game improved dramatically over the latter stages of the regular season.
9. This season required solid coaching.
Anyone who has played football will tell you that losing is as contagious as winning. Head coach Greg Schiano and his staff had to keep the team together in the face of adversity early in the season, and Rutgers responded with a six-game winning streak. The turnaround says as much about the coaching staff's ability to work with young players as it makes a statement about the character and fortitude of the players on the field.
10. The key moment of the season was . . .
The Connecticut game. Specifically, the key moment came on the opening kickoff of the second half. Rutgers booted the ball to Robbie Frey, who tried to reverse field and was brought down at his own 1-yard line by Joe Martinek. Rutgers forced a punt and scored on the ensuing drive. Punter Teddy Dellaganna placed two more punts inside the UConn 5-yard line, and defensive tackle Blair Bines caught running back Donald Brown in the end zone for a safety. That proved to be the margin of victory in a 12-10 decision, and it turned the tide in RU's favor for the rest of the regular season.
Post mortem: Rutgers has an extra month of practice on its schedule
this season, which is important to developing young talent. While some Rutgers
fans won't be satisfied with a trip to the Pizza Bowl, the fact that the Scarlet
Knights are going to a bowl game is astounding considering the start. Up next
is North Carolina State, a team on a four-game winning streak that should be
a good measuring stick of how far the Knights have come since the beginning
of the season.