Commentary: Bowl bid still meaningful

Folks scoff at Rutgers going to the St. Petersburg Bowl to play UCF on the first day of the bowl calendar. But for those who believe the fun of going to a bowl game has worn off, simply look no further than the 2002 season, when Rutgers was 1-11 and outscored 397-167.

Thank goodness Rutgers' game was delayed by thunderstorms because it allowed me time to file a story after covering the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Colorado Rockies, drop off my laptop at the hotel and race to a bar to catch most of the action.

A few pints later and Rutgers had a 44-0 win against Army.

It was also the only win of a 2002 season in which the Scarlet Knights finished 1-11 and were outscored 397-167. And that includes the Army score.

Perhaps my memory is too long, but as folks complain about Rutgers going to a low-tier bowl to play a Conference USA opponent, I don't agree.

Facing Central Florida in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 19 isn't the best destination -- be it time frame, opponent, visibility, etc. – but it is still reason for excitement.

I don't believe Rutgers has reached the point where a bowl game isn't good enough, and I hope I never get there. To me, any bowl game is fine.

The Scarlet Knights are one of 30 teams to go to five straight bowl games, and that remains an accomplishment, even in the age of bowl saturation.

Bowl games are an opportunity for a quick getaway. And, in some instances, the chance to visit a city I would never think of going to.

Don't construe this as naiveté or ignorance. I certainly see the disappointments of this season, as well as 2008. The schedules were favorable, the Scarlet Knights did not play well early on and there is a hankering for a big-time bowl bid.

I do not think it is too much to ask for Rutgers to get to a BCS bowl in the next few years, especially since cornerstone quarterback Tom Savage has three more years of eligibility, but this team was not built for high-end success entering the season.

First, the plan was to utilize a freshman quarterback, and winning 10 games (no matter the schedule) is difficult with an inexperienced player. The lack of experience at receiver also was a factor in the offense's performance, and the inability to find a reliable third receiver further handcuffed Savage.

Also, the offensive line's blocking inconsistencies and the lack of a running back with speed to stretch a defense horizontally put too much pressure on Savage to carry the offense. All of it will benefit him greatly next season because his learning curve was increased, but it is not a recipe for success.

If you want to blame the coaching staff for not recruiting more speed in the backfield, not getting more out of the offensive line and not having receivers in waiting to replace Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood, that is fine.

I believe it is cyclical, and when you lose two receivers to the NFL, the unit is going to take a hit. And trying to find the next Ray Rice is unfair, since so few running backs are like him, but there should be more depth at running back.

But I believe this team was not ready to win the conference title this season, and after that it is a crapshoot to get to an established bowl.

In fact, getting to a non-BCS higher-profile bowl it is mostly out of the hands of the team. It rests with the fans.

The Gator Bowl wanted West Virginia, even if the Mountaineers lost to Rutgers on Saturday, because of the number of fans that travel.

If Rutgers could guarantee 20,000 fans would travel to Charlotte, N.C., the Scarlet Knights would be playing in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. All things being equal, the Meineke folks went with Pittsburgh, who will bring less fans then Rutgers would have, but also will bring a more explosive offense.

A big complaint throughout the Big East is the lack of exciting bowl tie-ins, but that goes hand-in-hand with fan travel to games.

Bowls do not want South Florida because the Bulls travel so poorly. Ditto with Pittsburgh, which could have fit the fans it took the Sun Bowl last season on one plane.

Another thing I wonder about is whether Rutgers football rose too quickly?

If there wasn't the 9-0 start in 2006, and the immediate expectation that every subsequent season should be a battle for a BCS berth, would the bowl progressions be viewed differently?

The St. Petersburg Bowl isn't glamorous, and losing to Central Florida would be embarrassing.

However, I am afforded the opportunity to bring my family for a mini-vacation, check out a new part of the country and wrap it around a football game.

So when most of the Scarlet Knights say they are excited about going to a fifth straight bowl, I believe them.

Mostly because I spent the previous two decades waiting to go to a bowl, only to be excited for the next season by mid October.

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