The Scarlet Knights scored a record 992 (out of 1,000) in Academic Progress Rate, according to figures released Wednesday by the NCAA. The APR measures a program's academic performance, and is tied to graduation, academic eligibility of players and retaining players in a program.
The score for the four-year period, ending with the 2008-09 academic calendar, was four points better than the record set by Stanford in 2008 as the top number for Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Coach Greg Schiano's reaction was filled with pride.
"I was very proud of our players, mostly, greatful to our staff, who work incredibly hard with them," Schiano said. "I'm very excited. I don't want to underscore how excited I am about being No. 1, but I think, in general, we've been No. 3 the last three years. "So, to me, as long as we're performing at that high level in the classroom, that's what is important to me."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie released a statement about the accomplishment.
"I couldn't be prouder of our State University's football program's latest success," Christie said. "This tremendous achievement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the student-athletes, coaches and the academic support staff at Rutgers."
Rutgers, which is the only public university ranked in the top 3 for the third straight year, finished ahead of Air Force (988), Rice (987), Northwestern (986) and Duke (983). It also marks the third straight year the Scarlet Knights are tops in the country among state schools.
"This is a tremendous achievement for our student-athletes, coaches, academic support staff and our University," Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti. "We are filled with pride to have a program that continues to develop young men to succeed in life after football, while building a tradition of bowl victories.
"Coach (Greg) Schiano and his staff have recruited fine student-athletes to Rutgers that believe in our mission of earning degrees, becoming leaders, and winning championships."
It is a remarkable achievement for Schiano, who enters his 11th season at Rutgers in the fall. When he arrived at Rutgers, the football program was known for losing on the field, and filled with academic peril.
"It was a little rough,'' Schiano said in describing the academic plight upon his arrival. "That was then, and I'm excited where we are now. It's certainly been a long course, but it's one that has to continue.
"This is what we are. This is our culture, so I look forward to ...whether your one or three or five, I look forward to being at the top because that's what our players expect to do."
Now, the Scarlet Knights are the only team in the nation to be ranked in the top three in APR and win a bowl game in each of the last three years. In fact, Rutgers has won bowl games in each of the last four years.
"It's really a terrific accomplishment for the football players,'' said Carl Kirschner, chair of the Academic Oversight Committee for Intercollegiate Athletics. "Rutgers is a very competitive AAU research university, so the competition in the classroom is not unlike on the football field, and as a result, they really have organize their days in such a way that they maximize their use of time."
Schiano said rebuilding the academic side helped him during the rebuilding the on-field product.
"That was the first thing we could actually see tangible results in at the beginning," Schiano said. "It's a lot easier to change those habits, just through discipline. Then you start to see results much more quickly.
"I think some of that stuff gave me resolve, in the early years, to keep moving forward."