Rutgers program has a lot going for it, but success hasn't arrived
    The Roth Report
    October 13, 2002
    By Bill Roth

    It wasn't supposed to happen this way for Rutgers.

    When the BIG EAST created a football league back in 1991, the one school that, at least on paper, should have benefited the most was Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. The Knights had a decent, but not great program back then. In 1991, they finished 6-5, including wins over Boston College and Michigan State.

    The BIG EAST, however, would give Rutgers the television exposure it had long desired. It would give Rutgers bowl tie-ins and a better schedule. It would allow Rutgers to recruit the talent-filled home state high schools and the many prep stars of New Jersey.

    Now, over a decade later, there are more questions than ever at Rutgers, and they are deeper than just football. This university may, in fact, merge with two other schools in New Jersey in an effort to help improve the quality of medical and health education in that state. Its recent search for a new president was halted two weeks ago. Now, the school must decide its academic future.

    Meanwhile, Rutgers' football team will be at Lane Stadium on Saturday, which will give the Rutgers supporters another opportunity to point at Tech's team and claim, "That was supposed to be us."

    Tech has turned its program into a true national power, one that's compiled a nine-year (soon to be 10) bowl streak, has been a fixture in the national polls, and is an annual contender for the BIG EAST, and, a national championship.

    On the other hand, Rutgers hasn't had a winning season in a decade and is 4-40 in its last 44 BIG EAST games. Rutgers brings a 17-game conference losing streak to Blacksburg.

    How did two programs, which a decade ago were basically on the same level, head in such drastically different directions?

    From 1987-1992, Rutgers compiled a record of 29-35-2. While that's nothing to brag about, that winning percentage was higher than Tech's, which was 24-40-2 during the same period. For those of you who may have joined the Hokie bandwagon recently, you might not know that in 1992, Rutgers defeated Tech 50-49 on a last-second touchdown pass. That game, which many thought would be a big boost for the Knights' program, actually became a turning point for the Hokies.

    After that game, Coach Frank Beamer made some staff changes, the Hokies started recruiting better players, and the rest is history.

    Both programs spent millions on facilities, upgraded their stadiums and weight rooms, and made a huge commitment to academic support for players. Anyone who suggests that Rutgers hasn't spent money on its program, or isn't serious about winning in football, need only to walk through the Hale Athletic Center in New Brunswick, N.J. They wouldn't be spending millions on their football program if they didn't want to win.

    So how has this program fallen so far, so fast?

    Rutgers had eight winning seasons in the 1970's, including a 9-2 mark in 1975 and an 11-0 season in '76. And while Rutgers had only three winning seasons in the 1980's, it beat Syracuse, Penn State, and Boston College among others. It was, annually, a very competitive program. It just needed a conference home, and thus, the formation of the BIG EAST was a blessing for the Knights, or so everyone thought.

    Three head coaches later (Doug Graber, Terry Shea, Greg Schiano) Rutgers is still trying to get this football thing right, ironic for the program which participated in the very first football game back in 1869. Rutgers has the facilities, the conference, the money, and the population base to win and to do so quickly. Why the Knights continue to struggle remains one of great enigmas for RU fans and the BIG EAST.

    Rutgers insiders, who claim Schiano will eventually win if given time, offer many different opinions. Some suggest Rutgers was on the right track when it made a big mistake in firing Coach Dick Anderson in 1989. Anderson had compiled a record of 27-34-4 from 1984-89 and annually fielded a very competitive team. While his replacement, Doug Graber, won his share of games and was a very innovative coach, he rubbed some Rutgers academic officials the wrong way and was fired following the 1995 season.

    Perhaps Rutgers' biggest mistake was hiring Terry Shea, who train-wrecked the program by losing 44 games in five years. He also alienated many New Jersey high school coaches.

    Now, the program is in the hands of the 35-year-old Schiano, who had no head coaching experience on any level before coming to Rutgers. While he has recruited better than Shea, Schiano has had little luck on the field, and his top recruit, New Jersey's 2001 high school player of the year Rikki Cook, transferred to North Carolina this past spring.

    Still, his 2001 and 2002 recruiting classes have been among the best at Rutgers in years, which is encouraging for both RU's program and the BIG EAST. The league needs the Scarlet Knights to be a solid program and become a contributor to the conference, not just an automatic "W" and the butt of jokes nationwide.

    Other Rutgers' insiders say the university might be heading in a direction that might not be supportive of big-time athletics. On October 3rd, Rutgers' Board of Governors suspended its search for a new university president to replace Francis Lawrence, who announced his intention to step down last February. The search has been suspended while Rutgers considers merging its university with two other schools - The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and New Jersey Institute of Technology. Norman Samuels, former provost of the university's Newark campus, took over as acting president last week, on an interim basis.

    Seemingly, everything is in place for Rutgers to have a successful football program - facilities, a fertile recruiting area, and a seemingly hard-working coach. But it needs the commitment from above. If Rutgers' new president is patient and supportive, someday, perhaps Schiano can turn this thing around.

    Only time will tell. Until then, this program remains one of college football's great mysteries.

    Hokies gaining confidence each week
    Tech running back coach Billy Hite had no doubt Tech would win at Boston College last Thursday.

    "It was 14-14 and I looked into our players' eyes and knew right then, we'd win," Hite said. "They had such great confidence and belief in one another, there was no question we'd win that game."

    The Hokies, who are 37-6 in their past 43 games dating back to the end of the 1998 season, have an air of invincibility about them. Not cockiness, just a great deal of confidence.

    "These guys have won a lot of games. They're used to winning, and you can see in the way they prepare each week, and how they take each opponent seriously," Beamer said. "We prepared for Western Michigan just like we prepared for Texas A&M. This week, we prepared for game No. 6, not Boston College. It's a routine."

    And the routine has led to a lot of wins for the Hokies.

    This week, the only signs around Tech's football complex will say "Win No. 7" with no reference to Rutgers.

    "We expected to be 6-0," Tech safety Willie Pile said. "We have great confidence in our coaches and in each other. Any team can be beaten, but we take a lot of pride in how we prepare each week, and how we play on Saturdays. If we play our game, we'll win."

    Even if the team has blown a 14-0 lead on the road?

    "I thought we learned a lot about ourselves in the third quarter," Beamer said after the BC game. "They have the momentum, and the crowd, and the game is tied, and we take the ball and drive right down the field. That says something about this team and the character of these players."

    It also says something about the talent on this team. The Hokies are able to get a superb pass rush, despite dropping seven players into coverage.

    Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster singled out Jim Davis, Nathaniel Adibi, and Cols Colas for their performances against BC. He also said Tech blitzed just six times in the entire game. As you've seen written here before, if Tech can get a great pass rush from its front four, while dropping seven men into pass coverage, they'll be nearly unbeatable. Of course, Tech still has the nation's top run defense, allowing just 49.0 yards per game.

    Now comes Rutgers, which is really struggling offensively. Out of 117 Division-I teams, Rutgers ranks near the bottom in total offense (116th), rushing offense (113th) , and scoring offense (114th).

    Computing the strength of schedule
    With the BCS rankings about to be released next week, this is a good time to look at Tech's strength of schedule, which is impressive this week. According to this week's NCAA statistics, Virginia Tech has played the 10th-toughest schedule in the country to date. But adding the record of Tech's future opponents into the mix, the Hokies will likely end up with a SOS in the 25-40 range.

      Schedule Strength  
    TEAMFUTURE
    OPPONENTS
    PCT
    Washington St22-9.710
    Iowa State25-11.694
    Oregon24-14.631
    Texas27-12.692
    Ohio State25-15.625
    Oklahoma23-15.605
    Georgia22-15.595
    Miami21-16.568
    Notre Dame20-16.556
    Virginia Tech24-20.545
    The first BCS rankings will be released next week, and you'll be able to see the SOS index on a weekly basis. But, as of now, Tech appears to be the team that has the easiest schedule among teams in the top 10.

    The list to the right is of this week's top-10 teams in this week's AP poll, ranked by toughest schedule the rest of the season.

    The Voice's Mailbag
    Dear Bill,
    I just finished watching the BC game and still don't understand the lack of a passing attack. At some point, to be a consistent top-10 team, Tech is gong to have to be a top-10 passing team, too. Imagine our team with a prolific passing attack! John, Roanoke.

    Dear John,
    Tech will throw when it has to, or that's at least what Coach Beamer has said, and I believe him. Did you know that only one of the top-20 teams in this week's A.P. poll is also ranked in the top-20 in passing offense? That team is Washington State. However, take a look at the top-20 rushing teams in the country - Tech, Ohio State, Florida State, LSU, Iowa, Kansas State, Air Force ... see a trend? The teams that run the ball the best are also the teams in the top-20.

    Dear Bill,
    I have a case of vanilla ice cream that I would like to send to whoever is calling the plays for the Hokies. Lots of vanilla. Nothing else. Where do I send it? Paul, Roanoke.

    Dear Paul,
    Clever. You can send it to the football office, unless it's Ben and Jerry's, in which case, Burnop and I are calling all the plays. We love vanilla.

    Dear Bill,
    I don't understand why the Tech-Rutgers game is not on television. What does it say about our program when the fourth-ranked team in the country doesn't have its game on TV? Jed, Fairfax.

    Dear Jed,
    It says more about the Rutgers' program. This week, the BIG EAST selected the WVU-SU game as its game of the week and passed on Tech-Rutgers. Tech's had plenty of games on TV, and the athletics department went to great lengths to pay to have the Western Michigan game televised. More on that another time.

    Dear Bill,
    I was watching FOX Sports this week and the guys were saying the Hokies were overrated. When are we gonna get some respect? James, Hampton.

    James,
    You're right. Ranked No. 3 in both polls is way too low.

    Dear Bill,
    I heard you on Jim Rome's show today. Great job pumpin' up the Hokies! Kris, Orange County, CA.

    Dear Bill,
    Welcome to the jungle! Hokies are big-time, baby! Good job on Jim Rome's show. You had a take and DIDN'T SUCK! Hope to hear you again. Lee, Richmond.

    Dear Bill,
    Heard you on Jim Rome's show today. Not sure why ANYONE from Tech would go on this guy's show. He's anti-Tech. Even though it was Jim Lampley filling in, you guys need to know that he rarely says good things about the Hokies and you probably shouldn't be on his show. Paul, Richmond.

    Dear Bill,
    I was driving on I-95 today listening to the Jim Rome show and holy S^$%, you came on. How did you get on the show? Do you know Rome? You should be a regular. Matt, NOVA.

    Dear Bill,
    I missed you on Rome. What did you say? I was surprised you would be on that guy's show (have you heard it before)? He's not a huge Tech fan. Jason, Norfolk.

    Dear Kris, Lee, Paul, Jason, and Matt.
    Anytime I get the opportunity to talk about the Hokies, whether it's on ESPN Radio, Sporting News Radio, or a show like Jim Rome's, I accept because it's good exposure for our program. Anyone who hosts a talk show has to be somewhat controversial at times and will eventually offend and upset people with his comments. I met Jim once, about 10 years ago, and I think he works hard, knows his stuff and has truly one of the best shows out there. [Note: you can hear Bill's appearance at www.jimrome.com].


    The Roth report appears weekly in hokiesports.com-the newspaper and is posted for the general public on hokiesports.com.

    The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Virginia Tech Athletics Department, hokiesports.com, or it's advertisers.
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