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The recent successes of Rutgers football

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Don’t mock Rutgers if you’re on this list.

Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images. Banner Society Illustration.

Rutgers is in the midst of a bit of a football lull. They are not the first program to suffer a prolonged downturn. Duke had a four-season stretch where they went 4-42, Missouri once had thirteen losing seasons in a row, and Oregon State more than doubled that during a period where they finished 28 straight years below .500.

Good news: All three programs would go on to play in a conference title after those lean years. I believe Rutgers will emerge from the depths. I believe greater days lie ahead for the Scarlet Knights. I believe this program will one day get back to being Fine And Sometimes Good, if only because it’s difficult to have Power 5 money and never spend it well, even on accident.

Before this valley (and even during parts of it), Rutgers had victorious days. Those days didn’t add up to a conference title, or a prominent bowl bid, but they proved the Scarlet Knights were not a permanent pushover. Rutgers has beaten at least one current member of every Power 5 conference since 2000, and we will not let those victories go uncatalogued or uncelebrated.

In alphabetical order:

ARKANSAS: Lost to Rutgers 35-26 in 2012, 28-24 in 2013

In two career games versus the Razorbacks, Gary Nova threw eight touchdowns to one interception. Both losses could have been worse, as Rutgers missed all three of its field goal attempts in the two games combined.

ILLINOIS: Lost to Rutgers 33-0 in 2006, 35-24 in 2017

Let’s focus on the shutout, where the Illini finished with more penalty yards (65) than passing yards (60), failed to convert a single third down despite twelve chances to do so, and never crossed midfield.

INDIANA: Lost to Rutgers 45-23 in 2014, 55-52 in 2015

The Hoosiers led the 2015 game by 25 points with about twenty minutes left to play. Feeling bad about the lackluster entertainment provided by that margin, they proceeded to turn the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, which Rutgers turned into 19 points.

IOWA STATE: Lost to Rutgers 27-13 in 2011

This Pinstripe Bowl victory was Greg Schiano’s last victory as a college head coach. For now!

KANSAS: Lost to Rutgers 27-14 in 2015

Two Rutgers players ran for 100+ yards. Even if you remove yards lost on sacks, the Jayhawks only finished with 84 rushing yards as a team.

KANSAS STATE: Lost to Rutgers 37-10 in 2006

This wasn’t an amazing Kansas State team, but they beat Texas, who beat Oklahoma, who beat Washington, who beat UCLA, who beat USC, who beat Arkansas, who beat Auburn, who beat Florida, the team that won the national championship. But because that title happened in the BCS era, we’ll never know for certain if Florida would have beaten Rutgers.

LOUISVILLE: Lost to Rutgers 28-25 in 2006, 63-14 in 2008, 34-14 in 2009

That 63 in ‘08? That’s the most points the Scarlet Knights have scored against an FBS opponent since the NCAA introduced the concept of Division I-AA in 1978. Mike Teel finished the game with more touchdowns (7) than incompletions (5).

MARYLAND: Lost to Rutgers 34-13 in 2009, 41-38 in 2014, 31-24 in 2017

Maryland, you got outscored 24-3 in the second half of that 2014 game. That game was on your home field, Maryland. Rutgers gave you a chance to still win late, when they fumbled at their own 45 with about three minutes left, but you ran four plays and turned the ball over on downs because you couldn’t pick up a 3rd and 1 or a 4th and 1.

MICHIGAN: Lost to Rutgers 26-24 in 2014

The 2014 Wolverines were a challenging team for Michigan fans to enjoy, but they did do one thing consistently well: contain opposing passers. The lone enemy standout in this regard is Gary Nova, who torched the Wolverines for 404 yards and three TDs. Part of me wishes Rutgers had immediately resigned from the Big Ten after this, the first-ever matchup between these teams, in order to could claim a lifetime undefeated record against Michigan.

MICHIGAN STATE: Lost to Rutgers 19-14 in 2004

The Knights beat the Spartans with one defensive touchdown and four field goals, but they held the ball for more than 40 minutes. This is a very Michigan State way to beat another team!

NC STATE: Lost to Rutgers 29-23 in 2008

Here is a true fact from this game: Rutgers holder Rob Cervini scored as many touchdowns as NC State quarterback Russell Wilson did.

That’s not entirely fair, given that Wilson missed the entire second half with a knee injury. Fortunately*, his backups went a combined 5/16 for 82 yards and threw three picks.

*for Rutgers

PITT: Lost to Rutgers 37-29 in 2005, 20-10 in 2006, 20-16 in 2007, 54-34 in 2008, 34-10 in 2011

That 2008 game might be the one entry on this list I’d most like to go back and watch in its entirety, given how much the two teams packed into it. Rutgers contributed the following:

  • A 79 yard TD pass
  • A 60 yard TD pass
  • Two extra point attempts Pitt blocked

And Pitt helped out with:

  • A failed 4th and 2 attempt from the Rutgers 21 in the first quarter
  • A fumbled punt return
  • A pick thrown on 3rd and 1 from the Rutgers 17

PURDUE: Lost to Rutgers 14-12 in 2017

Rutgers won this game despite being outgained by 257 yards and only finishing with eight first downs. Excluding kneeldowns, the Knights had 14 drives against Purdue. Nine of them were three and outs.

SYRACUSE: Lost to Rutgers 24-7 in 2003, 31-9 in 2005, 38-7 in 2006, 38-14 in 2007, 35-17 in 2008, 19-16 in 2011, 23-15 in 2012

Syracuse, nobody on this list has more losses to Rutgers since 2000 than you do. You are 7-3 in your last ten games against the Scarlet Knights, and, as you can see, most of those losses have not been close. You averaged 11.8 points in those losses, which advanced analytics experts tell me “sucks big time.”

That 2005-2008 stretch? You went 10-37. Correction: you vacated half those wins to try and get merciful treatment from the NCAA. Life is better for you these days, but you have lived in the basement. And Rutgers came downstairs on several occasions and beat you up.

UNC: Lost to Rutgers 21-16 in 2006, 40-21 in 2014

During the 2014 season, Rutgers running back Josh Hicks finished with 238 rushing yards on 50 attempts. In this, the first-ever Quick Lane Bowl, Hicks nearly doubled his season rushing total with 202 yards on 19 attempts.

(As an aside, it is truly a pity that Rutgers missed out on the chance to claim victories in the Bowl and the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, thus making them Football Pizza Champions.)

VANDERBILT: Lost to Rutgers 37-34 in 2004

How painful was this loss for the Commodores? Let’s add up the factors. It 1) happened at home 2) because Vandy blew a 24 point lead in the second half 3) thanks to a 21-0 run by Rutgers in the fourth quarter and 4) Vandy’s insistence on running the ball 41 times despite 5) Jay Cutler leading the team in rushing by a good margin.

WASHINGTON STATE: Lost to Rutgers 41-38 in 2014

By getting to the end of this post, you are obligated to listen to the Shutdown Fullcast episode where, in part, we discuss this game.