- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

Despite playing in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869, Rutgers has been to only one bowl game. While the program has had many winning seasons in its long history, its only postseason appearance was the 1978 Garden State Bowl. The Scarlet Knights didn’t even get to leave the state of New Jersey.

The team hasn’t finished above .500 since 1992, but the Scarlet Knights (5-2) can become bowl eligible with a win today against Navy (4-2) at Rutgers Stadium.

“I think Rutgers is a good team,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “They are very similar in my mind to Maryland and Stanford (both teams defeated Navy). They may be better than both those teams.”

Rutgers has improved since coach Greg Schiano became coach. The Scarlet Knights have a total of nine wins in the past two seasons after just seven in the previous four. A winning record and a bowl appearance are the next hurdles.

The Scarlet Knights already have more conference wins (three) than in any season since 1992. Add to that a remaining schedule that includes a pair of teams picked to finish at the bottom of the Big East (South Florida and Cincinnati) and a homecoming contest with the Midshipmen today, and it appears likely the Scarlet Knights will end their long postseason drought.

The Scarlet Knights even have a chance to contend for, gasp, the league’s Bowl Championship Series berth.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve been back in contention for anything,” Schiano said. “I’m excited about it, but I know if we don’t go win [today], then the talk will be, ‘Are they ever going to win that illustrious sixth game?’ ”

Last season, Rutgers won four of its first six games before collapsing with five straight defeats. One of those games is sure to be on the minds of the Scarlet Knights today.

The Mids crushed Rutgers 54-21, and the game wasn’t that close. Navy racked up 613 yards of total offense and led 54-7 after three quarters.

“Last year is last year,” Johnson said. “They are going to be fired up regardless. They are trying to get six wins to be bowl eligible. They are going to be ready to play.”

Part of the reason for Rutgers’ success this season is a newfound rushing attack and fewer turnovers.

The Scarlet Knights averaged 83.5 yards a game on the ground in 2004, but the combination of veteran Brian Leonard and freshman Ray Rice has Rutgers nearly doubling that output this fall. Rice, a heralded recruit from New York who verbally committed to Syracuse before signing with Rutgers, ran for 217 yards last week against Connecticut and is averaging 5.8 yards a carry.

Quarterback Ryan Hart was among the national leaders with 19 interceptions last season, but he has just three in 145 attempts this year. Despite the dramatic decrease in turnovers, Hart lost his job and did not start last week, yielding to freshman Mike Teel. But Teel got hurt, Hart threw three touchdown passes in the second half against the Huskies and will start against the Mids.

As for Navy, the Mids are expected to have starting defensive back Jeremy McGown back in the lineup. McGown broke his left forearm against Duke and missed the past three games. He practiced in a red, no-contact jersey on Monday and Tuesday, but was back in his usual white No. 8 on Wednesday.

Notes — The 12th Mid will return to the Navy kickoff team for the final home game against Temple on Nov. 19. Tryouts for the spot are Monday and include three seniors from each of the academy’s six battalions. The winner will again wear No. 12, which will be unretired for the day.

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