Photo courtesy of Rutgers athletics
“What if” losses are what fan bases across the country can’t help but think about.
What if UCF got into the College Football Playoff in 2017, or what if Texas had beat Alabama in the 2010 National Championship? Rutgers has had plenty of these moments. We plan to dive right in on what could have been for this historic program:
(25) Rutgers vs. (6) West Virginia – 2007
Greg Schiano was in his seventh season at the helm of the Rutgers football program. He was coming off an impressive 11-2 season in 2006 and there was now high expectations for his staff. The week before the Scarlet Knights faced top-10 West Virginia, they took down the No. 2 South Florida in Piscataway. Everyone was buzzing; there was a different feel in the air when the Mountaineers came to town this particular week. People couldn’t hold in their excitement, itching at the thought that their own team could take down another top-10 team.
By halftime, the Scarlet Knights’ chances looked bleak as they trailed, 17-3. It would only get worse. They would end up losing 31-3, leaving no doubt that Rutgers was still in its honeymoon period from the previous win. Most people would have contended that West Virginia was a better team than USF. If Rutgers had won this game, that would be two top-10 wins on a resume. It could have even created a spark that would’ve sent this team on a four-game winning streak and given it a shot at the Fiesta Bowl.
Rutgers vs. Villanova – 1960
Rutgers was 5-0 at the time and was staring down the barrel of a first undefeated season since 1876. Villanova would go on to win this game 14-12 in an absolute nail=bitter. Villanova went on to go 2-8 that season with the two wins against the eventual 8-1 Scarlet Knights and Xavier.
Rutgers outscored opponents 227-67, with two shutouts while holding opponents to under 10 points six times. If Rutgers had beaten Villanova, we can only assume it would have gone on to be 9-0 with a chance at claiming a national title. In fact, in 1961, Rutgers went undefeated with a 9-0 record. If it hadn’t lost to Villanova, the Scarlet Knights would have gone on to make it 18 wins in a row — a program record.
Rutgers vs. Connecticut – 2003
The Scarlet Knights were not having an amazing season by any stretch, but a bowl game was within reach. They came into this game at 4-4, needing a run that seemed manageable in order to make their first bowl game since 1978. Connecticut was 7-3 in just its fourth season as an FBS program.
In this game, Rutgers went up early and took a 10-7 lead into the second quarter where it extended that lead to 10. The score was 17-7 at the half. Early in the third, the Huskies scored two touchdowns in a five-minute span to take a lead. Rutgers scored late in the third to make it 24-21 heading to the fourth quarter. UConn scored 10 points in under four minutes to take a seven-point lead. 1:52 remained when Rutgers tied it up. The Huskies drove right down the field and scored the winning touchdown with 26 second left for a 38-31 victory. This would send the Scarlet Knights to 4-5. They finished the season with a record of 5-7.
Rutgers vs. Princeton – 1869
The birth of college football. Rutgers vs. Princeton, the “Route 1 Rivalry” all started in 1869. This college football season had two games in total. Rutgers and Princeton played both of them. The inaugural game went to the Scarlet Knights, 6-0. Yet, this is not the what if game. In the second game, Rutgers was riding high off their first win (probably), but Princeton was arguably the better team.
Princeton came out in the second game of the season looking for a share of the national championship. Rutgers, on the other hand, was looking to be crowned the first college football national champion. It didn’t want to share. What the Scarlet Knights did not know at the time was that first win would be their last against Princeton until 1938. The Tigers won the second game by a resounding 8-0 score and earned a shared national championship. This would be the only college football national championship in Rutgers history.
Rutgers vs. (25) Notre Dame – 2013 (Pinstripe Bowl)
Rutgers was taking on Notre Dame in just the fourth edition of the Pinstripe Bowl. Notre Dame came into this one ranked 25th in the AP Poll with a record of 8-4. Rutgers, on the other hand, was 6-6 and became bowl-eligible in its final game of the regular season against USF. This game had a lot riding on it for Rutgers. A win would would give the Scarlet Knights a winning season and their second bowl win in three years. For Notre Dame, a win would be its ninth and cement a top-25 finish.
In Notre Dame’s first bowl game since getting rolled by Alabama for the BCS National Championship, the Fighting Irish and Scarlet Knights were even at the break, 13-13. The Irish opened up the scoring of the second half with a field to take a 16-13 lead. Soon after, they followed it with another three points. Rutgers answered with a field goal of its own to make it 19-16 with less than nine minutes to play. A victory would have been the first for Rutgers over a ranked team since 2009. Instead, the Scarlet Knights wouldn’t put another point on the board for the rest of the game. Notre Dame would go on to win, 29-16. Rutgers hasn’t beat a ranked team since.
Ifs and Buts
If Rutgers could’ve pulled these games out, it would’ve opened doors recruiting-wise that the Scarlet Knights hadn’t seen in a while. Maybe former head coach Kyle Flood would still be in Piscataway. If that was the case, then Rutgers may not have gotten Greg Schiano back. If only Rutgers had been able to persuade the New Jersey talent to stay. There are so many maybes, and “what-ifs” in this crazy sport we all love. The one thing for certain is that there are no certainties.