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2011 New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview

Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs Iowa State Cyclones

If you want a good measuring stick of conference strength this bowl season, you’ll want to look to Yankee Stadium in late December.

Yes, that’s a weird sentence to write, but in the age of expanded bowl options, the home of baseball’s most famous franchise is now the home for a clash between an upper-tier Big East program and a middle-tier Big 12 school. There’s little question that the Big 12’s very best teams are better than the top teams in the Big East, but if the eighth-place team in the Big 12 can beat the fourth-place team in the Big East, it will only underscore the extent to which the Big East lacks heft in today’s college football world.

Rutgers’s 8-4 season under head coach Greg Schiano is hard to put into perspective. On one hand, the Scarlet Knights regained a measure of relevance after an awful 4-8 season in 2010. RU remained in contention for a share of the Big East championship until Thanksgiving weekend, showing that it could remain in the mix for a BCS bowl. Far from dropping off the map, Rutgers exhibited an appreciable degree of resilience this past season, a fact that has to encourage the people of Piscataway, New Jersey.

On the other hand, Rutgers – given its proximity to the New York market – desperately needs to break through and win a Big East championship, and that goal wasn’t claimed this season. The Scarlet Knights were slaughtered by Connecticut on Nov. 26 in a savage beatdown which embarrassed the program. Even though it was hard to expect RU to win a multi-team tiebreaker in a crowded Big East, the limp ending to the regular season reminded the Knights how far they have to go. Until Rutgers punches a ticket to the Orange Bowl and earns national recognition, people in and around New York are not going to get behind the program. Rutgers has had to deal with a number of cost overruns and other budgetary problems in recent years, a result of the school’s effort to upgrade its football facilities. RU needs to make the Orange Bowl to validate the investments and expenditures that have been made over time. An 8-4 record isn’t exactly bad, but it hardly represents the summit of achievement for Schiano’s squad.

By comparison, Iowa State’s 6-6 mark seems like an accomplishment. ISU and coach Paul Rhoads knew they were facing a stacked Big 12 schedule – Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas, and Missouri, not to mention the rest of the league. With the Big 12 shrinking from 12 teams to 10, a nine-game full-league schedule put ISU through the wringer. For the Cyclones to still make a bowl game speaks to the job Rhoads did with a freshman quarterback, Jared Barnett. Iowa State’s upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State on Nov. 18 was the most important upset of the college football season. The Cyclones have to feel very happy with what they’ve achieved… more so than Rutgers.

This Yankee Stadium throwdown is a challenge for Rutgers and an opportunity for Iowa State. Rutgers needs to pull through in order to generate a needed sense of optimism for 2012. Iowa State might not be playing with house money, but the Cyclones are certainly under far less pressure to win in the Bronx. We’ll see if Rutgers handles the heat… and weathers the Cyclone that’s about to head its way.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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