PISCATAWAY - No. 22 Rutgers could not have picked a better opponent than Connecticut for its first game back in the rankings since 2009.
If anyone has had the Scarlet Knights' attention in recent years, it's the Huskies.
Their games are almost always close. Six times since 2001, the game has been decided by seven points or less. Rutgers has won three of the last four by four points or less, and five of seven overall.
What makes today's game at High Point Solutions Stadium so interesting goes beyond Rutgers (4-0, 1-0) being back on the national scene. The Scarlet Knights are still smarting over last year's 40-22 loss to Connecticut (3-2, 0-0) in the regular-season finale, a setback that cost them a share of a first league title.
"That one hurt a lot," Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene said. "I hate losing in general, but that was hard for me to shake that one off. That was a stinging one, definitely."
Rutgers has had two weeks to prepare for UConn. It returned to the polls after an impressive win over Arkansas and had this past weekend off.
Scarlet Knights defensive tackle Scott Vallone said everyone realizes what Connecticut brings to the table. They play tough defense and try to run a ball-control offense. It's the same thing Rutgers tries to do.
"I think we're just hungry," Vallone said. "We're not satisfied. ... We're pushing forward, trying to win another Big East game, go 2-0 in the Big East and trying to set ourselves up to win a championship. That's what we want to do."
Connecticut, which has 12 New Jersey players on its roster, is coming off a 24-17 win over Buffalo. It is looking for consecutive wins for the first time since winning five in a row to end the 2010 season.
Senior cornerback Dwayne Gratz of Piscataway knows Rutgers has had this game circled on its calendar for a long time.
"They better," he said. "You better be worried about us. This UConn team is definitely not a team to joke around with, so you better be prepared for us."
The Huskies rank sixth in the country in total defense (242.6 yards per game), 23rd in scoring defense (15.6 points per game), sixth in rushing defense (74.2 yards per game) and 14th in pass defense (168.4 yards per game).
The big question will be whether they can they stop Scarlet Knights running back Jawan Jamison again. He has rushed for 100 yards or more in five consecutive games. The last time he failed to rush for 100 yards was on Nov. 26, when Connecticut limited him to 19 yards on five carries.
"Last year we came in just knowing this was the game that could decide (the Big East)," Jamison said. "So I would say we were a little cocky because we were winning. But now we know it's a one-game season and we just have to get a win in a given week."
The Huskies have not done as well on offense. They are ranked 106th in total offense (323.8 yards per game), 109th in rushing offense (112 yards per game), 84th in passing offense (211.8 yards per game) and 92nd in scoring offense (23.2 points per game).
Rutgers has not allowed an opponent to rush for more than 100 yards this season, allowing an average of 62.5 yards, the best in the nation.
Greene said Rutgers won't have a letdown.
"That ain't happening. We're not going to let it happen," he said. "This team is focused on the task at hand, and that's being 1-0 after playing those guys. We know that we can't get to our ultimate goal without being 1-0 after this game. As a player, as a leader, as a captain, I'm not going to let any dip as a team happen."
Connecticut senior defensive tackle Ryan Wirth, from Medford, is looking forward to returning to his home state and the challenge ahead.
"Last year doesn't matter this year," he said. "Last year, the Rutgers week was the first week that we hit practice on all cylinders, prepared the right way, and it worked out for us on (today). We have to do that again this week if we want to win down there."