PISCATAWAY — Rutgers accomplished one major goal this season, earning a share of the Big East title for the first time in school history.
Though a 20-17 loss to Louisville in the finale dashed the Scarlet Knights’ hopes for the program’s first Bowl Championship Series berth, the consolation prize of the Russell Athletic Bowl presents coach Kyle Flood and his players with an opportunity to add another accomplishment.
A victory over Virginia Tech on Friday would clinch a 10-win season, just the third since the program was credited with playing the first college football game against Princeton in 1869. It would also mark Rutgers’ sixth straight bowl win dating to 2006.
“You got to move forward in life,” Flood said. “That (Louisville) game happened and we’re not happy about it, but it happened. And now that’s in the past. That game is a part of history and it is what it is. Now we move forward and we try to make more history. We have tremendous goals left for us to accomplish, and that’s really where our focus is.”
The Scarlet Knights (9-3) lost their last two games, but they’re still playing in the most prestigious postseason game in school history.
“The game on Friday, for me, is going to mean everything,” said Khaseem Greene, a fifth-year senior linebacker who earlier this month earned AP All-America third-team honors. “It is going to be a legacy, another chapter for me being closed and another chapter for this program, this family, being closed. It will definitely set us apart from everybody. It’s going to determine if we’re a good team or a great team.”
For Flood, it marks his first bowl game as head coach. He served as an assistant in Rutgers’ six bowl games under his predecessor, Greg Schiano. Flood took over after Schiano left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late January.
With a win over the Hokies, Flood would become the only first-year coach to win 10 games in Rutgers history. Virginia Tech (6-6) is playing in its 20th straight bowl game.
There’s a chance the Russell Athletic Bowl will be Rutgers’ final game as a member of the Big East. The Scarlet Knights announced their plans to defect from the conference — of which they have been a member since 1991 — to join the Big Ten on Nov. 20. And while school officials are targeting 2014 as the arrival date, other developments could expedite Rutgers’ departure.
If the Knights do remain in the Big East for the 2013 season, they should be one of top contenders to win the league’s BCS bid in its final season as an automatic-qualifying conference. Rutgers graduates several defensive mainstays — including Greene, the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year — but could welcome back as many as 14 starters, including sophomore quarterback Gary Nova, leading rusher Jawan Jamison and leading receiver Brandon Coleman.
A victory this week in Orlando could set the tone for an important offseason.
“That will send the seniors off the right way and get the younger guys and guys in recruiting, just send a good vibe for next year,” said Nova, who has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,566 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. “We’ve got a lot of talent coming back.”