PISCATAWAY - The atmosphere in the Rutgers University football team's locker room Thursday night seemed as if the season had ended.
Players sat with their shoulders slumped, staring blankly ahead, speaking in low tones after a 20-17 loss to Louisville that cost them the outright Big East Conference title.
But there is one game left. While Rutgers failed to earn its first Bowl Championship Series bid, the Scarlet Knights still likely will play in either the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., or the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
"We're definitely going to reload and refocus," wide receiver Brandon Coleman said Thursday night. "It's not like the bowl game is next weekend. We've got some time to look at this and to learn from it. That's the biggest thing. We've got to learn from it. The season isn't over."
Bowl matchups will be set in the next few days. While some bowls already have started inviting teams, most will wait until after the BCS Selection Show on Sunday night (8:30, ESPN).
Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said his team will gather Sunday night to watch the show and presumably find out shortly afterward where it will play. Undoubtedly it will be difficult to see someone else, likely Louisville, going to the Orange Bowl.
"At that point, it's time to look at the whole season as a body of work," Flood said. "This one hurts, and it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt, but we're going to get through it as a football team.
"We're going to move on. We're going to get better. When we go out to play that bowl game, we're going to do it the way we do every year, and we're going to go out there to win that bowl game."
Rutgers at least will have plenty of time to recover from Thursday's crushing loss, in which the Scarlet Knights squandered a 14-3 lead with a mistake-filled second half.
"I think time heals, so I think that will be good," defensive tackle Scott Vallone said. "We will get a couple of days off coming up, and that's a good thing. Guys will get to go home if they can and really kind of let it sink in, but really get over it at the same time. To get to be home with family, that will be good.
"When we get back to it, we'll have a bowl opponent. Once we get that, I think we'll be able to put our full focus on that."
Flood said he wanted to make sure his players are proud to have won even a share of the Big East title, which no Rutgers team ever had done. But a win in a bowl game later this month would help them feel better.
"Whatever bowl game it is," sophomore quarterback Gary Nova said, "(We have to) try to win that and send our seniors out the right way."
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