By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Rutgers can claim a share of the Big East championship with a win over Connecticut in East Hartford on Saturday, quite a turnaround for a team picked to finish at the bottom of the conference standings for a second straight season.
“It’s huge,” said quarterback Chas Dodd. “Ever since the polls first came out, I’ve been talking to everyone and that was a big thing that guys were using as ammunition. We were picked last and we want to show guys that that’s definitely not where we belong. And I feel like we’ve done a good job of that so far. We just have to finish that off.”
The Scarlet Knights (8-3, 4-2 Big East) would be the first team in league history to go from worst to first in consecutive seasons.
“Obviously we know what we’re in for,” nose tackle Scott Vallone said. “We know whatever needs to happen. But none of that matters if we don’t win the game on Saturday. So we’re going to be focused on that, and we’re going to put our full attention on Connecticut because we know if we look past any time on our schedule they could easily beat us. We go to win the game. That’s the bottom line.”
Connecticut (4-6, 2-3) doesn’t have as much at stake. Their loss to Louisville last week took UConn out of the Big East championship picture. But the Huskies are still hoping for a .500 season and a bowl bid, and must beat Rutgers and Cincinnati to do that.
“It would have been good for this to mean a little bit more on a college football level,” said kicker Dave Teggart. “But it still means a lot. We’re still trying to make a bowl.”
The Huskies also have revenge on their minds. Rutgers has taken five of the last six games between the two teams, including the last three by a total of nine points. Last year’s win came on a 34-yard field goal with 13 seconds left. In 2009, Rutgers won on an 81-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left.
“It’s a very bitter taste in our mouths,” defensive tackle Kendall Reyes said. “We want to get this one.”
Reyes is one of 13 seniors who will play their final home game at Rentschler Field. It’s a class that has played through everything from the stabbing death of teammate Jasper Howard in 2009 to the program’s first BCS bowl game last January.
“I feel like they won’t remember you on how you came in, but how you left, mostly,” wide receiver Kashif Moore said. “That’s why we need this one.”
The game will feature two good freshmen running backs.
Rutgers’ Jawan Jamison rushed for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the Scarlet Knight’s upset of Cincinnati last week, becoming just the fifth back in school history to reach 200 in a game.
UConn will counter with Lyle McCombs, who comes into the game with 1,014 yards, averaging over 103 yards a game. It’s the fourth consecutive year the Huskies have had a 1,000-yard back.
“A running back likes to see as far as numbers go, 100-yard games and 1,000-yard seasons,” McCombs said. “I’m happy to achieve that, especially as a freshman, but more importantly, we need more wins.”
A Rutgers win would be the fourth straight for the Scarlet Knights, and senior David Rowe says it would be one of the most satisfying of his career.
“I think so, especially with the season we had last year,” he said. “Being picked last, I think we really came out and worked hard this year and it’s a great feeling.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)