Scarlet Knights Look To Continue Winning Ways
Dec. 19, 2008
(AP) - When Mike Teel arrived at Rutgers in 2004, the Scarlet Knights had no history of success as a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
Entering his final collegiate game, the fifth-year quarterback has a chance to lead his team to a bowl victory for the third straight year as Rutgers plays North Carolina State in the Papajohns.com Bowl on Dec. 29 at Birmingham, Ala.
Convincing Teel, a two-time all-state high school quarterback, to stay in-state and go to Rutgers (7-5) may be remembered as the key event in coach Greg Schiano's efforts to turn around the Scarlet Knights. In his first three seasons at Rutgers, a perennial college football doormat, Schiano went 8-27 and 2-19 in the Big East.
The Scarlet Knights are riding a six-game winning streak after a 1-5 start.
After redshirting in 2004 and seeing limited playing time in '05, when Rutgers broke through for its first winning record since 1992 and reached the Insight Bowl, Teel has spent the last three seasons breaking the school's passing records. This year, he's led a stunning mid-season turnaround for the Scarlet Knights, who are riding a six-game winning streak after a 1-5 start.
Teel threw for 1,929 yards and 20 touchdowns in those six victories, and was at his best in his final home game. He set school records with 447 yards and six touchdowns in a 63-14 pounding of Louisville on Dec. 4 as Rutgers finished in a three-way tie for second in the Big East.
"It's kind of come full-circle," said Teel, the school's all-time leader with 9,064 passing yards and 57 TDs. "Bottom line is, it's extremely satisfying that this team stuck together and my teammates stayed and rallied behind me - and coaches stayed behind me - and we were able to turn things around. That's something that's pretty special."
With 3,099 yards this year, Teel is 56 away from breaking Ryan Hart's school mark of 3,154 set in 2004. He has also delivered in Rutgers' bowl victories the last two seasons, throwing for 571 total yards and five touchdowns against Kansas State in the 2006 Texas Bowl and Ball State in the 2008 International Bowl.
Rutgers is the seventh team in NCAA history to make a bowl game after starting 1-5, a surge that has capped an impressive run for the Scarlet Knights' seniors.
"Four years ago, Rutgers didn't go to any bowl games, and right now we've gone to four straight bowl games," defensive tackle Pete Tverdov said. "So I can only imagine what the program will be like four years from now (and) I'm excited to be able to say I was a part of it."
Tverdov will be without his defensive line teammate Jammal Westerman, who underwent surgery Friday for a torn biceps, an injury he played through since late October. Westerman had 33 tackles - 10.5 for a loss - and a team-high five sacks.
North Carolina State (6-6) also rallied late in the season, winning its last four games in a highly competitive ACC to make a bowl for the first time in five years. The Wolfpack played spoiler in their final two contests, routing archrival and then-No. 25 North Carolina 41-10 before preventing Miami from gaining a spot in the conference title game with a 38-28 victory.
While Rutgers has a veteran quarterback that's playing for the final time, North Carolina State enters this game with an eye on the future behind ACC rookie of the year and conference first-team selection Russell Wilson. The redshirt freshman, who won a five-way battle for the starting job, threw for 1,769 yards and 16 touchdowns with only one interception in 252 attempts.
"When you have a young player coming in, a freshman, you have your jitters about him, especially in the preseason," said receiver Owen Spencer, who has team highs of 29 catches and 626 yards. "But you had to just believe, and when Coach made the decision to start him, we all pulled together. He's grown so much as a player and a person. We love him so much. He's our leader on the team."
Wilson has a six-game streak of multiple touchdown passes and also emerged as a decent running threat his last three games, totaling 177 yards and two scores on the ground.
The Wolfpack are making their first bowl appearance under second-year coach Tom O'Brien and playing their first bowl game since defeating South Florida in the 2005 Meineke Bowl. North Carolina State has won its last five bowl games, coming from 2000-03.
This will be the first meeting between these teams.