Rutgers gets preview of Big Ten with bowl game against Notre Dame
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers couldn't ask for a much better way to springboard into the Big Ten Conference next season than facing Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
No, Notre Dame isn't a Big Ten team. And the Pinstripe Bowl isn't that elusive BCS game that Rutgers (6-6) would have gone to for the first time in program history had it won the American Athletic Conference.
Notre Dame is a storied program that generates a buzz unlike any other school. Brought back to prominence by Brian Kelly, the Fighting Irish played for the national championship just a year ago. While Notre Dame is an independent in football, it plays in the heart of Big Ten country.
"You think about it, they're [Rutgers] playing teams of this caliber every week now when they go to the Big Ten," senior nose tackle Isaac Holmes said. "So setting a good standard for playing these guys and going out on a 'W' is always going to be a good boost for those guys going into the Big Ten."
"That's exactly what we've been preaching to those guys," Holmes said. "This is the type of talented team you're going to be playing on a week-in and week-out basis. This is like a dress rehearsal to get them ready for that next level."
Not to mention that a win could send Rutgers into its winter workouts on a more positive note after an inconsistent season. The 4-1 start was followed by a 2-5 finish that included embarrassing one-side losses to Louisville, Houston, Cincinnati and Central Florida.
There will be a quarterback competition in the spring with senior Chas Dodd making his final start in the Pinstripe Bowl after starting the final two regular-season games.
Senior Gary Nova, who started 23 consecutive games before being unseated by Dodd, will have to fend off redshirt freshman Chris Laviano and redshirt sophomore Blake Rankin to regain the starting job.
The defense will look to rebound under a yet-to-be-named defensive coordinator after giving up 4,872 yards thus far this season - the third worst in school history - and ranking No. 67 nationally in total defense. It was a swift fall from a top 10 overall defense a season ago that lost seven starters and saw nine players with NFL teams at some point this past season.
Rutgers had won five consecutive bowl games before losing to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season.
"It's good to finish on a strong positive note," Dodd said. "Obviously, it hasn't went the way we've wanted it to this season and because of that, we've been given this opportunity and now we have to make the most of it and if we do then it's only going to make it better for everyone involved."
Winning the game is the difference between an above or below .500 season.
"I think that's big because when you're under .500 it just shows that you're even below mediocre," junior linebacker Kevin Snyder said. "But if you can get above .500 - especially in a season where we had the struggles that we had, it really sends you off on a good note and makes you feel a little bit better about yourself."
Rutgers needs after reeling for much of the last two months as it got set for its inaugural year in the Big Ten.
"You win a game and especially a game of this magnitude; you get a game against a team like Notre Dame that's such a storied program, and that could really jettison you into a new conference that we're going into," Snyder said. "So you get a win against these guys - that's huge because really it just gives us a little more respect out of people and obviously that will help with your recruiting and everything else."