By Michael Hill
“We’re super excited. The opportunity to go to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit the day after Christmas, 4:30 in the afternoon in an NFL stadium where it’s 72 degrees at kickoff. So you can’t get weather better than that,” said Rutgers Athletic Director Julie Hermann.
Not bad for Rutgers University’s football team. Its first season in the Big Ten conference and it’s playing in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl after the toughest schedule in the conference and finishing with a 7-5 record and in fourth place.
“We’re going to build on all this,” Hermann said.
Hermann used that and more to lobby the bowl committees after the conference said — because of rules — one bowl-eligible Big Ten team might get left out.
“The fact that we got three Big Ten wins I thought was a great message about our ability to compete and sometimes on the road,” said Hermann.
Hermann says the Big Ten was impressed with Rutgers fans who set record attendance numbers this season in Piscataway. That was part of her bowl pitch.
“And we also said that our fans would come. And we’re asking a lot of our fans to jump in the car the day after Christmas and make that eight plus hour drive to Detroit,” Hermann said.
Not everyone is so sure fans will flock to the bowl.
“That’s kind of the $64,000 question because it’s a tough drive as far as travel, the day after Christmas, flights are expensive it’s not going to be the easiest game to get to. It’s got to be big for them to show up though because one of the things that held Rutgers back from getting to that next tier bowl games is that their fan base, there’s some concerns that they wouldn’t travel,” said NJ Advance Media Rutgers beat writer Dan Duggan.
Hermann says the football program exceeded expectations in its inaugural Big Ten season. The question is whose expectations?
“As a guy who put it in print that thought they would go 4-8 I’ve had to eat a little crow. I think getting to seven wins with this schedule was a great accomplishment,” said Duggan.
Duggan says Rutgers has some terrific recruiting points.
“Again being first year in Big Ten that’s just something they’re going to leverage. Hey we jumped a league, we got to a bowl. Had a winning record, beat Michigan, we beat Maryland. There’s a lot of things to sell. I would even say the bowl is the cherry on top,” said Duggan.
“I think we exceeded expectations for people outside of our buildings but really for us our goal is to become a Big Ten force,” Hermann said.
Rutgers knows it has a long way to go to compete with the likes of the Big Ten’s Ohio State — one of four teams selected to compete for the national championship.
“Do we have things to work on as a football team? Sure we do. We’ll address those in the off season. But, I’m really proud of our first impression. I said it all along that first impressions in life matter. I think we’ve made a pretty good first impression at Rutgers,” said Head Football Coach Kyle Flood.
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights — bound for their ninth bowl game in 10 seasons.