By Kristian Dyer
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It wasn’t always pretty and it wasn’t always dominant but Rutgers’ 19-3 win over UConn on Saturday afternoon was rather emphatic in giving the now-5-0 Scarlet Knights their first win since cracking the Top 25. Rutgers came off the bye week flat but turned a 6-3 halftime lead into a far more flattering final score.
But this Saturday the tough work really begins.
It was easy for the Scarlet Knights, now No. 20 in the nation, to get up for the game last week against the Huskies. This was arguably their closest geographic rival, and throughout the week the Connecticut newspapers were filled with quotes from New Jersey players on the Huskies roster who felt jilted that they weren’t offered anything by Rutgers.
There was also the “blackout” factor with most of the over 50,000 at High Point Solutions stadium donning black at the home game, creating an intimidating atmosphere for a tilt that had a national television audience. Of course, there was also the revenge factor as it was UConn who crushed Rutgers in the regular season finale last year in Storrs, denying them a chance at the Big East title.
Now the real work begins as the Scarlet Knights will be heavily favored in their next four games, three of which are at home, with the game at Temple likely looking and feeling like a Rutgers home game.
Rutgers will be expected to win — with some style points.
Against teams they are expected to beat, Rutgers can’t rest on its laurels. There will surely be a hangover from this last weekend’s win, a victory that vaulted Rutgers in the top 20 of the polls for the first time since 2007, but it can’t hold the Scarlet Knights back.
This is much more than 5-0 right now, this is about winning the conference and the Big East. A win over Syracuse on Saturday would be a 3-0 conference start for Rutgers and would put them in prime position to continue to roll in the upcoming weeks. The goal must be a 4-0 conference record by the time Rutgers travels to Nippert Stadium on Nov. 17 to face Cincinnati. That’s the game that this whole program seems to be gearing up for but with it being over a month away, they must win the games here and now to make that trip to the Bearcats relevant.
That means not taking any opponents lightly, including Syracuse.
The motivation for Rutgers is right there, staring them in the face. This will be the last Big East meeting between the two programs with Syracuse along with Pittsburgh leaving for the greener pastures of the ACC. The Scarlet Knights must feel that this move out of the conference, considering their success over the last few years, should have been made by them. If they can send the Orange out of High Point Solutions Stadium with a loss, it would be a fitting way to end their Big East relationship on a high note and prove the point that they should have been ACC-bound and not Syracuse.
It is also a game that matters in terms of perception as Syracuse has been blanketing the New York City area with the perception that they are the area’s true college football program and not the Scarlet Knights who are on the other side of the Hudson River. If Rutgers wants someday to be a national powerhouse, they must become New York City’s team. A win – a big one at that over Syracuse – can get the Big Apple bandwagon rolling a bit more.
But there is no truer motivation for head coach Kyle Flood and his team that simply, this is a Big East game. If they want to capture the conference for the first time in program history and make a BCS bowl game, then this game is a must-win.
The first step begins this Saturday against the Orange — and if Rutgers has legitimate dreams of making a BCS bowl game, it can’t be a misstep.
Kristian R. Dyer writes for Metro New York and contributes to Yahoo!Sports. He can be followed for news, insight and snarky comments @KristianRDyer
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