Rutgers ‘making progress’ after being ranked in Top 25 for first time in years

By David Porter

TRENTON, N.J. – Along with its first 4-0 start in more than two decades, Rutgers has reached another milestone: its first Top 25 ranking in 30 years.

A day after routing Division I-AA Howard 56-7, Rutgers was ranked No. 23 in The Associated Press poll Sunday – ahead of Georgia Tech and Missouri.

The last time the Scarlet Knights received a ranking was in 1976, when they finished 11-0 and were as high as No. 17.

“I’m not going to downplay it. It is significant considering where we started,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. “It shows we’re making progress in the right direction.”

Rutgers’ appearance in the Top 25 is the latest in a series of achievements under Schiano, a former assistant at Miami.

Last season, he led the Scarlet Knights to a 7-5 record and a berth in the Insight Bowl, their first postseason appearance in 27 years.

It was Rutgers’ first winning season since 1992.

This season, Rutgers opened with a 21-16 win at North Carolina, then beat Illinois 33-0 for some measure of revenge for a 33-30 defeat a year ago when the Illini rallied from a 20-point deficit.

Wins against Ohio and Howard followed, giving Rutgers its first 4-0 start since 1980.

The margin of victory against Howard was the largest in Schiano’s six-year tenure.

The ranking is the latest sign that Rutgers has turned the corner under Schiano after a rocky first few years. In his first two seasons, the Scarlet Knights were 3-20.

They also had a 25-game conference losing streak from 1999-2003.

Schiano, a New Jersey native, was 10 years old the last time Rutgers was ranked and said he didn’t recall the feat.

“I don’t think of it in a historical perspective,” he said.

“You need to win to get into those polls, and the Rutgers program has had some up and down times as we know,” Schiano said.

“I’m glad it’s happening now and hope to keep it going,” he said.

After three consecutive home games, Rutgers travels to play South Florida on Friday night. The Bulls’ 13-7 loss to Kansas on Saturday prevented them from opening the season with four wins for the first time since 1998.

Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard said his teammates should be able to cope with the increased attention, which will begin with Friday night’s nationally televised game.

“I know our guys are going to put it behind them and not get big heads about it,” he said. “There’s been pressure on this program since the beginning of the year. This does add a little more, but that’s a good thing, it means we’re doing well and expectations have risen.”

Coincidentally, former Big East members Boston College and Miami, both of which left to join the Atlantic Coast Conference since 2004, were ranked behind Rutgers in the latest poll.

“Those guys do their thing, we do our thing,” Leonard said. “This is a good conference. I’m proud of what we’re doing. It’s turned out better than people thought.”