PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Rutgers’ once promising season has come down to this: win against South Florida or stay home and skip the bowl circuit.
A month ago, becoming bowl eligible seemed like a formality for the Scarlet Knights (5-6, 2-5 American Athletic Conference).
Consecutive losses to Cincinnati, No. 15 Central Florida and Connecticut, however, have put Rutgers into a must-win scenario against South Florida (2-9, 2-5) heading into Saturday night’s game.
For South Florida, the game is a chance to play the spoiler and end coach Willie Taggart’s first season on a good note.
Rutgers is the one under pressure. After starting the season with a 4-1 record, it has lost five of six to put an eighth bowl bid in nine years in jeopardy.
“There’s a sense of heightened urgency now because we know this is our last chance,” said senior quarterback Chas Dodd, who replaced Gary Nova as the starter last week. “We want to get to that bowl game. We haven’t given up on that.”
The slide has second-year coach Kyle Flood feeling some heat in what might be the university’s last football game before entering the Big Ten Conference next season.
“We want to get this win,” Dodd said. “We want to keep our season going.”
Flood said his only focus this week is on the game, not the bowl situation.
If Rutgers were to win, it probably would receive a bid to either the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 4 or the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28.
Flood said the mood of his team earlier this week was good.
“There’s not a lot of happiness when you’re 5-6, but I see a lot of determination in their eyes and a lot of anxiousness to get back to work to be 1-0,” he said.
Taggart and his players are more interested in ending a five-game losing streak rather than being spoilers.
“It would be huge. Huge for our seniors, first and foremost,” Taggart said. “These guys have been through so much throughout their careers. A lot of changes, not a lot of consistency. It’ll be big for them to leave here with something to be happy about.”