Rutgers makes Big Ten debut against Penn State
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Rutgers will get a chance to show that the football team belongs with the big boys of the Big Ten.
The Scarlet Knights (2-0) have heard they won't be competitive against teams in the Big Ten since the announcement two years ago they'd be joining the conference in 2014.
The Scarlet Knights will make their much-anticipated debut on Saturday when they take on Penn State (2-0) at High Point Solutions Stadium in a game that many hope will develop into a rivalry between the neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania universities.
Most Rutgers players have felt an increased excitement on campus this week. Quarterback Gary Nova has walked around wearing his headphones to block out all the comments about the Nittany Lions.
''I think we just need to come out and play our game and show the world what we can do because a lot of people were writing us off at the beginning of the year,'' said Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft, a resident of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. ''I guess we're starting to get a little more attention now being 2-0 and heading into the Big Ten, but I think we need to come out and play how we can play: fast and physical. Show the world that we belong here and we're going to be a staple in the Big Ten.''
Rutgers was accepted into the Big Ten in November 2012 in an expansion that included Maryland. The move will add money to the university's bank account.
However, many have wondered if the Scarlet Knights will be an easy mark in the new league.
Penn State coach James Franklin ignited a little rivalry this year, saying that Rutgers would have trouble recruiting in its own state against Penn State.
''I do think this game from a regional perspective is good for Pennsylvania,'' Franklin said this week. ''I do think it's good for New Jersey and I think it's good for the Big Ten and I think it's good for both institutions. I think it's going to be a fun game and we're looking forward to playing it. But we have got tremendous respect for Rutgers, for what they have done on the football field and what they have done in the classroom.''
It should be interesting to see how he feels after the game. Here are a few items to watch on Saturday night:
STOPPING HACKENBERG: Rutgers defense has been pushed around in the first two games. It gave up a school-record 532 yards passing to Washington State in the season opener and 269 yards rushing to FCS foe Howard last weekend. It needs to tighten up against Penn State sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who has thrown for 773 yards and four touchdowns.
PENN STATE DEE: The Nittany Lions defense has given up 27 points combined in beating Central Florida and Akron. It will be facing a Rutgers offense that has scored 79 points in wins over Washington State and Howard. Running back Paul James has scored four TDs and quarterback Gary Nova has thrown six touchdowns. The Nittany Lions have allowed 94 yards rushing on 54 carries this season.
TALIAFERRO-LEGRAND: Adam Taliaferro of Penn State and Eric LeGrand of Rutgers will serve as the honorary captains for their respective schools. Both players sustained spinal cord injuries representing their universities. Taliagferro was hurt in 2000 but was able to walk again months later. LeGrand was hurt in 2010 and remains in a wheelchair.
BIG CROWD: The game has been sold out for weeks (52,452) and Rutgers has had more than 400 requests to cover the game by the media. An auxiliary press box has been set up. Representatives from the Rose, Orange, Capital One and TaxSlayer bowls plan to be at the game along with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.
RENEWING SERIES: Penn State leads the all-time series 22-2, including all nine games either at Rutgers or the Meadowlands. The Scarlet Knights started the series with a 26-3 win at Penn State in 1918 and also defeated the Nittany Lions 21-16 at Beaver Stadium in 1988. The teams have not played since 1995, when Penn State won 59-34, ending an annual run from 1982.