PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) While Rutgers coach Kyle Flood doesn't like to talk about the big picture, it's hard to ignore at the halfway point of the Scarlet Knights' first season in the Big Ten Conference.
Rutgers (5-1, 1-1) is coming off a win over Michigan and is one win away from becoming bowl eligible with six games to play.
But now comes the tough part. After a bye this weekend, the Scarlet Knights are at No. 15 Ohio State, at No. 21 Nebraska and home against Wisconsin before closing out the season against Indiana, at No. 8 Michigan State and Maryland. The results of facing three top four teams in the conference in the next three games, then going on the road to play the conference favorite a couple weeks later will define Rutgers' season.
''It's huge,'' quarterback Gary Nova said of the stretch. ''We understand the opportunities we have and we just have to execute and take advantage of them.''
They need to just take advantage of one of the final six games to become bowl eligible. But it's not on their minds.
''Right now we just want to get another win..We don't really have bowl eligibility, things like that on our mind,'' wide receiver Leonte Carroo said. ''We just want to get wins and wins each and every week.''
That is what the Scarlet Knights have been doing to the surprise of many. They were picked to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten in their inaugural season.
''We had our own expectations and all those expectations are still alive,'' Nova said. ''Win a Big Ten Championship, win our division and play in the Big Ten Championship game.''
Rutgers has to finish strong, something it hasn't been able to do the last few years.
Last season, Rutgers went 2-6 down the stretch, needing to win the final game of the regular season to become bowl eligible after a 4-1 start. In 2012, Rutgers went 2-4 after a 7-0 start.
''Obviously, you just got to set a new mentality,'' Carroo said. ''That was our old mentality. We always start off hot but we weren't able to finish, but this year, together as a group of guys we got to get together and we got to talk about things we need to do to finish.''
Nova has been in the driver's seat in each of those seasons and he has struggled. Last year, he lost his starting job late to Chas Dodd.
''It's something you can't run from,'' Nova said. ''We know - I think everybody knows we didn't finish the season the past three years well. Myself, I haven't played well toward the end of the season. It's a new year, a new team and we really just have to focus on ourselves and make sure that doesn't happen.''
Nova is confident it won't. And not just because of the team's mindset.
''Just execution. That's pretty much it,'' Nova said when asked what's going to be different about this year. ''You can have a new attitude and all that kind of stuff, but at the end of the day it's about executing out on the field and I feel like this team is mature enough to do that and we'll flip that around.''