There are billboards along the New Jersey Turnpike that extol the performance of Rutgers Coach Greg Schiano and his Scarlet Knights, and following last Thursday's decisive win against South Florida, drivers have one more reason to take their eyes off the road.
Despite consecutive losses to Maryland and Cincinnati, Rutgers fans were undeterred going into Thursday's game against No. 2 South Florida. The campus was a sea of red on Thursday afternoon, as students traversed the leafy campus and took midterms clad in Rutgers attire while football dominated all conversation. The swarm of red reconvened a little before midnight as students and alumni rushed the field after Rutgers held the Bulls to a 30-27 victory after nearly four hours of competitive play.
A record-number 44,267 people filled Rutgers Stadium to watch the big game, while ticket-less fans tailgated outside the stadium or watched the game in one of the bars that line Easton Avenue in nearby New Brunswick. It was a humid night in Central New Jersey, and the energy and anticipation inside the stadium only intensified the unseasonable temperatures. As the teams warmed up on the field, fans speculated that defeating South Florida could be an upset on par with Rutgers' historic victory over Louisville last November.
Once the game started, this optimism was periodically tempered as the Bulls countered Rutgers' scores each quarter with touchdowns and field goals of their own. When Rutgers gained a 10-point lead off a trick play with four minutes left in the third quarter, opting for the more lucrative touchdown over the expected field goal, the response from Scarlet fans rivaled the boom of the canon that stadium attendants fire after each time Rutgers scores. South Florida retaliated with offensive success, and a sense of anxiety resumed as Rutgers maintained a tenuous three-point lead during the second half of the fourth quarter. When Rutgers gained possession with a minute left in the game, security officials lined the sidelines that flank the student sections, bracing themselves for the inevitable rushing of the field. The field became a mass of red-shirted individuals, who extended the celebration well past midnight, while Bulls fans skulked out of the stadium in disappointment. The pandemonium following Thursday's win demonstrates that ever-loyal Rutgers fans are confident that the 2007 season is just getting underway.
Pre-Schiano, games at Rutgers Stadium were sparsely attended, and current students and alumni were the primary consumers of Scarlet Knights paraphernalia. Now there is a waiting list for Rutgers season tickets, and the featured products on the university's online bookstore are a football jersey and a helmet replica. And, as evidenced by the billboards along the Turnpike, even advertisers are vying for a slice of Scarlet notoriety. Whether they are Rutgers fans or merely passing through the Garden State, drivers concede to the acrostic poem occasionally emblazoned on posters wielded in the student section during certain televised games: Everybody Sees Piscataway Now.