Piscataway may not possess the majestic buildings that can be found on Rutgers' New Brunswick campus, but on game day, supporters garbed in red T-shirts flock to the open fields around Rutgers Stadium. Things have changed in recent years and spots that were long held by devoted fans have been shifted to more generous donors, though most of the "bumped" tailgaters didn't seem overly upset about it. Those of us not fortunate enough to have secured prime real estate were forced to park a shuttle bus ride away on the Livingston campus. More on this later. Grade: B-
When a program has only been competitive for a couple of seasons, you can bet that there are going to be some Johnny-Come-Latelys who haven't spent much time with the college game. I was pleasantly surprised to find many fans who'd been backing the Scarlet Knights for decades and many others who had been through at least some of the lean years. Those fans were steeped in Rutgers history and could talk college football with anyone in the country. The newbies still have a lot to learn, but if Rutgers can stay competitive, they'll get there. Grade: B-
Burgers and brats dominated the lots, while a lot of people scarfed down sandwiches. On the whole, creative cooking efforts were few and far between. That said, major props are due to a young grillmaster named Lenny who served up a scrumptious BBQ pork tenderloin with habañero glaze. Grade: B-
Thursday was all about consuming light beer in its cheapest forms. All the favorites turned up. At one tailgate, they offered a beer and asked, "Miller Lite, Bud Light or Natty Light?" Faced with such an array of options, I said, "Surprise me." Grade: C
People from New Jersey are well aware of the fact that their state is situated between metropolises, and that their identity can often be intertwined with that of those cities. When it comes to games, they're perhaps understandably all over the map. One could have competed in a heptathlon of contests. Cornhole coexisted adjacent to washers. Flip-cup and beer pong were played side by side. One group of people played with heavy, metal horseshoes on a narrow strip of grass, surely dinging a few cars parked nearby on errant bounces. Finally, with the sun having set and kickoff looming, grown men and women did their best simulated shredding on Guitar Hero. Grade: A-
Frequent chants of "R!" "U!" went up throughout the day, getting more frequent as the game drew closer and the alcohol flowed faster. A lot of very combative heckling of the South Florida backers was bolstered by upside down horn-fingers. The invective just came off as inane hollering, and the horn-fingers aren't exactly an original gesture, but there was a ton of enthusiasm. Music heard was all over the place, with the most frequent artist of course being Bruce Springsteen. Thankfully, I heard nary a note of New Jersey's other favorite son, Bon Jovi. Grade: B-
Your opinion on a Jersey Girl will pretty much determine how you feel about this category. She's short, somewhat shrill, and sometimes a little trashy. But she's also pretty darn cute and totally geared up for the game. While it may always be sunny in Philadelphia, you won't find any sun dresses at a Rutgers game. Ladies wear Ray Rice jerseys and jeans, same as the guys. Grade: B-
Either bodypaint is hard to find in New Jersey, or Scarlet Fever hasn't quite developed to the point where people are ready to go the extra mile. I found a group of students with "Go Knights" painted across their chests, but beyond that, it was red jerseys and T-shirts across the board. Grade: C
I desperately want to give some sort of award to the guys who rolled into Piscataway puffing on cigars in a stretch, white limo for embodying the quintessential Sopranos stereotype, but they don't quite make the cut for top tailgate. That distinction goes to Wrublevski family who's been present at every home game for over 20 years. Aside from a large spread of food that fit into their "Mexican Day" theme, they featured a dancing skeleton, miniature knight in shining armor, bull piñata pierced by a sword, and a karaoke setup which was mainly used to pump up the home crowd and taunt USF fans. Grade: B+
Rutgers' newfound success on the field may prove fleeting, but at least for now, the excitement of the home fans is undeniable. Some appreciate the struggle it took to get to where they are, while others have jumped on the bandwagon with both feet. They'll be the first to admit that they're the new kids on the block, but they're darn happy to be there. Grade: B-
While it doesn't directly fit into any of our regular categories, the parking situation in Piscataway leaves much to be desired. Upon the game's completion, we were herded like cattle before boarding shuttle buses which then moved three blocks in 45 minutes. At that point, I chose to cut my losses, hop out and hoof the two miles back to the parking lot. That my fellow livestock insisted such a delay was abnormal provided little comfort. Aside from that singularly irritating issue, it was a thrilling night in Jersey culminating in another national broadcast of students rushing the field. They'd been gearing up for such an ending all day, so you have to say they deserved it, even if winning seasons are still a relatively new thing in New Jersey.
To read more of Andrew Reed's tailgate reports, check out hisRoad Games blog.