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Rutgers Football History Capsule

In 1973, Frank Burns took the reins of Rutgers football and became the most successful Rutgers coach ever by building teamsrecognized for fundamentals and defense. Burns himself was also known as a fierce linebacker and won the Most Valuable Player Award in the 1949 College All-Star game, when he made 17 tackles against the New York Giants. The Burns defenses were led by linebackers Ed Steward, Jim Hughes, Jim Dumont and defensive end Nate Toran. Burns’ first team went 6-5, while running back “JJ” Jennings set single-season records for rushing yardage (1,353) and touchdowns (21) which still stand.

1976 team
1976 undefeated team

Over the next five seasons, Burns’ teams won at least seven games each season, including a five-season stretch from 1975-79 when Rutgers’ winning percentage was .803 with a record of 45-11. The jewel in the crown of Burns’ tenure as Rutgers’ coach was the 1976 season, when the team was perfect at 11-0, establishing the best season ever at Rutgers. During Burns’ 11 seasons at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights won nearly two-thirds of their games (78-44). He also took Rutgers to its only bowl appearance, the Garden State Bowl, at Giants Stadium against Arizona State in 1978.

Doubtless, the biggest win of the Burns era was the 13-7 upset of Tennessee on November 3, 1979 at Knoxville. Burns called it “the greatest of my coaching career.”

The following year, 1980, Rutgers had one of its great “near-misses” of its long history when the Scarlet bowed, 17-13, to a highly-favored Alabama team coached by Bear Bryant at Giants Stadium.

The gracious Bryant said, “We didn’t beat Rutgers. All I can say is we won.”

Stadium groundbreaking
1993 stadium groundbreaking

In 1984 when Dick Anderson was named head coach, a renewed commitment to football at Rutgers was backed by a $3 million state-funded package. Those funds helped finance the artificial surface practice fields, the practice “Bubble” and the Hale Center, which includes lockerrooms, offices, a weight-training area and medical facilities for the football team.

Anderson won seven of 10 games in his inaugural season. Other highlights of his years at Rutgers include upset wins over such nationally-ranked teams as Penn State and Michigan State, and a nationally-televised victory over Northwestern in the program’s 1,000th game. Anderson’s teams produced some of the most exciting players in Rutgers history, including record-breaking passer Scott Erney, career tackles leader Tyronne Stowe and career kickoff return leader Eric Young. Anderson’s last game at Rutgers, although a loss to

Pittsburgh, was a memorable one. It was the 1989 Emerald Isle Classic in Dublin, the first time a Rutgers team played overseas.

Stadium groundbreaking
All-American TE Marco Battaglia

Doug Graber became the Scarlet Knights’ 23rd coach in 1990 and placed an emphasis on recruiting the best talent in the state of New Jersey. His first recruiting class included three first-team All-State selections and two second-team All-State selections among the 12 recruits from New Jersey.

Another major boost for Rutgers came in 1991 when Rutgers joined the BIG EAST Football Conference. The team went 13-9 in its first two years in the BIG EAST, including a 4-2 BIG EAST mark in 1992, before slipping to 4-7 the following season.

The 1994 season celebrated not only the 125 years of college football, but also the return of the newly-renovated and expanded Rutgers Stadium. The return was a welcome one. Rutgers teams have been at their best at the stadium, compiling a 174-57-4 record here.

A new stadium has been quite a different setting than that of the first college football game played 130 years ago. The Scarlet Knights are playing for their own place in history as they continue the college football tradition that was born “On the Banks of the Old Raritan.” After a less than stellar run through the mid-1990’s under 1998 BIG EAST Coach of the Year Terry Shea, the Scarlet Knights opted to take the program in a different direction in 2001.

On December 1, 2000, Director of Athletics Bob Mulcahy introduced the newest coach in the storied history of Rutgers Football - Greg Schiano.

Schiano's first three recruiting classes are considered the best in Rutgers history. In 2003, the team complied a 5-7 record, upsetting Syracuse 24- 7 in the season finale. In 2004, before the largest crowd ever at Rutgers Stadium, the Scarlet Knights defeated Michigan State 19-14.

In 2005, Schiano coached Rutgers to its best record in over a decade, 7-5, and its first bowl bid since 1978. In a Wild West shootout staged at Phoenix’s Chase Field, Rutgers fell just short, losing to Arizona State (7-5), 45-40, at the Insight Bowl Dec. 27.

Insight Bowl
2005 Insight Bowl

In 2006 Schiano was named the National Coach of the Year and BIG EAST Coach of the Year, as the Scarlet Knights earned their first national top-10 ranking in 2006 and won 11 games for the second time in school history.   Brian Leonard was also the recipient of the Draddy Trophy in 2006.

Rutgers ended the season with a ranking of #12 in the national polls. The success Rutgers has achieved on the field was something Schiano envisioned from the first day he became the leader of the Scarlet Knights. At his introductory press conference, Schiano stated “We're going to win at Rutgers and we're going to do it the right way.”  The 2006 season was complete with a convincing 37-10 victory over Kansas State in the Texas Bowl, the first bowl championship in school history.  

Eric LeGrand

The 2008 campaign for the Scarlet Knights started slowly, but the program relied on a strong foundation built by Schiano and together as a family Rutgers turned a 1-5 start into seven consecutive victories to close out the season – culminating in a 29-23 victory over NC State in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

In 2009, the Scarlet Knights saw a number of milestones set, as well as the emergence of a new era with several talented true freshmen getting their feet wet in the college ranks. Rutgers went 9-4, including a 45-24 victory over UCF in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

Prior to Schiano’s arrival at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights had never fielded a receiver who had gained 1,000 yards in a season. In 2009, Tim Brown became the fourth during his tenure to eclipse the mark. Brown also became the school’s all-time leader in receiving touchdowns; passing RU’s only first round draft pick Kenny Britt.

While the results on the field did not favor Rutgers in 2010, the world was introduced to Eric LeGrand. The junior defensive tackle suffered a spinal cord injury versus Army at MetLife Stadium Oct. 16 against Army, but he did not let the condition bring him down. LeGrand has become public figure and has raised countless dollars towards spinal cord research. He became the first Scarlet Knight in the 144 years of the football program to have his number retired Sept. 14, 2013 during halftime of a game against Eastern Michigan.

Anthony Davis
Devin McCourty
Anthony Davis was a first round pick of the Sanfrancisco 49ers in the 2010 NFL Draft
Devin McCourty was a first round pick of the New England Patriots in the 2010 NFL Draft

Rutgers returned to a bowl game in 2011 with a trip to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. It was the second game of the season at Yankee Stadium, as the Scarlet Knights defeated Army during the regular season and Iowa State in the bowl game. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu set the school record with 115 receptions on the season and was drafted in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL Draft.

Following the season, head coach Greg Schiano took a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to end an 11-year tenure. Kyle Flood was promoted from the staff to the lead position several days later.

Flood made an immediate impact on the Rutgers program as he led the school to its first BIG EAST Championship in 2012, ending with a 9-4 record and 5-2 in the league. Flood ended the season being named the BIG EAST Coach of the Year, an honor he shared with Louisville’s Charlie Strong. Flood’s nine regular season victories were the most by any first-year coach in Rutgers history as eight players garnered All-BIG EAST honors. Khaseem Greene totaled 136 tackles to earn BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, in addition to All-America status. The defensive unit was among the best in school history, ranking fourth nationally in scoring defense, tied for ninth in turnovers gained and 10th in total defense.

Pinstripe Bowl
2011 Pinstripe Bowl

Offensively, wide receiver Brandon Coleman established himself as one of the nation’s premier deep threats by scoring 10 touchdowns during the season, tied for the most in school history. Quarterback Gary Nova started all 12 games, highlighted by a 397-yard, five-touchdown performance in a win at SEC opponent Arkansas.

The year culminated with a trip to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando to face Virginia Tech. However, the Scarlet Knights fell 13-10 in overtime. In the offseason, Rutgers had 12 players signed by NFL team, with a school-record seven selected in the NFL Draft.

Rutgers came out of the gates in 2013 with a 4-1 start through September. Following a 52-51 loss in overtime at Fresno State, RU rattled off four straight wins. The winning streak was highlighted by a comeback win over Arkansas in the first visit by an SEC team to High Point Solutions Stadium. In its first American Athletic Conference game, Rutgers won in triple overtime at SMU. Other conference victories included a late fourth quarter win with the hurry-up offense versus Temple and a postseason-clinching performance on Senior Night against USF. Running back Paul James and tight end Tyler Kroft earned first-team all-conference, while center Betim Bujari and kick returner Janarion Grant made second team.

The 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl was the eighth bowl trip in nine years for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights took on a ranked Notre Dame team inside a soldout Yankee Stadium. On July 1, 2014, Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten Conference to usher in a new era in its deep and storied history.

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