Time to continue the Best Case/Worst Case series with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who experienced the worst (1-5 start) and best (7-0 finish) in one season a year ago.
The schedule sets up perfectly for a dream run.
Rutgers gets Cincinnati at the right time, taking advantage of the Bearcats' adjustments on defense to squeak out a victory in the season opener. The Scarlet Knights then use the next two weeks against Howard and Florida International to iron out the wrinkles in their offense.
Senior Dom Natale wins the starting quarterback job and benefits from having all day to throw behind the league's best offensive line. The running game, led by Joe Martinek and Jourdan Brooks, combine to form a solid 1-2 punch and Tim Brown paces a better-than-expected receiving group. Freshman Tom Savage starts coming in for a few series at quarterback, giving the offense a Chris Leak-Tim Tebow vibe.
The team aces its lone nonconference test, at Maryland in Week 4, then continues its mastery of Pittsburgh in the Big East opener two weeks later. The toughest league road trip of the year, at UConn, becomes one-sided when Ryan D'Imperio knocks out Huskies quarterback Zach Frazer on the first play from scrimmage. Rutgers handily takes care of Syracuse and Louisville on the road, setting up a final-week showdown at home against West Virginia for the Big East title.
With the expanded stadium rocking and the eyes of New York City upon the game, the Scarlet Knights finally get the better of the Mountaineers when Savage dives into the end zone to complete the triple-overtime victory.
Though 12-0 and riding a 19-game winning streak, Rutgers does not make the BCS title game because of its weak nonconference schedule and general skepticism of the Big East. But after the Rose Bowl loses USC to the championship game, it breaks with tradition and matches the Scarlet Knights against Big Ten champ Penn State.
As Bruce Springsteen, James Gandolfini and Jon Bon Jovi cheer from the sidelines, Rutgers blows out the Nittany Lions and captures the attention of L.A. and New York City. Joe Paterno retires after the game, but Greg Schiano turns down the Penn State job to sign a new lucrative contract extension. With Savage back and Anthony Davis deciding to play one more year, the Scarlet Knights are talked about as a dark horse 2010 national title contender.
The schedule, it turns out, was not easy enough.
Playing the defending conference champs in the opener without an established quarterback or proven receivers turns out to be a disaster, as Cincinnati spoils the christening of the expanded stadium.
Natale struggles to make plays, starting a season-long, four-man quarterback controversy that tears the team apart from the inside. Martinek and Brooks remind nobody of Ray Rice, and the offense stalls all season.
Maryland holds serve at home, and Pitt finally snaps its losing streak against Rutgers with a win in Piscataway. UConn springs the upset in East Hartford, and with the season spiraling out of control, the Scarlet Knights lose to South Florida at home to fall to 4-5.
The team rebounds to beat Syracuse and Louisville but is blown out by West Virginia in the season finale. The final record stands at 6-6, but there's no bowl eligibility because of the two victories over FCS teams, raising more criticism about the schedule.
Davis turns pro. Penn State wins the national title. Syracuse has a winning year and starts to swipe more recruits out of the New York/New Jersey area. Springsteen and Bon Jovi form a country-and-western group. "The Sopranos" creator David Chase announces plans for a spinoff that will focus solely on Vito's exploits in Vermont.