PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Greg Schiano tells his team the same thing every week, that each Big East game is a championship game.
Next week, that will actually be the case.
With its 20-3 win over Cincinnati on Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers moved into a first-place tie with Louisville -- both are 4-2 in conference play. And with a win at UConn next Saturday in their regular-season finale, the Scarlet Knights would clinch at least a share of their first Big East title.
"It means a lot," said Schiano, in his 11th season as head coach. "I remember when [former athletic director] Bob Mulcahy hired me, we talked about it. We said, 'Hey, we're gonna get there but we're gonna do it right.' When Tim [Pernetti] took over, we had the same conversation: We're gonna get there, but we're gonna do it right. We're not gonna sacrifice what we believe in to get there.
"We're not there yet, but we're gonna have a chance next week."
Rutgers (8-3) has that chance because of a complete domination of Cincinnati, which entered the game 7-2 overall and 3-1 in Big East play. The Scarlet Knights controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes, had more than twice as many first downs and outgained the Bearcats by 160 yards.
Redshirt freshman Jawan Jamison carried the ball 34 times for 200 yards and scored both Rutgers touchdowns, becoming only the third freshman in school history to rush for 200 or more yards in a game. And he did it against a Cincinnati team that was ranked second in the country in rushing defense, giving up just 81.4 yards per game on the ground.
Rutgers, on the other hand, was the third-worst rushing team in the country, averaging just 90.4 yards per game.
"The way we ran the football, that's who we want to be," Schiano said. "[Jamison] looked fresh, he made people miss, he kept things going forward. It was excellent."
Jamison accumulated 136 of his yards after halftime. "In the second half, you could tell, they were a little beat down," he said. "And we just kept punishing them."
"We pride ourselves on being able to stop the run on defense and we weren't able to do that today," Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. "Rutgers controlled the line offensively and defensively."
On the other side of the ball, Rutgers almost pitched a shutout against a team that was averaging 37.1 points per game. The Bearcats were without starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who broke his right ankle in a loss to West Virginia last week.
Sophomore Munchie Legaux made his first career start in Collaros' place, and completed just 12 of his 31 passes.
The game couldn't have been more different than last year's matchup between these teams, in which the Cincinnati offense racked up 661 total yards in a 69-38 annihilation.
But star linebacker Khaseem Greene insisted that last season's defeat wasn't Rutgers' motivation in this game.
"That stuff from last year wasn't even talked about," Greene said. "We don't need that to motivate us. We don't need last year to motivate us. We got each other to motivate us."
That 31-point loss to Cincinnati was the fourth of six consecutive losses to end last season for Rutgers, a streak which started the week after Eric LeGrand injured his spinal cord covering a kickoff against Army and was paralyzed.
After a promising 4-2 start, the Scarlet Knights staggered home, finishing in last place in the Big East.
"I don't want to minimize last year, but there's a lot of things that went into last year," Schiano said. "After six games, we're 12th in the country in scoring defense last year -- after half the season. The wheels came off for a lot of reasons."
Rutgers was never able to recover after LeGrand's injury. But the Scarlet Knights have surely been inspired by him and his recovery this year -- including Saturday, when he was one of 16 players honored on Senior Day.
And now the Scarlet Knights, picked to finish in last place again before the season, are on the verge of making history.
Four other Big East teams also have just two conference losses -- including Louisville and West Virginia, which own head-to-head tiebreakers over Rutgers. So the Scarlet Knights will need some help to secure the Big East's automatic BCS bowl bid.
But a major goal can be achieved next Saturday at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., nonetheless.
"It's big," Greene said. "But we know we can't let it be too big, or else we might lose sight of what's really in front of us and what we gotta focus on, and that's the game.
"We can't get into the standings and things like that. We just gotta do what got us here, and finish off the deal."