Detroit — It's only fitting that the Rutgers football team spends the holiday season in the Motor City, playing North Carolina in the inaugural Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field.
After all, Rutgers played its inaugural season of Big Ten football, earning a historic win over Michigan for its first conference victory while also taking it on the chin against the Big Ten powerhouses.
Rutgers (7-5, 3-5 East) jumped out to a great start, winning five of its first six games, including a 26-24 win over the Wolverines Oct. 4th in New Jersey.
"For us it was our first Big Ten win and so it's a history-making moment for our university," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said.
"When the birthplace of college football wins their first Big Ten football game, that's a moment I think that the university will remember for a long time, our fan base will remember for a long time, but it's not really something that we thought about above and beyond the end of the game, because you're quickly moving on to the next opposition and another good football team in the Big Ten that you have to coach against."
And, unfortunately for Flood and the Scarlet Knights, they dropped their next three games, 56-17 to Ohio State, 42-24 to Nebraska and 37-0 at home to Wisconsin. They also lost at Michigan State, Nov. 22, 45-3.
Still, Flood thinks Rutgers is a perfect fit for the Big Ten.
"I felt all along, from the moment we entered the Big Ten, that it really was a perfect fit," Flood said. "I thought we were good for the Big Ten and I thought the Big Ten was good for us. I thought the academic values of Rutgers University fit into the academic values of the Big Ten. I thought our football program, a program that at the time had gone to eight bowl games in nine years, would fit in to the Big Ten competitively.
"Going to a bowl game in our first year in the conference, winning seven games with what people told me before the year was the most challenging conference schedule of anybody in the Big Ten, going on the road to play Washington State early in the season, on the road to play Navy, I think it just confirmed what I said all along. At the beginning of the season we expected to be playing in the postseason, and we are at a great location, in a bowl game that's partnered with one of the really premier NFL franchises. We're really excited about it."
Rutgers ranks in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in total offense (378.8) and fifth in passing offense (231), but is near the bottom in scoring defense (11th, 30.9) and passing defense (12th, 227.8).
Senior Gary Nova had some impressive performances for the Scarlet Knights, throwing for 404 yards in the win over Michigan, then throwing for 347 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-38 comeback win at Maryland.
"Our inaugural year in the Big Ten was a great experience," said athletic director Julie Hermann. "I couldn't be prouder of Rutgers football going 7-5, making a statement that we belong in the league.
"To be able to bring that here to Detroit and be a part of Quick Lane was an outstanding opportunity for us."
North Carolina vs. Rutgers
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m. today, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: North Carolina 6-6; Rutgers 7-5
Outlook: Rutgers (Big Ten) got off to a strong start, winning five of its first six before dropping four of its last six, including one-sided setbacks to Ohio State (56-17), Wisconsin (37-0) and Michigan State (45-3). North Carolina, which has the nation's No. 24 passing attack, defeated Top 25 teams Duke and Georgia Tech and went toe-to-toe with Notre Dame midway through the season before falling.