Rutgers focused on Big East title, not Big 10 move

Senior linebacker Khaseem Greene will be long gone before
Rutgers ever takes a snap as a member of the Big Ten.

Forgive Greene if he’s not exactly caught up in the hype
surrounding the school’s decision to bolt the Big East for more
stable ground in 2014.

”At the end of the day, we ain’t winning no Big Ten
championship this year,” Greene said.

The Big East, however, is another matter entirely.

The 21st-ranked Scarlet Knights (9-1, 5-0 Big East) can clinch
at least a share of the conference title with a victory Saturday in
Pittsburgh. Heady territory for a program that’s been playing
football for 143 years.

It’s a benchmark Rutgers was on the verge of reaching a year
ago, only to lose to Connecticut in the regular season finale. The
memory still stings, though the Scarlet Knights believe it can also
be an important reminder on not overlooking anyone, particularly
the Panthers (4-6, 1-4).

”We can learn a lot from that (Connecticut loss) and understand
that every team is dangerous and every team has good players and if
you’re not ready to go and don’t take a team seriously they can
come up and surprise you,” senior defensive tackle Scott Vallone
said.

Something the Panthers (4-6, 1-4) have done a couple of times
this season. They stunned Virginia Tech in September when the
Hokies were still considered dangerous and nearly knocked off
top-ranked Notre Dame last month, falling in triple overtime.

Like Rutgers, Pitt is making a beeline for another conference.
The Panthers will join the ACC next fall. Like Rutgers, Pitt is
hoping to maximize its final days in the conference it has called
home for the last two decades, even if the Panthers’ goals at this
point are a bit more modest than vying for a Bowl Championship
Series berth.

Pitt needs to win each of its final two regular season games to
become bowl eligible for a fifth straight season. It’s not exactly
the conference title the Panthers talked about in August, but it’s
something.

”We’re definitely in touch with reality and what we have to
do,” wide receiver Devin Street said. ”We know we have to beat
Rutgers. We know we have to beat South Florida, too. It’s something
we want to do for the seniors.”

A class that has seen more than its fair share of tumult. The
Panthers have burned through four head coaches – six if you count a
pair of interims – and more than a handful of missed opportunities
over the last four years.

They believe they’re heading in the right direction under
first-year coach Paul Chryst, who has won the locker room over with
his straightforward approach. It’s only a matter of time, they
figure, before winning games follows suit.

”The older guys we talk about it all the time, we hope (Chryst)
stays around for a long time,” senior center Ryan Turnley said.
”We think he can take this program to great heights. We think he’s
a great coach. We’ve had a lot of coaches and he’s going to take
Pitt where everyone wants to see.”

Delaying Rutgers’ party for at least a week would be a step in
the right direction.

Good luck with that.

The Scarlet Knights have been the Big East’s biggest surprise,
riding a dominant defense that has overcome the flurry of mistakes
by sophomore quarterback Gary Nova, who has turned it over 11 times
in the last four games. Save for a peculiar – not to mention
stunning – upset loss to Kent State, Rutgers has been the steadiest
team in a conference where teams look either great or awful from
week to week.

The goal now is to not get caught looking ahead. A showdown with
Louisville looms next weekend. First things first, however. And the
Scarlet Knights can add a very big first if they can win their
final meeting with Pitt for the foreseeable future.

”Obviously, we want to finish it up and be the lone Big East
champions but we know that if we win this week we accomplish
something that has never happened in school history,” Nova said.
”It’s an accomplishment in itself but as a team, as competitors,
we want to play in a BCS bowl game and represent this school.”

Pitt didn’t begin the season talking about playing spoiler. It’s
a role, however, they’ve relished in years past, none more
memorable than an upset of rival West Virginia in 2007 that
derailed the Mountaineers’ hopes for a national title.

The stakes aren’t quite as high this time, but the Panthers
would love nothing more than to start building some forward
momentum heading into the ACC while sending the 18 seniors out with
a victory in their final home game.

”We’re playing for the coaches, and we’re playing for us as a
team,” defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. ”So, it would be
great to win these last two games to be bowl eligible and give
these seniors a bowl to go out with. That’s why we’re working so
hard this week. We still have a lot to accomplish this
season.”

Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP