The excitement at today's Rutgers football practice in Piscataway was palpable. Saturday's loss to Pitt did not even seem to be an afterthought as the Scarlet Knights prepared for a Thursday night contest against Louisville for the right to be outright Big East champions and earn a trip to a coveted BCS bowl.
Head coach Kyle Flood has taken the lead in prepping his team for what is expected to be the biggest game to take place in Piscataway in quite a few years.
"We have a great leader in coach Flood, he knows what it takes to win championships," said senior linebacker Khaseem Greene. "He's won one before so we just need to follow in his footsteps."
Flood also had a message for his team in regards to winning what would be the school's first ever BCS bid.
"He just told us we deserve it," Greene said. "We worked so hard for it. We put ourselves in this position to be in a conference championship game and now it's time for us to go take it."
With so much at stake, the environment at High Point Solutions Stadium is expected to be similar to what it was when Rutgers defeated a then 3rd ranked Louisville at home in early November of 2006.
"It was definitely a magical moment and I've never experienced anything like that," senior Steve Beauharnais said of that '06 Louisville game. "Up until this day, it's one of the most exciting moments of my life and I didn't even play."
Now, history could repeat itself but the significance of a win will be even greater with a BCS bowl berth up for grabs.
"I knew it was going to be like this. I knew," Beauharnais said. "As a player you sit home and you kind of envision how the season is going to come. And I knew this was going to be the game."
The crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium is expected to be at capacity for Thursday night's game and the team is counting on its fans for a little extra leverage.
"It is very important. It's important to take advantage of home field advantage," Greene said. "They get us going on third down, they make it loud. When we make big plays, they cheer. All that stuff gives us confidence and the fuel we need to keep going. It definitely will play a big part in this game."
A few more practices remain until kickoff although the team is eager to retake the field on game day.
"Everybody is anxious, today we were flying around, practicing hard," Beauharnais said. "Coaches were telling us to relax and we weren't even in pads today. ...I like the practice tempo we had out there. I like the physicality we're playing with and hopefully that transfers over to Thursday."
For this year's crop of seniors, a win over Louisville would be a fitting way to end their Rutgers careers.
But, as of now, the team doesn't seem to be looking past the 9-2 Cardinals in what will be Rutgers' toughest opponent to date.
"We're just in that zone. We just have to stay in that zone so we can attack this game the right way," said sixth-year senior Mason Robinson.
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