LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -There was a time when Rutgers didn't have to worry about where it spent the holidays.
The answer, for years, was always the same: at home.
Those days, however, are long gone.
The surging Scarlet Knights (6-5, 4-2 Big East) are all but assured of a fourth straight bowl game for the first time in the program's history entering Thursday night's season finale against reeling Louisville (5-6, 1-5) in Piscataway, N.J., the only question is where.
Not that the Scarlet Knights are worried about what to pack for the trip.
``All the speculation and everything that comes with it, there's no reason for it unless we go out and do what we need to do,'' said quarterback Mike Teel. ``Bottom line is if we don't take care of business and take care of what we need to do, then we can go anywhere from a great bowl to staying home.''
er in five short years, a move that has coincided with Teel and seven other fifth-year seniors who have helped put set the foundation for one of college football's most surprising turnarounds.
``When Mike Teel came to school here, it certainly wasn't in vogue to come to Rutgers at the time,'' coach Greg Schiano said. ``They took a shot at Rutgers and took a shot at us. The (senior) class that played as true freshmen had a little more evidence to go on. I think these are special kids who made the decision to come here.''
While the Scarlet Knights have fallen back a bit from the heady days of 2006, when they flirted with a perfect season and rose into the Top 10 in the polls, Schiano said his team's resiliency this year has been just as important for the program's development.
Rutgers got off to a 1-5 start and seemed on the edge of imploding. Their frustration boiled over in a loss to Navy on Sept. 20, when Teel angrily lashed out at a teammate trying to console him after Teel threw the game-clinching interception.
Narrow losses to West Virginia and Cincinnati soon followed. Yet with the season at a tipping point, Schiano stuck with Teel and the Scarlet Knights have responded by becoming arguably the Big East's best team in the second half of the year. They've won their last five games by an average of 20 points, including a 33-point rout against preseason conference favorite South Florida.
Schiano said there wasn't one play or even one game that allowed his team to turn its season around. Instead, it was simply the rededication of his players, who weren't ready for Rutgers to fall back into also-ran status.
``There's a little bit extra preparation that our guys have done has allowed them to play just a little bit better,'' Schiano said. ``As a team overall that's been the biggest thing.''
Rutgers' surge has coincided with Louisville's slide. The Cardinals have lost four straight after a promising 5-2 start and need a win to avoid the program's first losing season since 1997. A victory would make the Cardinals bowl eligible, but even with a win they will likely miss a bowl game for the second straight year.
Though injuries and inexperience have something to do with Louisville's struggles, coach Steve Kragthorpe knows most of his team's problems are self-inflicted.
In Louisville's five wins the Cardinals have given the ball away six times, compared to 22 times in their six losses. Their minus-10 turnover margin is the worst in the conference, killing an offense that is second in the Big East in yards per game.
``It's some freaky bounces this year,'' Kragthorpe said. ``We get one tipped (against West Virginia) at the line of scrimmage and it looks like it's going to be incomplete and another guy sticks his hand up and volleyball sets that thing and a guy picks it up and runs it inside the 10. That's the way it's been.''
Kragthorpe hopes the Cardinals can rally in their finale the way they did a year ago when they roared back from a 17-point deficit against the Scarlet Knights to win on a field goal as time expired.
It won't be easy for a team that is just 1-5 on the road in the Big East the last two seasons. Still, the Cardinals remain dangerous enough that the Scarlet Knights know they can't afford to overlook them.
``What I learned to do from Coach Schiano and from being here as long as I have, you just have to focus on the task at hand,'' linebacker Kevin Malast said. ``Because whenever your mind wonders and focuses on stuff like that, you're not playing as good. The whole team knows that'll all take care of itself.''
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