Rutgers has had to wait almost a month for the chance to erase the bad taste from a home loss to Louisville that prevented the Scarlet Knights from clinching their first Big East championship and a trip to a BCS bowl game.
The Scarlet Knights finally get that chance Friday night, taking on Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl at Orlando's Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Rutgers (9-3) is looking to post only the third 10-win season since the university first played football in 1869. But many say the Scarlet Knights already should have reached that number.
Needing one win in their last two games to gain the Big East title and a BCS berth, the Scarlet Knights fell at Pittsburgh, 27-6, and to Louisville, 20-17, in the prime-time finale.
Against Louisville, sophomore quarterback Gary Nova threw two late interceptions, the first leading to the Cardinals' game-winning field goal with 1 minute, 41 seconds remaining, and the second thwarting Rutgers' comeback. The Scarlet Knights held the ball for less than 18 minutes and ran 45 plays to 80 for Louisville.
Kyle Flood, completing his first season as Rutgers head coach, said he hopes his players have put the Nov. 29 loss behind them and are focused on the Hokies (6-6).
"You've got to move forward in life," Flood said after a practice this week. "That game happened, and we're not happy about it. But it happened. And now that's in the past. That game is a part of history. Now we move forward, and we try to make more history.
"We have tremendous goals left for us to accomplish, and that's really where our focus is."
All-American linebacker Khaseem Greene, a two-time Big East defensive player of the year, wants to go out on a positive note. He leads a unit that ranks fourth in FBS in points allowed (14.3 per game), 11th in rushing defense (105.0 yards per game), and 14th in total defense (321.3 yards per game).
"The game, for me, is going to mean everything," Greene said. "It is going to be a legacy, another chapter for me being closed and another chapter for this program, this family, being closed. It will definitely set us apart from everybody. It's going to determine if we're a good team or a great team."
Junior cornerback Logan Ryan, a graduate of Eastern High School in South Jersey, has four interceptions for a team that owns a plus-9 advantage in takeaways to turnovers.
Virginia Tech barely reached its 20th consecutive bowl game thanks to two overtime victories and a season-ending 17-14 win over Virginia. The Hokies will test the Rutgers defense with 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior quarterback Logan Thomas, who led the team in rushing and has averaged nearly 276 yards in total offense per game.
The Scarlet Knights will counter with Nova, who has completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,566 yards and 22 touchdowns, and his corps of receivers who have the ability to stun opposing defenses with big plays.
Against Louisville, Nova connected on touchdown passes of 85 yards to Brandon Coleman (17.0-yard average per catch, 10 touchdowns) and 68 yards to Mark Harrison (team-high 42 receptions).
"Things like that can really break the momentum of another team," Nova told the Orlando Sentinel. "Whenever you get a big play, it's really a good momentum booster."
Sophomore tailback Jawan Jamison, said to be fully recovered from a sprained ankle suffered earlier this season, has rushed for 1,054 yards.
Special teams could play a role Friday. The Scarlet Knights blocked eight kicks this season, tied with UCLA for the most by any FBS team. The Hokies have dangerous return men in freshman Demitri Knowles and sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett.
After using two kickers this season, Flood announced he will go with redshirt freshman walk-on Nick Borgese, who has made four of five field-goal attempts and 16 of 17 extra-point tries.
Tech's special helmets. Virginia Tech announced it will honor the school shooting victims in Newtown, Conn., with a decal on the side of players helmet. The helmet includes "SH" for Sandy Hook and "58," representing the combined number of victims of mass shootings in Newtown and on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg in 2007.