Just looking at the numbers, the Rutgers senior class of football players who will be honored Saturday when the Scarlet Knights take on 16th-ranked Penn State at HighPoint.com Stadium in Piscataway, N.J., may not have much to celebrate.
The last four years have seen the Scarlet Knights compile an 11-35 record overall and a 4-28 mark in the Big Ten, with just one win this season and an 0-7 mark in conference play.
But Chris Ash, who is wrapping up his third season as Rutgers head coach, feels the group of 16 seniors has kept the younger players focused while handling adversity "with class and professionalism."
"They've been through a lot," Ash said Monday at his weekly news conference. "They came in with a lot of guys and not many are left. I look at our season this year and it hasn't gone the way any of us wanted, but I truly believe we have improved, especially as of late, and lot of that is because of them.
"When a senior goes through this type of senior year, it's easy for them to shut it down and quit and start to focus on what's next for them. These guys have not done that."
One senior of note is linebacker Trevor Morris, a Malvern Prep graduate from King of Prussia, who leads the team with 91 tackles, fourth in the Big Ten.
"I still remember when we got here and he was out there," Ash said. "He really hadn't done anything, hadn't played. He's really come a long way, developed. He's gotten bigger, he's matured. He's learned how to study the game. He's pretty serious about playing as well as he can."
The Scarlet Knights will host a ranked team for the second straight week. They were defeated, 42-7, Saturday by Michigan but posted two statistics of note — rushing for 193 yards against a defense that had given up an average of 93.9 yards per game on the ground coming in, and allowing no sacks.
By comparison, Penn State rushed for 68 yards and allowed five sacks in its 42-7 loss at Michigan on Nov. 3.
Ash has seen plenty of Nittany Lions senior quarterback Trace McSorley the last two years, in which Penn State has outscored Rutgers, 74-6. The coach said he is not fooled by the fact that McSorley's numbers (1,871 passing yards, 54.3 percent completion rate) are a bit down this season.
"To start, Trace is a great player," Ash said. "He can beat you with his feet and beat you with his arm. He's a competitor. I don't know if it's necessarily anything that a defense is doing to slow him down because he's still got a lot of production. He's very dangerous.
"It's a different team than they had last year. The pieces around him are different, but he's still a great player. He's fun to watch."
This will be Rutgers' fifth game against Penn State as a member of the Big Ten, and the 29th meeting of the two teams overall. The Nittany Lions own a 26-2 advantage.