Bon Jovi. Aeropostale. Clam chowder. Hair gel. The Kennedys. Talking loudly. These are all things that people from the Northeast seem to like a whole lot more than the rest of the country. Here’s one thing that they like a whole lot less: college football. The reason why is pretty simple: Besides Boston College, no Northeastern program east of Pennsylvania has the tradition, fan following and recruiting base to compete with the larger programs. This may be true, but the best chance for an exception to this rule may lie in a small town in New Jersey home to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, where college football has the chance to get big.

There will always be times when even the best college teams have a few hard years, and so a winning tradition is essential for any enduring program. Where would Georgetown basketball fans be without that championship in ’84 to dream about? It’s the same with college football. It can’t be fun to be a Michigan football fan right now, but at least they have their giant stadium, classic uniforms and decades of winning to point to when some Michigan State fan starts gloating.

In the Northeast, winning traditions have been hard to come by for the last half decade or so, and this causes many of the Northeast’s best talent to travel far and wide for college ball. After all, when a recruiting coach tries to pitch a winning tradition, asking a 17-year old kid to dream back to the days of Herbert Hoover to find a winning tradition at your school is a lot to ask. Our nation’s short-term memory even has the northeastern programs, which were the first to play the game back in the 1870s, struggling to maintain their winning tradition.

Along with tradition, it takes a solid and dedicated fan base to get much interest from a recruit. One of the main problems here in the Northeast is the size of the universities. Sure, there are schools like CUNY or UMass with massive student bodies, but these populations are broken up into sometimes double-digit satellite schools with tons of commuting students and often limited campus life. The 37,000 undergraduates studying at UT-Austin can sure fill a stadium. Obviously fans also bring in more money, which buys snappy weight rooms, team buses and gear. Not to mention the television and media exposure a large fan base demands. Recruits make programs, and it’s hard to get recruits without the money and the fans.

Speaking of recruits, it’s probably a smart idea to have some good ones in your area. Sure, the elite programs draw players from all over the country, but what are the odds that a top player from California is going to trek over to upstate New York to play for Colgate and go unrecognized on campus, when he could stay in sunny California?

The aforementioned exception to the rule, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, might just have the answers to all of these challenges. Coming off of three strong seasons with some of his stars recently graduated, Coach Gary Schiano is at a critical stage in the program’s development that could spell a more permanent home in the rankings or a slow sink back to mediocrity.

When it comes to tradition, it’s hard to top the early days of Scarlet Knight football. After all, it was the original Rutgers Stadium where college football was born in 1869. After that glorious co-national championship with the only other team in existence, things kinds of went downhill (for a century or so), but with the right spin and a few winning seasons, Rutgers could have a great claim to fame.

In the fan department, the Schiano era has set season-highs for home attendance in each of the last five seasons. Clearly a lot of this has to do with bandwagon attention for a program that has been one of the worst in the nation in the last half-decade prior to about 2001, but the 2003 Scarlet Knights set an attendance record with a 5-7 record. The school has clearly responded to this new fan attention with a $120 million expansion plan that will increase capacity by 12,000 seats. If the Scarlet Knights can bring their current 10-game sell-out streak to the new stadium capacity, it will be evidence of growth in the fan base.

No doubt helped by promises of this better, larger stadium, Schiano has also made great strides in bringing quality recruits to his campus. New Jersey is unique in that it is the one northeastern state (other than Pennsylvania which hosts its best college football much nearer to the Ohio border) that has a wealth of high school talent. The third best high school football team in the country, according to, plays in New Jersey, and the state has another high school team in the national top 25. When it comes to actual recruits, New Jersey had six recruits in the national top 250 last year, and has done even better in years past.

The problem, historically, has been that these recruits go south or west. This trend may be changing. The Scarlet Knights currently have the best recruiting class in the Big East according to Rivals, and the 20th best nationally, beating out schools like Arkansas and Missouri and falling just one spot behind Florida.

These are all good signs for Rutgers football, but the window of opportunity is small. With the diversity of successful pro-teams dotting the Northeast, the Scarlet Knights will have to maintain and even improve if they hope to compete with the draw of pro ball. The future may be bright, but if Schiano is unable to replace the big name players like Rice with other stars, much of the Northeast may never see the light that is college football.

Jamie Leader is a senior in the College. He can be reached at FOLLOW THE LEADER appears in every other issue of HOYA SPORTS.

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