Rutgers enjoying first bowl trip since 1978

Updated: December 24, 2005, 5:15 PM ET
Associated Press

PHOENIX -- With temperatures approaching 80 degrees, the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers are literally basking in their first bowl appearance in 27 years.

"It's pretty much everybody in the pool every day," four-year starting linebacker William Gilkison said.

The team has been here since Wednesday to prepare for Tuesday night's Insight Bowl game against Arizona State.

"I mean, so far it's been unbelievable," Gilkison said after his team's practice on Saturday. "It's beautiful out here and the different things we get to do."

Not that the team is just happy to get to the postseason for the second time in school history, and first since 1978.

"We set our goal before the season to win a bowl game," coach Greg Schiano said. "If your goal is to get to a bowl game, there is a tendency to let down. We want to make this an annual thing."

The cross-country trip from New Jersey came after the long-downtrodden program put together a 7-4 record in Schiano's fifth year at the school. It's their first postseason appearance since the 1978 Garden State Bowl, where coincidentally the Knights also played Arizona State.

Schiano said this is just the beginning, and he has a new seven-year contract extension to use in recruiting. His contract rises from $325,000 this year to $625,000 in 2006, counting private sources.

"It's great for us that we're able to have the chance to show that we're building something very special and very big," he said. "I'm from New Jersey. I love it here. They know there's a coaching staff that wants to be here."

The Rutgers administration gave Schiano time to accomplish his massive rebuilding project.

"I think people understood what kind of dire strait the program was in when we arrived," he said. "It was probably the worst Division I program in the country. It was going to be a long road. Everybody understood that."

The team's long climb makes the bowl experience even sweeter, Gilkison said.

"We don't take anything for granted," he said. "We are trying to enjoy everything and appreciate it."

The Knights are essentially the visiting team. Arizona State (6-5) will travel a dozen miles down the freeway to Chase Field, formerly Bank One Ballpark -- the home of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks.

"People say they're the best 6-5 team in the country," Schiano said. "I think they might be better than that."

Schiano took the team to Sun Devil Stadium Saturday to watch the Philadelphia Eagles, quarterbacked by Rutgers alum Mike McMahon, against the Arizona Cardinals.

That will eat in to some of that swimming time, and it cools off when the sun sets this time of year in the desert.

No matter, Schiano said.

"We're from New Jersey," he said. "If it's 60 degrees, it's `Everybody in the pool."'

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press