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Rutgers: A Sleeping Giant or a Paper Tiger?

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Recently, during OTE's outstanding Rutgers' week, much of the talk concerned "the Sleeping Giant" that is the State College of New Jersey. And for the majority of people reading this fine website—namely, Midwesterners—that moniker holds water. But a deeper look into the enigma that is the Garden State will debunk that.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, it is true that New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country, and it does develop a lot of high school talent.

According to Pete Volk of SBNation, New Jersey, at least in 2015, produced the most 3-stars-or-better-players-per-FBS-school-in-the-state. It also ranked 11th overall in producing 3-stars-or-better recruits.

Alex Kirshner of SBNation took all the 4-and-5-star recruits of the last five years and ranked the states according to the ones that produced the most. New Jersey came in 12th. Just for the sake of comparison, New Jersey's 40 4-stars-or-better recruits was more than double the combined elite recruits of Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska.

That's better than all states except the biggest of the big boys: Florida, Texas, California, Georgia, Ohio, etc. As we know, talent equals on-the-field success, and New Jersey has high school talent, so it follows, to any logical person, that Rutgers is a sleeping giant.

Before explaining why I disagree with that notion, I need to explain a bit about my background.

I was born in New York City, and lived my first seven years in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Then my family moved to central New Jersey, 30 minutes away from New Brunswick (home of Rutgers), where I grew up and went to high school. I went to college in Pittsburgh, but came back to New Jersey after graduating. I spent the next 11 or so years—from 1994-2005—mostly in New Jersey.

I will also add that I didn't follow college football or take it seriously while growing up, which, as I will explain, is standard for most native New Jerseyans/New Yorkers. In my late 20s I became an Iowa fan, and I currently live in Wisconsin and have lived here since 2008.

At this point—43 years old—I have spent more time in the Garden State than in any other part of the country. Also, the majority of the people I know and have known are either New Yorkers or New Jerseyans.

With that said, there are three reasons why Rutgers, despite what seems to be a superabundance of in-state talent, is not a "sleeping giant."

There is No Such Thing as a Rutgers Fan

"Say wha? I know Rutgers doesn't have the following of, say, Ohio State or even Wisconsin, but 'no such thing?'"

Firstly, I have known Wisconsin fans. I have known Iowa fans. I have known Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State fans. I have even known an Illinois fan. Some of these people were graduates of the institution they cheered for. But most of them were and are fans because they were brought up, almost religiously, cheering for their teams.

These schools do not fill up their stadiums with 70,000, 80,000, 90,000, 100,000-plus every weekend strictly on alumni and current students. It is mostly people who cheer for the team because they grew up as fans of the team. Furthermore, those "fans," if they were blessed with extraordinary athletic ability would, without hesitation, play for the schools they were taught to love.

Rutgers, on the other hand, does not have such fans. As I've already mentioned, most people I've known through 43 years have been New Jerseyans and New Yorkers, and not one of them has been raised a fan of Rutgers.

I'll write that again: I, a native New Yorker/New Jerseyan who has spent the majority of his life in New York and New Jersey, have never known even one Rutgers fan.

There was never a Saturday in my life, while in New Jersey, that I saw Rutgers team flags littering the lawns of my neighbors. Ever. I see that every Saturday in Wisconsin and Iowa. Without exception.

Most of my friends in high school went to Rutgers, and yes, one-two of them did become Rutgers "fans," but only through virtue of going to the school.

I do not mean to denigrate their fandom. Just because someone went to the school does not make him any less of a fan. But I'd also bet if you put his pro football fandom against his Rutgers fandom, you'd see a different animal.

Yes, Rutgers has "fans," but only in the same way Northwestern has "fans" in that it doesn't have fans; it has alumni, and that is just not the same.

Native New Yorkers and New Jerseyans Don't Take College Football Seriously

As I mentioned, New Yorkers and New Jerseyans are rabid fans of football. I know and have known plenty of New Jerseyans and New Yorkers who are fans of the Giants, the Jets, the Eagles, and even the Cowboys. And their fandom, like any true fan, is maniacal, obsessive, religious and even weird.

But there are limitations to their following of any college football team because they don't take college football seriously.

Admittedly, I left New Jersey in 2005, the year Greg Schiano's Knights went 7-4 and Ray Rice became the team's starting tailback, so maybe things have changed drastically; however, it takes more than a few successful years to completely turn around a culture. And that is a culture that is steeped in pro football, and thus, sees college football as the minor leagues and therefore, not worth the time.

This tends to be the case for any city that shares a pro and college team. If you go through the map, you'll find that there is no elite, successful collegiate team that shares its city with a pro team. Georgia Tech is about as close one will get to a decent program in an NFL city, and within the state of Georgia, Georgia Tech is decidedly the (athletic) little brother to the University of Georgia. You'll notice USC has no local professional competition. Miami can't keep a consistent fanbase because it is a city school, and everybody is watching the Dolphins. As a University of Pittsburgh alumnus, I can confidently say very few Pittsburghers care about the Panthers. They're Steelers fans, and if they care about college football, they're PSU fans.

Yes, New Brunswick isn't an NFL City in the same way Atlanta, Miami and Pittsburgh are. However, New Jersey is basically one humongous suburb of the two major cities that account for its northern and western borders. As such, it is no coincidence that one of Rutgers' selling points is that it is only a 45-minute train ride into the big city (and a 30-minute drive, depending on traffic, to the Meadowlands).

The Nature of a New Jerseyan is that He Wants to Leave New Jersey

This might sound a bit out there, but bear with me.

A New Jerseyan, on one side, lives in the shadow of the biggest city in the country, and it is a city that looks down, and has always looked down, on the "Little Orange." On the other side, Philadelphia is its neighbor and while Philly doesn't hold the same condescension toward New Jersey as does New York, it still dwarfs its eastern neighbor.

The (fallacious) idea that New Jersey is the Armpit of America stems very much from the condescension, as well as literal garbage, New York has always dumped on New Jersey.

Perhaps it is for this reason that a New Jerseyan wants to get out of New Jersey. From an early age, a New Jerseyan internalizes a certain inferiority complex.

Consider New Jersey's favorite son, Bruce Springsteen. Every single song he wrote in the early part of his career, when he was still fully immersed in New Jersey, was about getting out.

Lyrics from "Born to Run":

Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young

Lyrics from "Thunder Road":

It's a town full of losers
And I'm pulling out of here to win

Getting out was a theme for my high school quarterback during my freshman year. He went on athletic scholarship to West Virginia (and died in the World Trade Center on 9-11). Or the quarterback during my sophomore and junior years. He went on athletic scholarship to Penn State. Or the quarterback during my senior year. He went on partial athletic scholarship to Lehigh (sorry, no record, but he played receiver).

It is true, of course, that Bruce Springsteen (and Jon Bon Jovi) moved back to New Jersey. But Bruce is living in a palace in Rumson in which he's fairly sheltered from New Jersey. Also, I bet he's got an apartment in the City. And Bon Jovi has a heliport at his pad up in the Highlands. He can get out whenever he wants.

Everybody, including Rutgers...uh..."fans" knows that adding RU to the B1G was a cash grab, plain and simple, and it is a cash grab that worked as detailed by Sports Illustrated's Brian Hamilton. Every fully vested B1G athletic program is and will continue to receive substantial television revenues that will support bigger and more bloated budgets. Each one of those athletic programs can thank Rutgers (as well as Maryland).

Moreover, academically, Rutgers is one of the finest institutions in the country and fits right into the B1G's prestigious academic climate (which can't be said for every recently added member of the conference).

On the other hand, the athletics are not so hot and football is meh at best. But does it have potential? Is it a sleeping giant?

New Jersey does have a strong recruiting base in common with elite programs like Ohio State, Florida, Texas and Georgia, but that's where the similarities end. That recruiting base, because they are New Jerseyans, wouldn't en masse play in New Jersey. Therefore, New Jersey's population density is moot because most of them would never stick around to play at Rutgers.

One might as well call Northwestern a sleeping giant, by virtue of its connection to Chicago.

Obviously, none of this involves scientific experiments and surveys. I have no numbers to back up my argument. It is strictly because I know my people. Furthermore, I have every belief that Chris Ash could turn Rutgers into a respectable, competitive program that regularly goes to bowls and every once in awhile, beats one of the B1G East juggernauts.

But a college football "giant," along the lines of Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, LSU, Florida, Florida State?

No, B1G fans, if you're looking for a "sleeping giant," look to the west to see if Penn State reawakens or to the south, where all that Under Armour money could turn Maryland into the eastern version of Oregon.

As for Rutgers, consistent mediocrity is its ceiling, and even if it does reach consistent mediocrity, nobody in New Jersey will care all that much.