PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) – Even the thought of Rutgers playing for the national championship is too much for some people to take.

It doesn’t sound right. And it definitely doesn’t feel right to suggest undefeated Rutgers is better than Southern California, Texas, Florida, Auburn or Notre Dame, all with one loss.

But after the Scarlet Knights took Louisville’s best shot, dusted themselves off and dispatched a team many thought was a legitimate contender, Rutgers has to be in the title mix.

The 15th-ranked Scarlet Knights rallied from 18 points down to beat Louisville 28-25 Thursday night when Jeremy Ito kicked a tiebreaking field goal from 28 yards out with 13 seconds left.

Rutgers was in 13th place in the last Bowl Championship Series standings, behind eight teams with at least one loss. The Louisville win should give them a big boost, but how high will they climb come Sunday when the new standings come out?

“You know what, there’s a system we’re involved with, and whatever that system turns out is what you live with,” coach Greg Schiano said Friday. Schiano’s team, with splendid tailback Ray Rice and a nasty defense, has three games left – at Cincinnati, Syracuse at home and at West Virginia. Rutgers must win them all to have any shot at the national title game.

Overcoming the perception of their program – once singled out by Sports Illustrated as the worst in college football – will be just as important.

“Keep chopping” is Schiano’s favorite expression – his way of saying if you work hard and stay focused good things will happen. Now, Rutgers has to chop down its reputation.

For Rutgers to get a fair shake in the BCS, poll voters, pundits and the lobbyists who influence them need to get over their preconceived notions of the Scarlet Knights.

This isn’t the same team that stumbled through most of the last 25 years, bottoming out in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The only thing the teams have in common is the school colors are still red and white.

Heck, even the logo has changed.

“Look what’s going on around here right now,” fullback Brian Leonard said. “We’ve never had this before. How could it be frustrating because of a little number that means nothing to us really. We don’t worry about if we’re gonna make it to the BCS or if we’re gonna make it to the national championship game.

“We just need a team to play every week. Throw a team in there, and we’ll play you.”

Spoken like a veteran BCS-question dodger.

One week ago, the debate centered on whether an undefeated Louisville deserved a spot in the title game.

After the Cardinals won a battle of Big East unbeatens, defeating West Virginia 44-34, some complained about the shoddy defense and questioned the Cardinals’ credentials.

But they seemed to be winning the hearts, minds and hard-drives that determine which teams play for the BCS championship, ranking third behind unbeaten Ohio State and Michigan in the last BCS standings.

When the Cardinals went up 25-7 at Rutgers, they seemed to be on the way to a validating victory.

Rutgers wouldn’t let it happen.

Want defense? Check out these numbers – quarterback Brian Brohm and the Cardinals came into the game averaging 39 points and 492 yards per game.

Against Rutgers, coach Bobby Petrino’s offense managed 266 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cardinals, who managed just two first downs in the second half, were scoreless in the final 40 minutes and punted on seven consecutive drives before Brohm was sacked to end the game.

Rutgers’ defense, with Ramel Meekins and Devraun Thompson and others you’ve never heard of, looks and plays much like those fast, swarming Southeastern Conference defenses.

passes, and he threw for 189 yards and a TD.

What they can do as well as any team in the country is run. Rice, who went for 131 yards and two scores against the Cardinals, is third in the nation in rushing. Leonard can catch, run and block.

The Scarlet Knights might be one-dimensional, but they know where to go when the game is on the line. It could take them all the way to the national title game – as long as Rutgers isn’t dismissed simply for being Rutgers.

AP-ES-11-10-06 1817EST

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