Penn State tailback Bill Belton is a New Jersey native and was recruited by Rutgers, but he left the state because "I wanted to play big-time college football, so I came to Penn State."
With the Scarlet Knights playing host to Penn State this week in their first-ever Big Ten game, Belton's comment -- made at the Big Ten Media Days event -- has been, um, discussed by Rutgers players. Belton went to high school in Sicklerville, about 75 miles from Rutgers' campus.
"That definitely made its way around the locker room," Rutgers safety Johnathan Aiken told the Newark Star-Ledger. "One of my coaches even told me, so that's something that we've seen."
Aiken also said, "I'm excited that I get a chance to play against some 'big-time' competition. That's what I'm excited about."
Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo also is a Jersey native.
"I wanted to stay home because I wanted to bring a championship back to New Jersey," Carroo told the Star-Ledger. "You've got guys like Bill Belton, who's quoted as saying he wanted to go to Penn State because he wanted to play 'big-time football' instead of staying home. Well, I guess we're going to have to show him that he made that terrible decision."
This will be the 25th time the schools have met, but it will be the first meeting since 1995; the teams played annually from 1982-95. Penn State is 22-2 all-time against the Scarlet Knights, and Rutgers' wins came in 1918 and '88. This will be the first time Rutgers has played host to Penn State since 1955.
The irony for Belton: Had he attended Rutgers, he likely would be the second-string tailback, behind Paul James. James (6-0, 205), a junior, is a former walk-on who has attracted attention from NFL scouts because of his size, quickness, toughness and production.
James has rushed for 216 yards and four TDs this season, and also has two receiving touchdowns. He rushed for 881 yards and nine TDs last season despite missing three games and almost all of another with a leg injury. He is effective between the tackles for an offense that prefers a power-running game, and he can make guys miss on the second level despite not having elite speed.
James' production will be the key for Rutgers on Saturday: While quarterback Gary Nova has improved this season under new coordinator Ralph Friedgen, the Scarlet Knights won't beat Penn State if they have to rely on Nova.