CHICAGO -- Rutgers fans probably aren't too happy about their team's conference schedule, and you couldn't blame the players, either, if they were a little irked about receiving the 20th-most difficult slate in the nation.
But the Scarlet Knights aren't just welcoming the challenge of facing Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. They swear they prefer it.
"I wouldn't want it any other way," fullback Michael Burton said Monday afternoon. "I want to play the best of the best, and this conference offers that. That's why it's a blessing."
Of course, that's easy to say at Big Ten media days. What player is going to publicly say he wants the easy path to a bowl game? But defensive lineman Darius Hamilton took it one step further and reinforced the sincerity of the statement.
He was offered a hypothetical: What if RU would finish 5-7 with the hard schedule but would finish 7-5 with the easy schedule? Wouldn't he then prefer the easy path? The 265-pound lineman just shook his head.
"I'll pick the hard anytime," he said. "When your back's against the wall and you're pushed to the limits, that's when you find out what kind of men you have on your team. I'd rather take a hard loss than an easy win any day of the week."
A bowl berth would go a long way toward helping Rutgers gain respect in the Big Ten. But that obviously won't come easily in 2014. Rutgers plays three elite teams on the road -- the Buckeyes, Spartans and Cornhuskers -- and the second-strongest schedule in the B1G is ranked six spots behind the Scarlet Knights' slate.
But that's all just fine with head coach Kyle Flood.
"I think it's great," he said. "[Our players] are competitors. They want to go against the best. And if people are saying this is the best, then good."