FEW QUARTERBACKS began the year as poorly as Rutgers's Mike Teel, who threw seven interceptions and just three touchdown passes during a 1--5 start. Besides being repeatedly booed on his home field, Teel had his Wikipedia page vandalized with profane comments, the cyber version of getting his tires slashed. After throwing a pick in the dying moments of a 23--21 loss at Navy on Sept. 20, TV cameras caught him delivering an angry slap to the helmet of reserve safety Glen Lee, who had merely been telling his quarterback to keep his head up.
But since that start Teel, a fifth-year senior from Oakland, N.J., has been one of the hottest passers in Division I-A, connecting on 65.8% of his throws, with 13 touchdowns. Not coincidentally, the Scarlet Knights have reeled off five straight wins. In a 30--3 drubbing of Army last Saturday, Teel completed 23 of 33 passes in three quarters of work for one score and 359 yards (two yards short of the career best he put up in a 54--34, six-TD beatdown of 17th-ranked Pitt on Oct. 25). The victory made the Knights bowl eligible for the fourth straight season. "Mike's an individual version of what we've done as a team," says coach Greg Schiano.
For the most part Teel has kept his cool, perhaps because, except for one season as an undersized five-year-old end, he has always been a quarterback. And a winning one, at that. At Bergen County powerhouse Don Bosco Prep, he led the Ironmen to 23 consecutive victories and back-to-back state titles. "Mike learned that you take the good with the bad," says his father, Mike. "He says he blocked everything out this year. That's the job. You deal with it."
The reasons for Teel's turnaround? The Knights' young offensive line, which lost three starters to the NFL, finally jelled. In the first six games the 6'4", 220-pound Teel was hit more than at any other point in his career; in the last five he's taken less of a beating. To help buy his quarterback time, offensive coordinator John McNulty has also been calling more rollouts.
Most important has been the emergence of junior wideout Kenny Britt, a 6'4", 215-pound playmaker who leads the country with 119.1 receiving yards per game. Against 5'9", 192-pound Army cornerback Antuan Aaron, Britt turned a physical mismatch into a banner day, with 10 catches for a career-high 197 yards. On one 44-yard completion late in the first quarter, Teel heaved a jump ball and let Britt go get it. Says Teel, "If he's not going to come down with it, nobody else is."
Teel hasn't been perfect. He has thrown five interceptions during the Knights' streak, and he can be erratic when he senses the rush. But it's no stretch to call him the best quarterback in Rutgers's 139-year history—on Saturday, he became the school leader in passing yards (8,617) and total offense (8,405). After the way the season began, that is no small consolation. "There's a lot of what-ifs," Teel says. "I just wish this had happened sooner."
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REVERSED CALL With five wins in a row, Teel (14) has changed the boobirds' tune.