***** NCAA Football Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knights *****
By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: It almost happened last season. Rutgers came so close.
However, in the end the Scarlet Knights came up short in their bid for their
first ever outright Big East title. That doesn't mean the season wasn't a good
one. Under first year head coach Kyle Flood, who took over for Greg Schiano,
Rutgers finished the season 9-4, was named co-conference champions along with
Louisville and Syracuse, earned a bowl bid and even spent some time in the
Rutgers came blazing out of the gate and ripped off seven straight victories
to start the season, including an impressive 35-26 win on the road against
Arkansas. By playing dominating defense Rutgers also took care of its first
three conference foes by an average of 16.3 points per game including a 35-10
rout of Temple.
However, the good times came to a screeching halt when Rutgers lost at home to
Kent State (35-23). A pair of wins against Army (28-7) and at Cincinnati
(10-3) were nice rebounds and kept Rutgers well within reach of the outright
league title. Rutgers needed just a win against Pittsburgh to secure the
crown, but lost 27-6 setting up a huge showdown with Louisville in the last
game of the regular season. Rutgers led 14-3 at halftime but some costly
turnovers in the second half led to a 20-17 loss.
Due to the loss to the Cardinals, Rutgers missed out on the Big East's
BCS bowl bid. Rutgers still earned a bid to the Russell Athletic Bowl but a
13-10 loss to Virginia Tech in that contest ended a season that started so
well on a three game slide.
OFFENSE: The coaching ranks at Rutgers got shaken up again this season but not
at the top spot. Instead it is at offensive coordinator, where Ron Prince will
be taking over. Prince was a former offensive line coach in the NFL for the
Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts most recently.
The enigma that is Gary Nova will bring back experience at quarterback but it
remains to be seen how much of a positive that will be. At times last season
Nova looked poised and efficient but he also showed some bad habits. Nova
threw for 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns, while completing 57 percent of
his passes. However, he threw 13 interceptions in the last six games,
including two in the last five minutes of the loss to Louisville. Prince and
the rest of the Rutgers staff will hope Nova shakes off that slump this year.
The most exciting player on the offensive side of the ball for Rutgers is
undoubtedly Brandon Coleman. The sizable receiver stands at a staggering 6-
foot-6 which makes him a lethal threat in the passing game especially around
the end zone. Coleman hauled in 43 passes for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns last
season and should be collecting all-conference honors this year.
Coleman's head coach has even higher expectations for the talented wideout.
"(Coleman) as a wide receiver (is) somebody who I think will be one of the
premier players but not just in our conference but in the nation," Flood said.
The rest of the receiving corps is less exciting, although Quron Pratt (22
receptions, 230 yards) has some experience.
While Nova and Coleman bring consistency in the passing game the Scarlet
Knights will be in desperate need to fill the spot left by workhorse Jawan
Jamison. Jamison rolled up 1,075 yards last season, showing great toughness.
The hope is that Savon Huggins (410 yards) can fill his shoes. The rest of the
stable of backs is made up of a number of inexperienced players.
The left side of the offensive line has the experience any team would envy.
Both left tackle Kaleb Johnson and left guard Antwan Lowery will be back as is
center Betim Bujari. Andre Civil will anchor the right side from the tackle
slot, while Taj Alexander gets the first chance to fill in at right guard.
DEFENSE: This is the area in which Rutgers excelled last season. While the
offense was competent, Rutgers absolutely punished opposing squads
defensively. Rutgers ranked 10th in the country in total defense (311.6 ypg)
and fourth in scoring (14.2 ppg). The Scarlet Knights were especially strong
against the run, ranking sixth nationally in that category (97.2 ypg).
Replicating that type of production will be a tall order for this year's
rendition. Gone are Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene and a
number of other strong performers such as Steve Beauharnais.
"We've played high-level defense at Rutgers for a long time. And we've done
it with a lot of different people," Flood said, while acknowledging there are
big holes to fill. "At linebacker , we lost two great players but we are
fortunate to have a young man like Kevin Snyder who is also here, who will
help bridge the gap."
Snyder (30 tackles, 7.0 TFL) wasn't a full time starter last season but he has
plenty of experience.
The more likely candidate to replace Greene as the heart of the defense and
the linebacking corps is senior Jamal Merrell. Last season Merrell was third
on the team with 83 total tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. Merrell and Snyder
will man the outside spots which leaves the middle open for freshman Steve
Longa who has the unenviable task of literally replacing Greene.
The secondary has also been diluted with losses of Logan Ryan (4 INTs, 21
passes defended) and Brandon Jones (5 INTs). Safety Lorenzo Water (68 tackles)
is the only returning starter in the group that will field sophomore Tejay
Johnson and freshman Ian Thomas. Converted wide receiver Jeremy Deering will
also get time in the secondary, specifically at safety.
Continuing the trend of losing talent, Rutgers won't have one of its top pass
rusher from a year ago with Scott Vallone (12.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks) gone. However,
the unit up front may be where Rutgers has the most returning skill. Jamil
Merrell had a team-high 5.5 sacks last season and Marcus Thompson, also a
defensive end, has starting experience.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kyle Federico suffered a hip injury last season that limited
his kicking duties. Nick Borgese filled in and knocked in 5-of-8 field goal
attempts. Federico should be the primary option but Borgese can certainly
stand in if need be. Nick Marsh is a senior that will take over for Justin
Doerner, who handled every punt attempt last season.
In the return game Deering was a solid kick returner (24.3 yards per return)
and will be the primary specialist there. Miles Shuler returned a single punt
last season for 23 yards. Flood will be looking for more of that after last
season's primary punt returner, Mason Robinson, averaged just 4.8 yards per
OUTLOOK: Outside of Coleman there is not much star power on either side of the
ball for Rutgers. Flood will still have this team ready to go, especially on
defense which makes navigating through the 2013 schedule a task that will
involve a number of grinding battles.
A trip to face Fresno State will be the first of those tests as Rutgers heads
west to open the season on August 29. Rutgers then plays three straight games
at home highlighted by a rematch with Arkansas. Rutgers will get a shot at
conference favorite Louisville early in the year with a road trip to face the
Cardinals in the second conference game of the season. After Louisville,
Rutgers has another three-game homestand including a showdown with Cincinnati.
Trips to UCF and UConn close out November, while a home game against South
Florida wraps up the campaign.
Rutgers ended last season with a 2-4 record in the second half. Much of the
blame there can be placed on the regression of Nova. This time around the
defense won't be able to keep the offense propped up. That means Nova needs to
improve and Coleman needs to take another step toward his phenomenal
potential. Without such help Rutgers might be headed back towards the middle
of the conference pack.
08/21 12:05:49 ET