Football Bowl Subdivision
           ***** 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
 national rankings.
 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