2012 marked the first year for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights without the guidance of the man that brought them to national prominence, Greg Schiano. However, that certainly didn’t prove to be much of an issue as first-year head coach Kyle Flood let the Scarlet Knights to a 9-4 record, culminating in a narrow Russell Athletic Bowl loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies.
While that was an impressive debut, 2013 should give us a good indication of how effective Flood really is as they return just 10 total starters off that team last year. Can he motivate these players to grab an AAC title in this their last year in the conference before bolting to the B1G?
Let’s take a look at the no. 40 team on our Top 100 Countdown, Rutgers.
One of those 10 starters returning from 2012 is QB Gary Nova. As a sophomore last season, Nova was passable, yet could use vast improvement coming into this season. Passing for 2695 yards and 22 TD was more than you can ask out of a QB in Rutgers’ situation last season. But to be more effective, he’ll have to improve upon the 16 interceptions he totaled in 2012.
The backfield is where the offense will take the biggest hit with the loss of 1100-yard rusher Jawan Jamison. Junior Savon Huggins, who totaled 410 yards and two TDs last year, will be asked to fill the gap with his bruising, between-the-tackles running style.
On the good news front, Nova does have his leading receiver back in junior Brandon Coleman. Coleman hauled in 43 passes last season for 718 yards and 10 TDs. While a bulk of the attention will certainly be paid to him, senior Quron Pratt will be looked upon as the guy to step up on the opposite side and give the passing game a little more balance.
Speaking of balance on offense, that cause will certainly be helped by an experienced, returning offensive line. With three starters returning up front, led by First-Team All-AAC LG Antwan Lowery, the offense will have suitable protection as they ease their way into finding their niche and comfort zones.
Senior DE Jamil Merrell leads what should be a very effective defensive line unit in 2013. Between Merrill (40 tackles) and senior Marcus Thompson (23 tackles) on the ends plus the expected emergence of Penn State transfer Jamil Pollard on the inside, this Scarlet Knights DL could turn into a formidable force by mid-season.
Experience is a trait that is not on the side of the linebacker group. They return one 2012 starter in senior Jamal Merrell and are hoping that redshirt freshman Steve Longa and junior Kevin Snyder can come into their own rather quickly. If not, this unit could become quite the unwanted weak link of this defense.
Safety Lorenzo Waters returns to hold down the secondary, coming off a season which saw the talented junior record 68 tackles. The rest of the secondary is a tremendous question mark. A lot of eyes are on South Carolina transfer Sheldon Royster to live up to his billing that landed him in the SEC in the first place. The bad news is that this could easily turn into a player-by-committee situation, which usually never ends well.
Rutgers opens up the year against a very tough Fresno State Bulldogs squad that could easily have this team beginning the season at 0-1. Late in September they welcome the Arkansas Razorbacks into New Brunswick, which is up in the air depending on how Bret Bielema has recovered that program after last year’s debacle. They have to play at Louisville early in October and then have a test at home against Cincinnati.
Not good. This team only lost three games in the regular season last year and the four games mentioned above are all potential notches in the loss column. The two keys to any kind of success remotely matching last season’s is Nova cutting back on the turnovers and how well, and quickly, the defense can mesh together. If these things don’t occur in a timely fashion, Rutgers could easily be looking at a campaign somewhere around the 7-5 range.
Jack is a College Football Writer for Rant Sports. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackJ14RS