Coach Kyle Flood and his Rutgers University football team will trek across the country in their first game of the season to face the Fresno State Bulldogs in sunny California on August 29. Flood is coming off a winning inaugural season in which the Scarlet Knights were the Big East co-Champs. The downer is that the season will only serve as toilet paper to a dying conference.
Two years ago, former coach Greg Schiano left behind a legacy of bowl success that was unparalleled in the school’s 99-year history. The Big East is no more, and Rutgers’ Big Ten debut is yet to be. So, Rutgers must dwell in the limbo named American Athletic Conference until 2014.
Last year, the Scarlet Knight offense started and often finished with Jawun Jamison; this year, it will be quarterback Gary Nova, who is expected to lead the offensive charge and become more a locker room leader as well. His career-high 22 passing touchdowns were among the best in the Big East.
Look for RB Savon Huggins to step in right away and get the bulk of the carries. Last year, he finished with over 800 yards from scrimmage and is likely chomping at the bit to improve on that number. WR Brandon Coleman‘s upcoming season has 1,000 yards written all over it, and is certain to challenge his Big East-leading 10 touchdowns from last season.
That critically-acclaimed Rutgers defense from 2012 was decimated by graduation and the NFL last year. Gone are two-time Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Green, CB Logan Ryan, LB Steve Beauharnals and S Durono Harmon. Rutgers faces a daunting task against a Bulldogs team that is ranked just outside of the Top 25 in some polls.
Senior quarterback Derek Carr could have easily bolted for the NFL last year, but he decided to come back. Carr is very mobile, can bootleg left or right, and is pretty accurate as well. He also has a strong group of receivers to throw the football to. Sophomore receiver Davante Adams will return as the go-to receiver on the outside and is sure to give Rutgers’ untested secondary fits.
Look for running backs Marteze Waller and Milton Knox to step in and fill the void left by the departure of Robbie Rouse until one separates himself from the other.
The Bulldogs are stacked on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense looks like a shadow of its former self. Gone are Phillip Thomas and Tristan Okapalaugo. Thomas had eight interceptions last year, while Okapalaugo finished with four sacks.
Though Fresno State is listed as a double-digit favorite versus the Scarlet Knights, the Bulldogs appear to be a team that will be looking to find its identity after losing so much talent and leadership to the NFL. Though all signs lead toward a blowout loss for Rutgers, I still feel as though this game is one the Scarlet Knights can steal. But, Bulldogs head coach Tim DeRuyter would likely beg to differ.
Despite the preseason poll prognosticators, Rutgers and Fresno are fairly even. Both teams finished with a 9-4 record last season, and each team lost its bowl game as well (Fresno State lost the Hawaii Bowl in a 48-10 stomp to SMU). Rutgers lost its final three games of the season last year. A loss to Fresno State would make the Scarlet Knights 0-4 in their last four games. It would also push any delusions of ranking to the far, far horizon.
Look for Rutgers’ defense to attack a Fresno State offensive line that is not battle-tested and try to get to the quarterback early. If Carr’s jersey is left unsullied, that spells bad news for a very young Rutgers secondary. The front four have to get in Carr’s face to give the Scarlet Knights’ secondary any chance against Davante Adams. Fresno State will win a defensive slobber-knocker 17-14.