Rutgers University football coach Kyle Flood had his tongue in cheek when he recently expressed his gratitude to his school’s athletic department for scheduling Fresno State as the Scarlet Knight’s opening opponent.
“Nothing like traveling across country and having to face a Heisman Trophy candidate like Derek Carr in game 1,” Flood said, with a dry smile on his face. “And in front of a passionate and hostile Bulldog Stadium crowd of over 30,000 fans (capacity 41,031).”
Fresno State is not what you would call your opening game “cupcake,” as Dickie V. would best describe an early season game that many NCAA Division 1 schools use to pad the winning totals before facing the iron of their conference schedules.
Both Flood and his coaching counterpart at Fresno State, Tim DeRuyter, are entering their second season after having highly successful and identical 9-4 marks in their initial year at the helm.
Fresno State is far from that cupcake description, as the Bulldogs sport one of the most dynamic passing attacks and quarterbacks in major college football.
The Bulldog’s quarterback is Derek Carr and all he did last season was lead Fresno State to a 9-4 record (7-1, co-champs Mountain West), while passing for an eye-popping 4100 yards and 37 touchdowns. Carr is on all of the 2013 watch lists, including the Heisman Trophy and Davey O’Brien Award, among others.
The Bulldogs were not very hospitable to visiting teams as they went 6-0, averaging 49 points and over 500 total yards/per game in 2012. Carr is poised for an encore in his final season for the Bulldogs and his ability to lead the Fresno State no huddle-style offense will prove to be an early and major challenge for the Scarlet Knight defense, particularly for an as yet untested Rutgers secondary.
Many experts feel that with Carr leading the way and a favorable schedule to boot that Fresno State has a legitimate shot to finish 12-0 and earn a BCS bowl slot. The Scarlet Knights would like nothing better than to put those early dreams to bed in Week 1.
The Scarlet Knights ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense last season, holding their opponents to an average of 14.2 points per game; however, they lost many key players (to the NFL) from the defensive secondary.
Flood is well aware of the challenges his squad will face, particularly his inexperienced defensive secondary, but he has taken the appropriate steps to best prepare his squad for their opening game of the 2013 season.
The Scarlet Knights left for the West Coast on Tuesday of this week to give the team an opportunity to settle in and adjust to the time change. Flood noted in remarks on Monday’s Sirius XM radio broadcast that he took a tip from the NFL travel schedule as most pro clubs take an extra day when making a trip across the three major time zones to better acclimate their players.
Flood is anxious to get the season going, as its just about that time in training camp when the players need to start facing some different faces across the line of scrimmage.
Rutgers is coming off a fantastic first year under Flood’s leadership, 9-4 (5-2 Big East), and the Scarlet Knights would like nothing better than to repeat the success of 2012 and keep the momentum rolling. Rutgers will end their affiliation with the newly formed American Athletic Conference and prepare to move to the Big Ten Conference in 2014 (highly-rated Louisville moves from the American Athletic Conference to the ACC in 2014).
Flood feels that he has the horsepower to match the likes of a Fresno State offense because he has an experienced quarterback returning in junior Gary Nova. Nova played in all 13 games for the Scarlet Knights in 2013 and passed for nearly 2700 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Ken Prince, a more efficient Nova and a veteran front line, the Rutgers’s offense is expected to be even better in 2013. Nova spent a majority of his offseason working on his passing efficiency, which was an inconsistent 57% in 2012.
Nova will have a solid group of wide receivers to throw to, led by 6’6” junior wide receiver and All-American candidate Brandon Coleman. Flood and Prince both feel that Coleman has all the tools to be one of the best receivers in all of college football. Coleman caught 10 touchdown passes in the Big East last year and had 43 catches for over 700 yards.
With size and speed on his side, Nova has an inviting target in Coleman to spearhead the Scarlet Knights passing attack against what may be a weak link in the Fresno State secondary.
The game with the Bulldogs may well boil down to the battle in trenches, and if that is the case, the edge must go to the Scarlet Knights.
Flood feels that the strength of his team lies in both his offensive and defensive lines and their ability to dominate at the line of scrimmage.
The game, (10:30 p.m., ESPNU), which has kind of fallen under the radar screen to most, promises to be one of the better games as the college football season gets started in Week 1.
Bob’s prediction: It’s Rutgers in a fourth quarter comeback thriller, 24-21!