Rutgers Football Set to Begin First Season in Big Ten. One Final Season Preview.
After the 2012 season, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights announced that they would enter the Big Ten Conference. The time has finally come. All Scarlet Knights athletics entered the Big Ten officially for the first time early this July. With the Big Ten comes big changes for the Rutgers football team. During the offseason former Maryland head coach, Ralph Friedgen joined the Scarlet Knights as the offensive coordinator.
The Scarlet Knights have a tough schedule ahead of them, opening Thursday on the road against Washington State and playing Penn State and Michigan at home after finishing the 2013 season 6-7, and 3-5 in AAC play. Although having a shaky 2013 season, the Scarlet Knights return nine starters on offense, including quarterback Gary Nova and seven defensive starters.
Here is a better look at the 2014 Scarlet Knights.
Offense: The best thing about living in the past is it’s cheaper. Three year starter, Gary Nova returns as captain for his senior year. Nova has had ups and downs since being named starter midway through his freshman year. Last season, Nova started off great, including an impressive performance in defeating Arkansas, but ended up being benched for the final few games of the 2013 season because of his inconsistency. With new offensive coordinator, Ralph Friedgen, Nova has looked impressive in training camp.
The Scarlet Knights also return five members of their offensive line, led by guard Kaleb Johnson and center Betim Bujari. They are also joined by LT Keith Lumpkin, G Chris Muller and T Taj Alexander. This line has the potential to be one of the best that the Scarlet Knights have ever had, if they stay healthy.
Staying healthy is also a key for the Rutgers running game. Redshirt junior, Paul James returns this season after recording 493 yards in his first three games and nine touchdowns in 2013. James physically did not hold up last season. James, who for a few weeks was the nation’s leading rusher, ended 2013 with 881 yards. This season, he will have help from Desmon Peoples, a pair of freshman, and possibly senior, Savon Huggins, but James will serve as Rutgers number one running back. Huggins’ availability this season remains in question as he rehabs from an injury.
After losing Brandon Coleman to the NFL draft, Rutgers is left with two strong receivers in WR Leonte Carroo and TE Tyler Kroft. Last season, Carroo was Nova’s favorite fourth quarter receiver. Kroft, who was an All-AAC selection last season, led the team in receiving yards last season with 573. Both Ruhann Peele and Janarion Grant will also provide support to Carroo and Kroft. After that, it’s a young group of receivers that will need to step up and provide much needed depth.
Defense: The 2013 Rutgers defense was not as intact as it normally is mainly because of the lack of experience. This season, Rutgers returns seven starters, but they still are under-sized for the Big Ten. Although aggressive, the line often gets worn out towards the end. The majority of last seasons front seven returns including DT Darius Hamilton who had 4.5 sacks last season. Rutgers will also look to linebackers Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder and Quentin Gause to provide defensive support. Snyder and Longa are both players to watch this season and provide both skill and leadership for the Scarlet Knights.
The Scarlet Knights secondary on the other hand does not have as much depth or experience as the front seven. They do return three starters in corner Gareef Glashen and safeties Lorenzo Waters and Delon Stephenson. Rutgers also converted running back Justin Goodwin to cornerback due to injuries and lack of experience. Goodwin will start the season opener.
Special Teams: For the most part, the Rutgers special teams unit remains the same. Janarion Grant will serve as the kick returner and kicker Kyle Federico looks to stay consistent for the Scarlet Knights.
Outlook: The Scarlet Knights are coming into the Big Ten with a lot to prove. A lot of it will come down to consistency on both offense and defense. If Nova can prove that he can play a high level of football all the time, this team could surprise a lot of people. Best case, Rutgers can somehow make it into a bowl their first year in the Big Ten. Worst case, they will only win one in-conference game and finish last in the East. However, if the Scarlet Knights play their cards right, they can start out 5-0 before hosting Michigan in October.
2014 Schedule: August 28 at Washington State: 10:00 PM September 6 Howard September 13 Penn State: 8:00 PM September 20 at Navy September 7 Tulane Oct 4 Michigan: 7:00 PM Oct 18 at Ohio State Oct 25 at Nebraska November 1 Wisconsin Nov 15 Indiana Nov 22 at Michigan State Nov 29 at Maryland
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