BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
COLLEGE FOOTBALL INSIDERS
2006 RECORD: 11-2; BIG EAST: 5-2
Won Texas Bowl vs. Kansas St. 37-10
LOCATION: Piscataway, New Jersey
STADIUM: Rutgers Stadium (41,500)
HEAD COACH: Greg Schiano
OVERALL: 31-40 (6 seasons)
AT RUTGERS: 31-40 (6 seasons)
No program has come further the last few years than the Scarlet Knights. Just four seasons ago, they were still in the midst of a 25-game Big East losing streak, while headman Greg Schiano completed his first four games at the helm with a record of 12-34. Who would have thought just two years later he would lead RU to a school record 11 wins and their first ever bowl victory? Now comes the hard part, doing it while everyone expects you to do it. This is a monumental season already, as they enter the year ranked after going three decades without cracking the polls until last season when they peaked at number seven.
WHEN THE KNIGHTS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINAROR: James McNulty (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 7
KEY LOSSES: Brian Leonard, Clark Harris, Cameron Stephenson, Darnell Stapleton
The heart and soul of the Knights, Brian Leonard, has moved on so this is clearly Ray Rice’s team. The New Rochelle product had a spectacular sophomore season and RU cannot have anything less than a repeat performance, which will be challenging without his lead blocker. Rice is more quick than fast and is very durable for his size, leading all Division I backs in carries last season. Just as important is the evolution of Mike Teel, the strong-armed quarterback, who at times has displayed questionable decision making skills (14 TDs-to-23 INTs in his career). He finished 2006 strong and if he can carry that success over to this season, Rutgers could take another step forward. A big reason for Teel’s improved play was the emergence of true freshman Kenny Britt, giving them a legit number one threat. The line returns both tackles and the addition of incoming freshman Anthony Davis, possibly the school’s top recruit ever, could take their play in the trenches to another level.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Kenny Britt (SO), 2) Pedro Sosa (SR), 3) Ray Rice (JR), 4) Jeremy Zuttah (SR), 5) Anthony Davis (FR), 6) Mike Fladell (SR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Greg Schiano (6th Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 6
KEY LOSSES: Devraun Thompson, Ramel Meekins, Quientero Frierson, Derrick Roberson
They should be fine up front and on the last line of defense. Their most productive defenders from last season return in tackle Eric Foster and safety Courtney Greene making them strong up the middle. Foster is penetrating force, flanked on the outside by pass rushers Jamaal Westerman, in addition to up and coming sophomore George Johnson. Greene packs a wallop and he knows how to play centerfield, Ron Girault, another proven safety joins him in the secondary. The biggest question marks come at linebacker, where two starters are gone, there is talent, but they are young. The Scarlet Knights continue to become faster on defense, which should allow Schiano to be even more aggressive, a staple of his blitzing and attacking schemes.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Courtney Greene (JR), 2) George Johnson (SO), 3) Ron Girault (SR), 4) Eric Foster (SR), 5) Jamaal Westerman (JR), 6) Brandon Renkart, 7) Jason McCourty
Can you say cupcake? That’s what best describes the Scarlet Knights out of conference schedule, which consists of Buffalo, Navy, Norfolk St. and Army, with Maryland the only true test. Rutgers should begin the season 6-0 and they play a school record eight home games this season. For all intents and purposes, RU has a three-game season, as they play host to South Florida on Thursday night football, followed by a visit from West Virginia. If they can handle their business at home, Rutgers could be set up for a one-game showdown in their season finale at Louisville with the Big East title, a BCS bid and who knows, a National Championship appearance on the line.
Rebuild or reload? Brian Leonard was a four-year starter in the backfield and they must replace his leadership on and off the field, in addition to a pair of All Big East linemen in Cameron Stephenson and Darnell Stapleton. Let us not forget tight end Clark Harris, a three-time selection himself. Defensively, end Ramel Meekins, as well as linebackers Devraun Thompson (four-year starter) and Quientero Frierson, were all mainstays during the turnaround of the last three seasons. The question is: will the influx of talent be enough to replace some of the largest losses Rutgers has experienced in years? If the Scarlet Knights can run through the entire season among the ranked, they will send the message that they are here to stay.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
This Rutgers unit is as talented as any in the recent memory at the Jersey school and could very well be good enough to crack the top ten or make a run at the Big East crown. However, I do not believe they are ready to make that leap. They could go 10-2 and still not be worthy of top ten ranking because the schedule is that weak. Last year they upset Louisville, but are just 1-4 versus ranked opponents over the last three years…and I’m not sure what is more telling…the fact they have one win in three years against a ranked team or only that they played just five ranked teams during that same span (1-12 under Schiano). The “new” Big East is better than advertised but I still cannot help but wonder how the Knights would fare in the SEC or Big Ten (as well as with a legit non-conference schedule). Nonetheless, it is hard to find anyone who has done a better rebuilding job than Schiano, who has brought the northeast back.
Check back tomorrow to see who is #15 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown