2011 Record: (9-4, 4-3 in Big East)
Head Coach: Kyle Flood (first time head coach)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 New Era Pinstripe Bowl: beat Iowa St 27-13
Revenge: 10/6 vs UConn, 11/29 vs Louisville
Stats to Cheer: had 34 takeaways in 2012 (1st in Big East), held opponents to 68.29% success rate in the red zone (1st in Big East)
Stat to Fear: scored TDs on 53.85% of trips to the red zone (6th in Big East)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 8; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Khaseem Greene (140 tackles, 3.5 sacks), LB Steve Beauharnais (75 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 INT), CB Logan Ryan (67 tackles, 3 INT), S Duron Harmon (48 tackles, 5 INT), DT Scott Vallone (58 tackles, 2.5 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Jawan Jamison (897 yds rush, 9 TD), WR Quron Pratt (32 rec), WR Brandon Coleman (17 rec, 32.47 ypc, 6 TD), OT Caleb Johnson
CFBZ: Kyle Flood takes over for Greg Schiano after eleven years as Rutgers head coach. What are your initial impressions of Flood now that he's been on the job for a few months?
RUFanJerry: Coach Flood comes off prepared and a man who has been waiting for this opportunity. Only time will tell how he is as a game day coach, but he has the respect of the players and fans alike. Additionally, while most of the coaching staff was turned over, he represents a bridge to the foundation that Coach Schiano laid down both on-the-field and off-the-field. As fans we had a great first glimpse of Coach Flood in the documentary RFootball: 15 Days of Spring, which was released after spring practice. Take a look for yourself here.
CFBZ: Rutgers has used two QBs in each of the last two seasons. Will Rutgers settle on one QB this year or will we see multiple QBs used?
RUFanJerry: Coach Flood has said he a one quarterback guy. However, only time will tell. The Scarlet Knights and their fans have high expectations this season. The schedule is also interesting in that it offers both early opportunities and early challenges. Rutgers has three of it's first four games on the road including potential momentum builders in back-to-back weeks at South Florida and Arkansas in September. It would be hard to imagine that should the starting quarterback stumble Coach Flood would not be tempted to look to the backup, especially since both have yet to separate themselves. There is no telling if this is a good or bad thing, but the saying is, if you have two quarterbacks you have none. Most fans are hoping whoever gets the nod, runs with his opportunity.
CFBZ: Under Schiano, Rutgers has prided themselves on having one of the best defenses in the Big East. Will Rutgers be able to maintain their high level of defense under the new regime?
RUFanJerry: Robb Smith the current Defensive Coordinator, is the only other holdover from the Schiano coaching staff besides Flood himself. Smith is an up-and-coming coach who is making the jump over from a successful stint as special teams coordinator. I would not expect him to tinker too much with the defensive scheme as Rutgers returns a great deal of experience on defense. Likewise, I would not expect much to change under Flood in terms of overall philosophy. Expect the team to look to run the ball, take shots when they present themselves and depend on its defense. With a deep D-line and solid and experienced Linebacker and Defensive Back units, this could be one of the very best defenses Rutgers has ever had.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
RUFanJerry: As a Rutgers fan, you naturally feel very uneasy predicting a conference title as the program has fallen short so many times over the past couple of seasons. However, should the Scarlet Knights get a victory in Tampa on September 13th the momentum will build and should carry over until a showdown with Louisville on November 29th. I fully expect the Big East to be wide open again, with the champion possessing a 6-1 or 5-2 conference record. It would be hard to not imagine the Louisville match-up not at least have a share of the title on the line. Having that game at home is a great advantage and should carry Rutgers to its first title. With West Virginia gone - whom the Scarlet Knights had lost 17 straight to - and Notre Dame playing in the Champs (now Russell Athletic) Bowl already last season and illegible for that bowl this season, anything other than a trip to Orlando or a BCS site would not be successful.
Rutgers went 9-4 last year on the back of the best defense in the Big East (first in points allowed and yards allowed). The Scarlet Knights will return nine of their top eleven tacklers so I would expect that success to carry over to this season. Rutgers will lose it's leader in sacks but they return two thirds of their sack totals from last year and they also return their leading interceptor. All in all, the Scarlet Knights look like they are set up for success on defense.
Three of Rutgers four losses last year came on the road (UNC, Louisville, UConn) and overall they struggled on the road scoring 21.8 ppg as compared to 30.3 in home games. From all reports, Rutgers is still deciding on their starting QB and that could be trouble as neither contender lit it up last year. Chas Dodd had slightly better stats than Gary Nova (+5.6% on completions, 19 more ypg and 7 INT vs 9) but Nova was also a freshman last year. Whoever wins the job will find life a little tougher without Mohamed Sanu and his 115 receptions (44.9% of Rutgers total receptions). Keep an eye on rising sophomore Brandon Coleman as he had a breakout game last year against UConn in which he caught six passes for 223 yards and 2 TD. With Sanu gone, Coleman will see more balls thrown his way. At the RB position, touted recruit Savon Huggins never got going in his freshman year (his best game was 10 carries for 42 yards against Pitt). Rutgers needs for him to be more productive this year alongside Jawan Jamison. The Rutgers offense was in the middle of the pack in the Big East from a statistical standpoint but they were the worst rushing team in the conference as they averaged just 2.76 ypc and 97.77 yards per game. The rushing game has to step up with the loss of Sanu.
Rutgers has a really tough out of conference game at Arkansas but this isn't a tough schedule. The other out of conference games are Tulane, Howard, Kent State and Army. Rutgers should win all of those. Just looking at their out of conference slate, they should be 4-1 if you don't factor in the conference games. If they beat first year Big East school Temple and go 3-3 in the other games that gets them to 8-4. Vegas agrees as they've set the win total for Rutgers at 7.5. If the running game stalls and they can't find a new target at receiver, Rutgers could really struggle and fall below that seven or eight win total. If the defense can carry this team early and the offense can come together then we could be looking at a potential Big East Champion. Right now, I've got Rutgers as the third or fourth place team in the Big East but there isn't a lot separting the pack.
2012 Prediction: 8-4
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