NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Rutgers fans will soon get their first glimpse into whether last season was just a one-year blip.
The Scarlet Knights’ run of playing in five straight postseason bowls ended in 2010, when they posted their first losing season (4-8) since 2004 and left many wondering whether the old days of bad football was back.
And there was a lot of bad football in finishing last in the Big East. The offense was among the nation’s worst, with the line allowing an NCAA-record 61 sacks. The once-proud defense was porous.
The season also was marked by tragedy. Defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed making a special teams tackle against Army. The senior will be back this season, working as a radio analyst for the school’s radio network.
Coach Greg Schiano will start discovering whether his team has righted things when it plays North Carolina Central on Thursday night in the Eagles’ first game under new coach Henry Frazier.
“I really am looking forward to it,” Rutgers sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd said. “I know all the guys are. I’ve been waiting since we ended the season with West Virginia to get back here and play again. Whether we win or lose, I just want to play again. I know all of us are excited and just ready to go.”
North Carolina Central should not present much of a challenge. The Eagles are coming off a 3-8 season and this will be their first year playing on the Football Championship Subdivision level.
Scarlet Knights right tackle Desmond Stapleton said this will be a big showing for his team.
“We’re just trying to gauge where we’re at,” he said. “We want to execute what our coach tells us to do. So I guess it’s a good way to see what we worked all offseason to do. We’re not thinking about the past. We’re just looking forward to NCC and focusing on our game plan. We’re just trying to focus on this year, this game.”
Frazier has made a career out of taking over struggling programs, and he realizes he faces another challenge at North Carolina Central of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. He spent the past seven seasons turning around the program at Prairie View A&M.
The Eagles return 14 starters and 53 lettermen from last season’s squad. The offense is led by junior receiver Geovonie Irvine, who had 53 receptions for 758 yards and five touchdowns in 2010.
Frazier hopes that taking on a team from a BCS conference will give his team some identity.
“I want to find out what type of ballclub I have,” Frazier said. “I want to see, when adversity hits, how we respond. Or when we do something good, how do we respond? It’s going to tell me about the type of ballclub we have.”
The one thing Frazier has told his team not to worry about is playing under the lights in front of a big crowd.
“I look at it as it’s a football game,” he said. “We keep things normal as coaches. And the players are going to follow our lead. So if they get out there and we’re wide-eyed, they’re going to be wide-eyed. If we get out there and we’re focused just like we are on the practice field than the players are going to be focused. We’ll be business as usual.”
The player who probably will draw the most interest from Rutgers fans is freshman running back Savon Huggins. He was the consensus No. 1 recruit in New Jersey after rushing for 1,891 yards and 35 touchdowns at St. Peter’s Prep last year.
Either Huggins or junior De’Antwan Williams is expected to start at running back for new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti.
“This offense, I feel great doing it against our guys, but it’s going to be different getting to go out and actually doing it against another team,” Dodd said. “I guess the one thing we had to look at is the success (Frazier) has had with these other teams he’s been with. But I’m excited to see how it’s going to look against other teams.”
How will the Scarlet Knights respond this year? Make your prediction in the comments below…
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