PISCATAWAY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Rutgers is entering its second season in the Big Ten Conference in very much the same position.
Experts aren’t expecting much from the Scarlet Knights even though they might have been one of the biggest surprises in the conference last season.
Picked to finish near the bottom in the league, Rutgers posted an 8-5 record (3-5 Big Ten) and beat North Carolina 40-21 in the Quicken Lane Bowl in Detroit.
Coach Kyle Flood has some big questions to be answered this season. Quarterback Gary Nova, the starter much of the last four seasons, has to be replaced and the offensive line also is looking to fill some holes.
For the most part, the Scarlet Knights have the talent to compete with most of the teams in the conference. But they lack depth and a couple key injuries might be the difference between another winning season and a 4-8 record.
The strength of the team is the receiving corps led by senior Leonte Carroo, who opted to skip the NFL draft, and the running backs led by senior Paul James and a couple of sophomores: Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, the MVP of the Quicken Bowl.
Ben McDaniels has taken over as the offensive coordinator, replacing Ralph Friedgen, who will continue to serve as a consultant.
Rutgers has a couple of impact players on defense in linemen Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay and linebacker Steve Longa. Freshman Blessuan Austin is pushing to start at cornerback.
“My goal is to go to the Rose Bowl and get a 10-win season,” Carroo said. “Every single day before I break it down for the team meeting or anything else, I yell: ‘Big Ten Championship.’ That’s our motto and that’s our goal and where I am yelling to get to.”
Maybe that’s a carry-over from last season, when the Scarlet Knights felt no one was giving them any respect.
It’ll be hard to earn it again with a schedule that includes home games against Michigan State and Ohio State in October.
Here are five things to watch from the Scarlet Knights this season:
Juniors Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig have been competing to replace Nova.
Laviano has the experience. He appeared in five games last season and completed 11 of 28 passes for 107 yards with one interception.
Rettig, whose brother Chase was a three-year starter at Boston College, sat out last season after transferring from LSU.
The line lost center Betim Bujari, left guard Kaleb Johnson and right tackle Taj Alexander, leaving left tackle Keith Lumpkin and right guard Chris Muller as the only returning starters.
Muller has been splitting time at center with Derrick Nelson, so it is uncertain where he will start.
J.J. Denman has experience and seems ready to step in at right tackle. Dorian Miller and Tariq Cole are in the mix for the left guard spot.
“You can actually see the hunger of people trying to compete for these spots,” Lumpkin said.
The senior easily could have gone to the NFL this season but liked the way the Scarlet Knights finished last season. The big play threat had 55 catches last season for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 19.7 yard average led the nation based on players with at least 51 catches.
It’s still questionable whether the new quarterback can get him the ball and the offensive line can provide protection to make that happen.
No matter what league Rutgers has played in, special teams always make a difference. The Scarlet Knights blocked six kicks last season, tying for the most in the country. Turay had three blocks, tying the season-high for a player. Since 2009, Rutgers leads the NCAA in blocked kicks with 41.
For the sixth time in six years, Rutgers’ offense is under the guidance of a new coordinator.
McDaniels, whose brother Josh is the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, said Rutgers will continue to use a pro-style offense and use multiple tempos. Other than that he is not saying much. Stay tuned.
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