Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: After overseeing the revamping of the Rutgers football program during his 11 years as head coach, Greg Schiano takes his talents to the NFL. Taking his place this season will be former offensive line coach Kyle Flood, who inherits a team coming off a 9-4 season that is poised to contend for its first Big East title.
In Schiano's last season, the Scarlet Knights bounced back from their first losing campaign in five seasons with the second best overall record in the conference. Rutgers dispatched FCS opponent North Carolina Central (48-0) to open the season but lost on the road versus another school from the Tar Heel state with a narrow 24-22 setback to North Carolina. That was followed by a four-game win streak, but losses to Louisville and West Virginia put Rutgers in a hole in terms of conference positioning. The Scarlet Knights managed to win 3 of their next 4 games, but a 40-22 loss at Connecticut in the regular- season finale kept Rutgers out of the three-way tie at the top of the Big East.
Still the season ended with a invitation to the Pinstripe Bowl which the Scarlet Knights won easily (27-13) over Iowa State for their fifth straight bowl victory. At 9-4, Rutgers tied for the second best overall record of the Schiano era.
OFFENSE: What might be the most important determining factor in how high Rutgers can go this season will be the play the Scarlet Knights get at the quarterback position.
Last season Chas Dodd and Gary Nova split time with neither really standing out as the better option. Dodd started eight games and completed 56.7 percent of his passes for 1,574 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Nova started the other five and threw for 1,553 yards, 11 touchdowns and 9 INTs. Dodd came out of spring practices as the No. 1 option on the depth chart but, Nova will be in the wings if he struggles.
The offensive line is retooling but with Flood leading the way, it should be able to get up to speed quickly. Kaleb Johnson was a Freshman All-American last season and will switch from right to left tackle, while guard David Osei is the only other returning senior. Also improving things will be Maryland transfer R.J. Dill
"(In) Kaleb Johnson, I see as a very talented, physically strong offensive lineman. With our depth and our personnel, he���s the guy best suited to be our left tackle going forward and hopefully for the next three years," Flood said.
The skill positions will be solid this season especially at wide receiver. Although not a returning starter, Brandon Coleman is poised to erupt this season. The 6-foot-6 sophomore has the size, youth and skill, not to mention the numbers (17 catches, 552 yards, six TDs in 2011) for the Scarlet Knights to expect big things. Mark Harrison will line up on the other side and D.C. Jefferson is a reliable target at tight end.
Running back Jawan Jamison should be able to take some pressure off the passing game if he continues to develop. As a freshman he rushed for a team-high 897 yards and 9 touchdowns and should be even better this year as a sophomore. Savon Huggins, also a sophomore, will back up Jamison.
"At times, Savon has flashed some great stuff. At times, Jawan Jamison has flashed some great stuff. We need a guy we can hand the ball to who can give us a high quality game every time we hand him the ball," Flood said of his running backs.
DEFENSE: There is less uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball which ranked 14th nationally last season and could be even better in 2012.
Anchoring the defense will be a deep linebacking unit led by 2011 Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khaseem Greene. The senior piled up a league-leading 141 total tackles and added 3.5 sacks last year. Steve Beauharnais (77 total tackles, 5.0 sacks) will return for his fourth year as a starter and Jamal Merrell (44 total tackles) also has experience. There is more depth, including sophomore Kevin Snyder, who recorded 40 total tackles as a freshman.
"I think he���s a linebacker that gives us a lot of versatility," Flood said of Snyder.
The defensive line will need to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and will do so with a pair of new starters in defensive tackle Isaac Holmes and defensive end Ka'Lial Glaud. The other end and tackle spots are Michael Larrow (10 total tackles, 1.5 sacks in 2011) and Scott Vallone (58 total tackles, 2.5 sacks), who is a four-year starter. Additional depth is found in Kenneth Kirksey and Darius Hamilton, one of the jewels of last year's draft class.
The secondary will be able to hold its own in terms of talent with the impressive linebacking corps. Returning are All-Big East cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. Ryan was third on the team with 67 total tackles, while also picking off three passes in 2011, and Harmon had 49 total tackles with a team-high five interceptions. Senior Brandon Jones fits in at the other corner spot, while promising sophomore Lorenzo Waters will be the other safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Justin Roerner and his respectable 40.3 yards-per-punt average from last season will return, but the biggest shake up will be at place-kicker. True freshman Kyle Federico was recruited from Florida and is slated to be the starter, taking over for San San Te, who went 20-for-31 on field goal attempts last year.
In the return game Rutgers has some explosive talents including Jeremy Deering, who led the Big East in kickoff returns with a 31.2 yard average last season, and Mason Robinson, who will handle punt returns.
OUTLOOK: Rutgers' defense will be good enough to keep the Scarlet Knights in most games especially if Greene can build on an impressive junior season and push himself into the national spotlight. What will determine whether Rutgers gets a BCS berth or just a mid-level bowl will be what Flood can get from his offensive line and quarterbacks.
Three of the first four games will be on the road for Rutgers including big tests against USF and SEC power Arkansas at the end of September. The Scarlet Knights then play four of five games at home including conference contests with Connecticut and Syracuse. The lone road game in that stretch is against Big East newcomer Temple, which plays not far from New Brunswick. The last three games could prove difficult with back-to-back road battles against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before a showdown at home against Louisville that could very well be the equivalent of a Big East championship game.
Unlike many teams that have coaching turnover, Rutgers shouldn't expect any drop-off or rebuilding this season. The only building the Scarlet Knights should be focused on is working their way up to a Big East title and possibly more.