PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Other than it being the first practice in pads and the first open to the general public, Rutgers' spring workout Saturday had all the appearances of any other previously held at the birthplace of college football.
Athletic director Julie Hermann talked to a couple of big boosters near one end zone. About 30 recruits and their families watched from the sideline as coach Kyle Flood put the team through some drills and little live action. The roughly 300 fans cheered the big plays.
Nothing exciting, except the big picture.
In a little more than five months, Rutgers will join the Big Ten Conference. The team that couldn't win a title in either the Big East Conference or the American Athletic Conference in a transition year in 2013 now will be facing the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin on a weekly basis.
The benefit is the expected financial windfall of roughly of $15 million to $20,000 annually.
The negative is obvious. Many of the local pundits are predicting years of hard times as the new doormats of the Big Ten.
Rutgers defensive lineman Darius Hamilton, whose father, Keith, played for the New York Giants, is excited about the new opportunity.
"At the end of the day, business is business," Hamilton said after practice. "This is business. We are just out here working hard and trying to get better and be the best team we can be."
Rutgers struggled last season, posting a 6-7 record in a season where the defense — especially the secondary — was poor and the offense started quick and then struggled when Gary Nova went in the tank. Chas Dodd finished the season and the Scarlet surprised the experts playing very well in a 29-16 loss to Notre Dame in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Flood has to decide on a quarterback over the next few months. Nova is back for his senior season and will be challenged mostly likely by redshirt freshman Chris Laviano. Philip Nelson, who transferred from Minnesota after starting 16 games over the past two seasons, will be eligible for 2015.
The defense has to be shored up and he needs to get his running backs healthy. Paul James and Savon Huggins are limited. He also wants to see more consistency.
Flood admits the going to the Big Ten will force Rutgers to get more depth.
"We have always, in the last nine seasons, played competitive football in the leagues we've been in," Flood said. "There were good football teams in all those leagues and I think in the postseason that has played out. The challenge of this league is the week after week physicality of the league. To me that is going to be the challenge for us as a football team. It don't necessarily change the way you recruit, but as we go though it we're going to have to be conscious of it."
Flood had a conversation with Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly at the Pinstripe Bowl about the physical nature of playing Big Ten teams and he was advised to make sure he had enough linemen.
Rutgers will return its offensive line and it has two of the four starters on the defensive line.
Right guard Chris Muller of Perkiomenville, Pa., was recruited by Penn State and a couple of other Big Ten schools. A lot of his buddies attend Big Ten schools, so he knows the talent level.
"I feel Rutgers is just as competitive as any of them," Muller said. "I play against Darius (Hamilton) every day in practice and he is one of the best in the country."
Most of the Rutgers players said it's too early to be concerned about the new league. They have work to do over the next couple of months. What happens on the field will answer the questions.
"My personal opinion, they should be scared of us, because they have to play against us," left guard Kaleb Johnson said. "The offensive line, we're not scared of nothing. We're going to do what we have to do."
Senior safety Lorenzo Waters was ready for the move.
"This is a great opportunity for us and this program," Waters said. "Making this step to the Big Ten is an opportunity for us to show everybody that we can play with the best of them. When you come from what is perceived as a lower level conference, you don't think we played at the same levels as the other teams. This is a chance for us to show everybody we have as (many) good guys as anybody else in the country."