PISCATAWAY, N.J. – As Gary Nova sees it, Rutgers is the new kid at school.
"We don't expect to have too much respect," the quarterback said as his team reported to Hale Center for training camp.
And they don't have any.
Rutgers jumps to the Big Ten this season and was picked to finish last in the conference in most major polls. The Scarlet Knights see this as a source of motivation.
"No question," defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said. "You can definitely sense that no one is really giving us a chance. They feel like we're really doormat just to be stepped on, so we're taking that as a challenge and we're going to be ready."
Rutgers has all five starters back on the offensive line, a pass-catching threat in tight end in Tyler Kroft, a slew of good receivers and talented running backs in Paul James and Justin Goodwin.
The main question is if Nova will regain his starting spot. He was benched in favor of senior Chas Dodd last season because of erratic play and spent spring ball competing with redshirt junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano.
Nova had a solid spring, and with 28 career starts the job appears to be his to lose under new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen.
Defensively, Rutgers has a strong front seven with the likes of Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder at linebacker while Hamilton anchors the defensive line. They're looking to shore up a secondary that gave up a school-record 4,580 yards through the air.
The Big Ten, however, is not known for passing.
"Everyone in the media telling us how psychical they play," Snyder said. "We've heard it enough. And we know how to play physical football. That's nothing we don't do."
And lining up weekly against the upper-echelon teams of college football is something for which the players are ready.
"I know that we can hang with all these teams. I tell them that we can hang with anyone. It doesn't matter where," Snyder said. "And don't be surprised when we beat people. That's all I say. No guarantees or anything like that, but don't be surprised."
While players may be pinning those preseason rankings to the bulletin board, the coach has other concerns.
"I don't really worry about where we were picked," Kyle Flood said. "I don't need any more motivation when I wake up in the morning other than to be the Big Ten Eastern Division Champion and have the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship game.
"And I know our players have said a few things about having a chip on their shoulder," he added. "And if that's how they feel, they have a right to feel that way. But, for me, being the Big Ten Eastern Division Champion is the only motivation I need."