With Schiano gone, the Flood era begins at Rutgers
Before leaving to become coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Greg Schiano took Rutgers from the basement of the Big East to a program that played in bowls in six of his final seven seasons.
Thanks to that table setting, the Kyle Flood era will begin in two weeks with some promise. In fact, this might just be the Scarlet Knights' best chance to win the conference crown and qualify for the Bowl Championship Series for the first time.
While this team doesn't have a Ray Rice to lead them, Rutgers returns 16 starters from a team that exceeded expectations with a 9-4 record and a fourth-place conference finish, capped by a win in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Picked to finish third in the preseason poll behind Louisville and South Florida, Rutgers is looking for more.
''My freshman year in 2009, I thought we had a very talented team that underachieved,'' senior safety Duron Harmon said. ''This year, the talent across the board that we have is amazing. You don't see this type of talent every day. I think we can compete with anyone in the country. We know what's out there for us if we play to our potential.''
Rutgers showed last year it could play with Louisville and South Florida. The Knights lost, 16-14, to the Cardinals on the road, and defeated South Florida, 20-17, at home.
And what's more intriguing for the Scarlet Knights, is they don't have to face nemesis West Virginia anymore. A traditional thorn in Rutgers' side, the Mountaineers left for the Big 12, and were replaced by Temple.
Winning the league next year will be tougher with new teams coming in, although Syracuse and Pittsburgh will exit for the ACC.
Clearly, now's the time.
''Football coaches, we can only live in reality,'' Flood said. ''We can't live in speculation. We know that the Big East champion, in 2012, goes to the Orange Bowl. Unless they're in the BCS national championship game, which would be great. So for us, that's what we're focused on. Because a year from now, there certainly could be more changes.
''So we're not thinking about that. Right now, we are focused on 2012 and everything else gets pushed aside until you're done with your bowl game.''
The Scarlet Knights have some obvious questions heading into a season that opens at Tulane Sept. 1. It starts at quarterback. Sophomore Gary Nova and junior Chas Dodd split the starting job last season and they are competing again.
Flood wants to name his starter next week to give the winner a chance to take control of an offense that is loaded at running back and wide receiver. The offensive line lost three starters, but the new group should be as good as last year, if not better.
Dave Brock has been handed the job of running the offense, the team's third coordinator in as many seasons. He believes in running a balanced offense and is keeping the pro-style scheme that was a fixture in Schiano's tenure. He also did not change the terminology. It was easier for him to learn the old one rather than have 50 or so players learn a new one.
And Brock has no doubts that his starting quarterback will do a good job.
''Both kids have won,'' he said. ''Maybe the most valuable commodity these kids have is experience now. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to do well every week. But very few people want to acknowledge how hard it is to play against highly competitive opponents as a true freshman. It is. What no one talks about, and it's hard for me to understand why, is they won nine games with basically a two-quarterback system where both those quarterbacks were basically first-year players.
''Find somebody else in the country that did that.''
The running game has Jawan Jamison, Savon Huggins and Jeremy Deering, while the receiving corps of Brandon Coleman, Mark Harrison, Quron Pratt and Tim Wright is deep.
The offensive line will benefit having former Maryland starter R.J. Dill move into the job at right tackle as a graduate student. Kaleb Johnson will be the other tackle, while Betim Bujari is the center and Antwan Lowery is the left guard. Andre Civil and Taj Alexander are battling for the other guard spot. Tight end is coming down to a battle between D.J. Jefferson and Paul Carrezola.
The question mark on defense is the line, although it has potential. The back seven are very good, with the secondary considered one of the best in the league and possibly the country.
''I'm just looking forward to us playing the best football we've ever played around here and doing some things around here that we haven't ever done before on both sides of the ball,'' said senior linebacker Khaseem Greene, the conference's defensive player of the year in 2011.
''The offense, they've got guys over there who can do a lot of real good things when they've got the ball in their hands. On defense, we've got some very explosive guys.''
Scott Vallone will move over to play a three-gap tackle while Isaac Holmes moves into the nose tackle spot. Senior Ka'Lial Glaud will probably play one of the end spots with Jamil Merrell or Marcus Thompson at the other. Also, expect true freshman Darius Hamilton, the son of former Giants defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, to see a lot of action.
The linebackers all return with Greene on the weakside, Steve Beauharnais, the middle linebacker who is underrated, and Jamal Merrell on the strongside.
Logan Ryan will start at one corner while Brandon Jones and Marcus Cooper vie for the other. Harmon will play one safety spot, while Lorenzo Waters appears to have the other job.
''The sky is the limit for this defense, truly,'' Ryan said. ''There is no reason we can't be the best defense in the country. We have no excuses and we expect to be. That's where we want to be. We will see when the games start coming around, but I know we're going to practice every single day like it's the Big East championship.''
Senior Justin Doerner returns as the punter while true freshman Kyle Federico is being asked to replace San San Te as the kicker.