GridironGrit.com Analyst Dan Vasta breaks down 2011 college football individual team previews for the upcoming highly-anticipated 2011 season. Here’s the third edition on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights from the Big East.
On November 9, 2006, Rutgers was down to then-3rd-ranked Louisville 25-7 at halftime. The Scarlet Knights came back and eventually won on a game-winning field-goal by Jeremy Ito, 28-25.
Maybe I am the only one who remembers Ito pointing into the camera after he kicked that game-winner, but an 11-2 season and a Top 10 finish in 2006 was quite the year in New Jersey for Greg Schiano.
Since 2006, the program has been rapidly declining. Consecutive 8-5 seasons in 2007 and 2008 was followed by a 9-4 campaign in 2009. However, last season the school finished 4-8. It was the first losing season since 2004! Schiano had a streak of five straight bowls and is attempting to start another streak this season.
Schiano is 59-63 through 10 seasons. His conference record is 24-45. This could be his last year if he doesn’t take the program to a bowl game.
Ray Rice and Brian Leonard were once studs in the backfield, and they now have another stud who is on his way to New Brunswick. Savon Huggins (6’0″, 200 pounds) is considered by many to be a freshman phenom, and his blocking fullback Joe Martinek (6’0″, 215-pound senior) should provide a much-needed punch in the backfield for quarterback Chas Dodd.
Dodd took over for Tom Savage a season ago and ended up throwing for 11 touchdowns along with 1,637 yards. He may be listed at 6’0″ but is only about 5’10″-ish, which makes him that much better when you see him thread the needle. His top targets will be Mohamed Sanu and Mark Harrison, two talented players.
Sanu totaled for six touchdowns and he combined for over 700 yards. Harrison hauled in 44 passes like Sanu, but he had 829 yards (18.8 YPC!), along with nine touchdowns. Both are just juniors, which makes this squad a very dangerous team this upcoming season and an even deadlier team by 2012.
The offensive line has three starters back, including right guard Art Forst (6’8″, 311 pounds) who is a behemoth guard that is very talented as a run-blocker. The running game was beyond atrocious, ranking 110th last year, but they averaged only 110 YPG! Nineteen players in the country averaged more by themselves.
Huggins has the talent to average 110 yards by himself. Depending on how quickly Dodd develops as a passer, this offense could do a 180-turn, as they were 114th, averaging just 294 YPG. With nine starters back, the offense should make nice strides.
The defense will not improve nearly as much as the offense, with only five starters back. They unit ranked 65th in the nation, allowing 374 YPG. But the front seven still has holes and the secondary has just one starter returning to the program.
Manny Abreu is a solid defensive end, but we are all still waiting for the interior of the defensive line to become half as good as it was with Eric Foster. Scott Vallone has a nice burst of quickness, but the tragic loss of Eric LeGrand really put a damper on the season. That would be the understatement of the year, as Rutgers was just not mentally involved in any of its games after facing Army in the sixth game of the season.
The linebacking core should not fare any better, despite the return of Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais. They were third and fourth in tackles a season ago, as they combined for over 140 tackles! Greene punishes ball carriers, or any man moving in his direction, for that matter.
However, this front seven has to play a perfect game nearly every time in order to pick up for the lack of production from the secondary. Safety Joe Lefeged is long gone, and nobody is looking like they can replace him. David Rowe at free safety is the only returnee, and I would look for their numbers to drop a tad in ’11.
The 2011 schedule opens up rough and tough in September, as the Knights have to travel to Chapel Hill before eventually hosting a solid Navy Midshipmen team on the day of Homecoming.
I have the Scarlet starting out at 3-1 before losing five straight to Pittsburgh, Navy, Louisville, West Virginia and South Florida. That would mean they would have to sweep all three of their opponents to end the season in order to reach a bowl.
While I have Rutgers knocking off Army (Yankee Stadium) and Cincinnati at home, I do not foresee the program winning on the road against a Connecticut team that will be positioning itself to a mid-tier bowl. I believe Rutgers will be improved, but will still be an upset or two away from being bowl-bound.
Predicted Finish: 4-8 (1-6 in Big East)
Predicted Bowl: None
Predicted Order In Big East: 8th