B1G 2014 // Rutgers Cocktail Party Preview

Rich Schultz

With two new coordinators, a beastly schedule and loads of unproven-yet-talented players, Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten season should be nothing if not memorable.

Hi there, friend.

Pull up a chair. Have a drink. How you doin'?

Welcome to the Rutgers Cocktail Party Preview! We're excited to be hosting this event for the first time as pretty-much-almost-all-the-way-there members of the Big Ten. While we might talk a mean smack elsewhere, tonight we're going to keep things classy, because this is The State University of New Jersey, and that's how we roll.

This is an interesting time to be/interact with Rutgers Football fans. There are a lot of hardcore Rutgers fans. We have a huge alumni base and the population density of our little corner of the world is just staggering. Right now, our fans generally comprise a highly educated, older population subset than most, largely due to the fact that if you're a hardcore Rutgers fan, you've been willing to put up with some serious mediocrity for a long time. You aren't what someone would call a bandwagoner.

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That's all about to change. With the amazing teams from the Big Ten coming to town, our demographic split is going to trend much younger, much drunker and much more casual. Folks who just want to come out and see the spectacle. We're excited to have them out and we'll party with just about anyone, but it's going to be sad to say goodbye to the RU tailgating environment of the past few decades. The time's they are a changin', for sure.

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So, if you find yourself in the company of some hardcore Rutgers fans, young or old, sober or boozy, here are a few tidbits to get the conversation started.

Good News

We're in the Big Ten!

I mean, we had a lot of great moments last season, including our second consecutive win vs. the SEC (What? You thought we'd come to the cocktail party without bringing a gift?), and we're only a season out from a share of the last Big East Football Championship, but let's put things into perspective. Joining the Big Ten is a coup that will shape the next century of Rutgers Football. The college football wheel of conference realignment just stopped spinning and we hit the gee-terwillickers jackpot. It's great to be here and we're super excited to meet everyone.

Bad News

Nope.

No bad news here.

Nope nope nope nope.

Nothing to speak of really.

All good things, all good things.

What Big Ten curse?

Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh... everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here now, thank you. How are you?

No reason to call us WTFutgers, at all.

Offense

The RU offense for 2014 is all about upside. From our precocious quarterback to our injury-prone star tailback, to our widely-respected-but-outta-the-game-for-a-while OC, RU's offense will have an incredible capacity for fireworks and flameouts all year. Plus, there's that secret weapon that seems to be flying under the radar...

Starting from the brains of the offense, RU welcomes Ralph "The Fridge" Friedgen to the offensive coordinator's chair after 4 seasons that saw 4 different offensive coordinators. The Fridge brings the highest profile OC we've ever seen on the banks, and hopefully that will translate to results on the field. There is reason for great optimism, as Friedgen's offenses in the past have featured pro-style schemes that utilize the Tight End prominently (see Vernon Davis), a mix that matches up well with Rutgers' playmakers (see below).

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In all likelihood, SEC-slayer Gary Nova will be under center for the Knights in 2014. Good Gary is a giant beater who can take on any defense in the country and look good doing it. He can hit any throw on the field. He can throw with laser accuracy in the face of a fierce pass rush. He can make time in the pocket and he can pick up yards with his underrated athleticism. We all know what Bad Gary can do. Let's hope The Fridge puts Bad Gary on ice.

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While a lot of the attention goes to Nova and Friedgen, what will likely determine RU's success on the offensive side of the ball is whether or not Paul James can stay healthy. Remember, a quarter of the way through the season last year, James was one of the top-5 rushers in the country...and he had been injured for 2 weeks! If James can stay healthy, he provides a dynamic, big-play, grind-it-out threat in the backfield. If not, well...hopefully we don't have to find out.

Breakout Candidate

Tyler Kroft, TE

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While in many ways, Rutgers' outstanding Tight End Tyler Kroft has already arrived, his sheer athleticism and inconsistent quarterback play in 2013 means that Kroft's upside is even higher than many realize. Kroft was RU's leading receiver, despite the presence of two NFL-caliber receivers and senior TE Paul Carrezola. With more of the offense riding on his 6' 6" frame and (holy ghost of Greg Schiano willing) better QB play, Kroft could be in for an All American-type season*.

*For realsies All American, not All American Athletic Conference.

Defense

While offensive struggles aren't anything out of the ordinary here in Piscataway, the epic, record-settingly terrible defense of 2013 was heartbreaking. With a young secondary absolutely decimated by injuries, transfers and terribad coaching, the defense was a shadow of its once-proud heritage. It bears mentioning that sending seven players to the NFL in 2012 - especially four defensive backs - certainly created a talent vacuum that the Knights are still working on filling.

That said, the front seven certainly had its moments, sticking to the mantra of stopping the run first. Rutgers finished 4th nationally in run defense, led by a stout defensive line and a great linebacking corps. Ironically, Rutgers had the #2-rated run defense in the AAC, coming in just behind nation-leading Louisville. Rutgers would also have had the #2-rated run defense in the Big Ten, after nation-almost-leading Michigan State.

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The silver lining for 2014 is that with so many young, highly-recruited players getting playing time early, they should be ready to face the increased challenge of Big Ten manstyle offenses with more confidence and less 15-yard cushions for receivers. It's going to be up to energetic new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi to shape the raw talent athleticism of this group and get back to playing the kind of defense that put Rutgers back on the college football map.

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Breakout Candidate

Darius Hamilton, DT

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Watching Darius Hamilton over the last 3 games of 2014 was like watching a baby deer finally learn to walk...and chase down its prey, ripping open its entrails whilst striking fear into the heart of woodland creatures and quarterbacks everywhere. With more playing time in store for 2014 (hey, maybe we'll play our best defender all 3 downs?) and another year of putting on lean muscle, this could be a long year for opposing quarterbacks, running backs, and training staffs.

ST

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Rutgers' special teams were excellent as always in 2013, with six blocked kicks, two returns for touchdowns, and a few spectacular tide-turning fakes. Unfortunately, steady Punter Nate Marsh, dynamic (yes, dynamic) holder/occasional QB JT Tartacoff and ridiculously-consistent long-snapper Robert Jones have all graduated, so a regression to national averages could be in store for RU ST this year.

Breakout Candidate

Janarion Grant, KR/WR

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One player to keep an eye on in 2014 is the incredibly athletic Janarion Grant. The guy is video game fast and brings oh-crap-its-that-guy-kick-it-outta-bounds potential to the field. With B1G (no, literally, BIIIIG) offensive and defense lines on the table in 2014, look for Teams to be the deciding factor if Rutgers hopes to make some noise in-conference.

Schedule Overview

In short, brutal.

Week Opponent Projected 2014 Ranking
1 @Washington State 68
2 Howard NR
3 the team from pennsylvania 37*
4 @Navy 65
5 Tulane 91
6 Michigan 32
7 Bye --
8 @Ohio State 4
9 @Nebraska 40
10 Wisconsin 15
11 Bye --
12 Indiana 47
13 @Michigan State 13
14 @Maryland 51

*buncha overrated bums

By virtue of being the next B1G thing, Rutgers gets to play an absolute murderers row of the best teams in the suddenly really, REALLY good B1G East. As if playing the #9 hardest schedule in the nation wasn't hard enough, every conference game outside of Maryland features new teams, new coordinators, new venues and new travel routines.  With another cross-country trip against a quality non-conference opponent opening the season, the 2014 season is going to put Kyle Flood's leadership and organizational infrastructure to the test in a big way.

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Outlook

2014 could be a rough year for the footballers from Jersey. An insanely tough schedule, new coordinators on both sides of the ball and questions at the most important position on the field could spell only the second losing season since 2004. Talent at every spot on the field, accomplished coordinators on both sides of the ball and the unique support structure created by Rutgers' F.A.M.I.L.Y. mantra could lead to a surprise run through the non-conference schedule and a respectable showing in-conference.

Thing is, it doesn't really matter. Rutgers has already gone 13-0, won the Big Ten and the National Championship and the Rose Bowl and the Pinstripe Bowl and secured the #1 recruiting class and and got the girl and went to Disney World. Watching UConn flail their way into major college football hell has given us all one hell of a sense of appreciation for what we have.

It's great to be in the Big Ten. It's amazing to interact with fans who bring such passion, energy and agricultural knowledge to the table. The future is bright here in Piscataway and we're all excited to be a part of it!

If You're Talking to a Rutgers Fan

Don't Mention:

the team from pennsylvania, James Franklin, Mike Rice, Dave Cohen, "Jersey Shore," Terry Shea, the 90's, Kirk Ciarrocca, Chris Christie, Syracuse (unless in the context of being overrated beanbag people)

Do Mention:

The Birthplace of College Football1869 National Championship, Alex Kroll, Homer Hazel, Frank Burns, The Grease Trucks, Greg "The Savior" Schiano, We're Back! (lol@MSU), Pandemonium in PiscatawayNate Silver & New York City's College football team, The Shore, Mario Batali, James Gandolfini, The Boss, Marco Battaglia, Brian Leonard, Ray Rice, Tim Pernetti, Eric LeGrand

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Monday: Cocktail Party Preview **You are here**

Tuesday: Smartest Guy in the Room

Wednesday: Potluck Part One

Thursday: Potluck Part Two/Smoking Room

Friday: Keeping the Enemy Close

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