Eyyy boss! Welcome to the party. How ya been? How's yer mom? Thanks for stopping by, it's been a while! Grab a beer, have a seat and let's catch up.
I hear you've got a new boss who went to Rutgers - not an uncommon thing friend - so let's give you a quick rundown on what's up with the finest football team in the Northeast, so you can get your power networking on.
Been quite a year, hasn't it? Last year this time, we were drinking Flying Fish and trying to figure out what to make of Rutgers in the New & Improved B1G East. Was it going to be a complete disaster? Were the talking heads right? Would...wait a sec, I think we have a screenshot from last year's closing statements...Yep, here it is:
You toolbags. I mean, come on. How many times did we talk about this? How many comps did I have to throw your way? How many recruiting reports did you need to read to understand that Rutgers was ready to compete? Dominate nay. But compete!
Under normal circumstances I'd say "I told you so." But, as I have told you so with such vehemence and frequency already, the phrase has lost all meaning. Therefore, I will be replacing it with the phrase "I informed you thusly."
That line getting old? I bet it is. How's it taste baby?
Ahem...Sorry, got a little excited there. Let's break down where we are today, after a great first year in the finest football conference in the land.
About Last Season
Overall, on and off the field 2015 was one of the best seasons in Rutgers college athletics history. Competing in the Big Ten was everything we hoped it could be and more. We have a ways to go to compete with the big dogs and our non-Football sports are a bit of a mess, but our new conference mates are outstanding, we rocked the APR again, and we built a foundation of great memories and achievements to build upon.
The Good News...
Overall, a very respectable 8-5 schedule brought Rutgers a ton of national respect and local feel goods. We went 4-0 OOC, starting with a cross-country barn-burner in Seattle and featuring a few truly dominant wins. We scored three conference scalps in a season when many predicted zero, including a landmark victory over Michigan, our first Big Ten Football win. A massive, exhilarating comeback against Maryland - the biggest in school history - closed the season on a high mark, with a complete domination of ACC scoundrel North Carolina icing the cake. Gary SuperNova, Leonte Carroo, Tyler Kroft, Kemoko Turay, Darius Hamilton and a bevy of others had great seasons and recruiting rebounded nicely. Throughout the season, the fans showed up, were passionate, and created an atmosphere that was truly special.
Most importantly, we didn't have much more of this garbage, like we did this time last year:
The Bad News...
There was really only one bad thing that happened. Yeah, we lost Jersey's favorite running back to injury...again. Yeah, we weren't ready to compete with OSU and MSU. But, really, it was just that one thing. I don't wanna talk about it.
On the Offensive Side of the Ball
The Good News..
Potential abounds at the skill positions. Lightning Leonte Carroo is back for another season after becoming a complete blocking and receiving threat with a strong inside-outside game and a nose for the end zone. Defenses will key on him, making room for another set of huge Rutgers WRs in 6'4" Andre Patton and 6'6" Carlton Agudosi, along with 6'5" TE Nick Arcidiacono. At QB, Chris Laviano has a live arm, an ultra-quick release, and surprising athleticism, with blue chip transfer Hayden Rettig waiting in the wings. This is not to mention the insane embarrassment of riches at halfback, where All-American-if-he-can-stay-healthy Paul James is backed by 4 backs who have started games and found success for The Knights.
The Bad News...
Questions abound all over the offense. Was Carroo's success due to a supernatural connection with QB-Since-Like-3rd-Grade Gary Nova? Is Laviano as good as he looked in the spring? Can Arch fill the big shoes left by NFL 3rd round pick Tyler Kroft? Can the O-Line jell as they replace seemingly two-dozen starters (aka 113 career starts)? Can 5th-OC-in-5-years Ben McDaniels and adviser Ralph Friedgen keep up the great numbers from last year? Will Paul James finally put together a full season of Noping the competition? Can Rutgers compete in the most competitive division in football with the 112th-most experienced team in college football?
All that said, the potential is there for this to be the most explosive Rutgers offense in a long, long time. However...
On the Defensive Side of the Ball
The Good News
There are playmakers. Kemoko Turay is going to be one of the most exciting players in college football this season. After a year of making big plays as a pass-rushing specialist in only his 2nd season of competitive football at any level, Turay is looking to become an every-down player, which means pain and suffering for opposing offenses. Tons of talent along the line, including steady and spectacular DT Darius Hamilton should make passing downs uncomfortable for opponents. The young secondary is more experienced, with uber-athletic safety Anthony Cioffi making some ridiculous plays in spring ball. Steve Longa is a sensational athlete at linebacker and South Carolina transfer Kaiwan Lewis figures to be a playmaker, though it remains to be seen if he can handle the upgrade in talent coming from the Southeastern Conference.
The Bad News
Big people beat up little people, and we have lots of little people. We should match up nicely against finesse teams like Indiana, Maryland, and the team from pennsylvania. However, the heavies - Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and maybe Nebraska - should be able to run the ball with ease. We could be wrong. The defense could return to the days of Greg Schiano, where undersized players at every position used leverage, speed and smarts to beat opponents to the point of attack. More than likely though, there are going to be seeing a lot of exciting, high-scoring games this year.
On Special Teams
The Good News
First team All-Big Ten returner Janarion Grant is going to be a great return man and has the potential to be one of the most electrifying returners in the country, if we can get opponents to actually kick it to him. The guy is a threat to score every time he touches the ball and has underrated toughness to get solid yardage on every return. There will be very few negative returns or "minus plays" on teams. Oh right, also we like to block kicks. A lot. Like, the most in the FBS since 2009. Did we mention Turay was a freak?
The Bad News
Kicking - like most college football teams - has been inconsistent. Senior Kyle Federico has improved every year and could put together an Ito-esque season in 2015. However, he struggled a bit in spring ball and has shown inconsistency in the past. Likewise, a battle at punter (my my, how Big Ten!) does little to inspire confidence.
On the Schedule
Preseason FPI rankings provided by ESPN Stats & Information. For context, Rutgers is (as per tradition) underrated at #80 Nationally.
|9/5||(NR) Norfolk State|
|9/12||#59 Washington State|
|9/19||at #37 TTFP|
|10/10||#16 Michigan State|
|10/17||at #74 Indiana|
|10/24||#1 Ohio State|
|10/31||at #34 Wisconsin|
|11/7||at #25 Michigan|
|11/21||at #127 Army|
The Good News
Much like last year, the OOC has potential for a 4-0 run and there are a few realistic B1G wins to be had. Nortfolk State, Kansas and Army are locks. Washington State is beatable at High Point after a big road win last year. If Indiana and Maryland break our way (like they did last year), that's bowl eligibility. Throw in a win vs. soft 'n overrated ttfp and that's a great season. If Laviano and the talented skill players can put up big numbers, the Knights could very easily be going bowling again.
The Bad News
There are a lot of losses on the schedule. MSU, OSU, WIS are just no fun. Michigan is probably not going to happen on the road. Nebraska is vulnerable for an upset traveling to a new stadium with a new coach and a new scheme, but the talent level there is still exceptional. Even Maryland, Indiana and Washington State are going to be tough outs. If the defense gets run over again, year 2 of the "Welcome to the B1Gs" schedule could lead to a rare non-Bowl season on the banks.
All that being said, there's one game that the season comes down to. We all know what it is. We've spent enough ink on it. The only thing left to do is win.
If You're Talking to a Rutgers Fan, Don't Mention
the team from pennsylvania, 22-2, 13-10, Coach Hype, Mike Rice, Matt "Bag of Douches" Brown, "The Jersey Shore" TV show unless specifically referring to Seaside Heights, Terry Shea, Kirk Ciarrocca, Chris "Cowboy" Christie, Syracuse/UConn, Gary TurNova
If You're Talking to a Rutgers Fan Do Mention
The Birthplace of College Football, 1869 National Championship, Alex Kroll, Homer Hazel, Frank Burns, The Grease Trucks, Greg "The Savior" Schiano, We're Back! (lol@MSU), Pandemonium in Piscataway, Nate Silver & New York City's College football team, Frank Sinatra, The Shore (The actual shore - it's awesome), Mario Batali, James Gandolfini, The Boss, Pre-1990 Bon Jovi, Marco Battaglia, Jimmy V, Brian Leonard, Tim Pernetti, Eric LeGrand, Gary SuperNova, 41-38,
MONDAY - Cocktail Party Preview (You Are Here)
THURSDAY - Wild Card: "We're Halfway There..."
FRIDAY - Self Hate: "Are You Rutgers?" by Sportsthodoxy's Richard Dansky