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CFN Preview 2013 - Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers WR Brandon Coleman
Rutgers WR Brandon Coleman
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 16, 2013


CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Rutgers Scarlet Knights



Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Preview 2013 
 

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Kyle Flood
Second year: 9-4
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 19, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Rutgers Players
1. WR Brandon Coleman, Jr.
2. OL Kaleb Johnson, Jr.
3. LB Jamal Merrell, Sr.
4. DE Jamil Merrell, Sr.
5. OG Antwan Lowery, Sr.
6. QB Gary Nova, Jr.
7. RB Savon Huggins, Jr.
8. SS Lorenzo Waters, Jr.
9. DT Darius Hamilton, Soph.
10. LB Kevin Snyder, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/29 at Fresno State
9/7 Norfolk State
9/14 Eastern Michigan
9/21 Arkansas
9/28 OPEN DATE
10/5 at SMU
10/10 at Louisville
10/19 OPEN DATE
10/26 Houston
11/2 Temple
11/9 OPEN DATE
11/16 Cincinnati
11/21 at UCF
11/30 at Connecticut
12/7 USF
Rutgers has one more relatively clean look at a BCS bowl game. And then it’s off to the Big Ten beginning in 2014.

The Scarlet Knights are about to embark on their final year in the Big East, now the American Athletic Conference, a relationship that began more than two decades ago. Over the past eight seasons, the football program has reached new heights by appearing in seven bowl games, producing a spate of NFL players and gaining regional, if not national, respect. Yet, that goal of capturing a league title, and the marquee bowl berth that comes with it has eluded Rutgers.

In 2006, the Knights delivered a signature upset of Louisville on national TV, yet lost two of their next three games to send the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl. And then last Nov. 29, with a BCS bowl berth resting on the outcome, Rutgers squandered a second-half lead at home to Louisville, which rallied for the 20-17 win that sent it to the Sugar Bowl. It was a lost opportunity, one that’ll haunt Rutgers for some time.

The decision last fall to join the Big Ten was a no-brainer for Rutgers, a landmark event on the timeline of the school’s athletic history. For the University, it’ll be a monumental win on so many levels, from finances to exposure. But victories on Saturdays are going to be harder to come by; Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska didn’t appear on the schedule in the past.

This season might be the Scarlet Knights’ best chance for a while of playing in a BCS bowl game, though Louisville is fittingly standing in the way. If Rutgers is going to leave its old league with some hardware on the moving truck, it’ll need to address issues on both sides of the ball. Just 10 starters are back from last year’s 9-4 squad, including four on defense. The offense is searching for consistency, specifically out of QB Gary Nova and RB Savon Huggins, who’s taking over for 1,000-yard rusher Jawan Jamison. The D, meanwhile, is putting out APBs for leaders and playmakers now that DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene, S Duron Harmon and CB Logan Ryan are all trying to make NFL rosters.

It’s a getaway year for Rutgers, which has parlayed a decade of football improvement and high academic achievement into a coveted spot in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights still feel as if they have unfinished business in their old conference, including trumping Louisville for a January bowl game.

What to watch for on offense: Huggins it out. When RB Savon Huggins signed with Rutgers two years ago, it was one of the most ballyhooed gets in school history. He was the five-star gem who was going to make the locals forget that Ray Rice ever played in Piscataway. Yet, Huggins has been mediocre so far, getting trumped by the less heralded Jawan Jamison, who’s now with the Washington Redskins. The junior is now the starter, running behind a solid O-line. If he struggles to meet expectations in 2013, he’ll spend 2014 trying to avoid being labeled a bust.

What to watch for on defense: Searching for leaders not named Merrell. Jamal and Jamil Merrell begin the season as Rutgers’ two best defensive players, but who’ll step up and provide support for the twins? It’s not so much that the Knights are young as they are unproven at so many positions on the two-deep. The coaching staff will be looking for big years out of DE Marcus Thompson, NT Isaac Holmes, LB Kevin Snyder and safeties Lorenzo Waters and Jeremy Deering, upperclassmen who’ve yet to play their best ball as Scarlet Knights.

The team will be far better if… it plays with a much higher degree of offensive efficiency. Obviously, Rutgers has to improve on offense, specifically at pivotal points of drives. The Knights sputtered at the least opportune times in 2012, ranking 104th nationally in third-down conversions and 103rd in red-zone touchdown percentage. Extending drives, wearing out opposing defenses and trading a few more field goal attempts for touchdowns could tip the scales in Rutgers’ favor in this year’s closer games.

The Schedule: Can the Scarlet Knights get by the BCS killers at Fresno State to start the season? The Bulldogs are going to be nasty , but a win could be the difference between a good start and a rough one. Can Rutgers beat Arkansas for the second season in a row? At home, yeah, maybe, but going to SMU and then facing Louisville on the road five days later is going to be brutal. With a 3-2 record or possibly even a 4-1 run, all of a sudden it’s Game On with the toughest games the rest of the way coming against Cincinnati and South Florida at home. Back-to-back road games at UCF and Connecticut shouldn’t be that bad coming nine days apart.

Best offensive player: Junior WR Brandon Coleman. On an offense with a dearth of playmakers, Coleman stands out in more ways than just one. The 6-6, 220-pound condor is a nightmare for opposing defensive backs who must contend with his size and his looping gait. No longer the raw and unpolished weapon when he arrived, Coleman earned Second Team All-Big East honors in 2012 by catching 43 balls for 718 yards and a single-season school-record 10 touchdowns. He’ll be doubly dangerous now that he’s had the time to develop more chemistry with QB Gary Nova.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Jamal Merrell. After being overshadowed by his teammates, like linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais, Merrell is poised to make a name for himself in his finale. The rangy, 6-4, 220-pound athlete moves with all of the grace and efficiency of a converted wide receiver, covering large areas of grass in a short period of time. As the starter at strongside in every game last year, Merrell notched 83 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss and a pair of blocked kicks. All-star recognition awaits if he can continue to evolve as a run-stopper.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Gary Nova. This is Nova’s job. This is Nova’s offense. It’s time for him to own that responsibility, while cutting down on his mistakes. The Scarlet Knights are pining for an offensive leader, a steady hand who can drive the team downfield at crucial points in a game. Nova looked in the spring as if he’s capable of being that guy. But he’s also the same quarterback who threw 16 picks last season, and completed less than half of his throws over the final three games.

The season will be a success if ... the Scarlet Knights win eight games and once again go bowling. Sure, there’s work to be done on both sides of the ball, and there are landmines in the form of Fresno State, Arkansas, Louisville, Cincinnati and UCF. However, the conference slate is softer than ever, and Norfolk State and Eastern Michigan will be back-to-back lay-ups in September. If Rutgers can solidify its backfield early on, the team should be much better over the second half of the season.

Key game: Oct. 10 at Louisville. Who else, right? The Scarlet Knights would desperately like to exorcise some demons against the Cardinals, especially after blowing a lead in last year’s pivotal game. Louisville will be favored, more so at Papa John’s Stadium. If Rutgers, though, can steal this game with a strong showing from the D, it’ll spend the final two months of the season as the favorite to become the first-ever champion of the American Athletic Conference.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Rushing touchdowns: Rutgers 6 – Opponents 6
- Fumbles lost: Rutgers 6 – Opponents 14
- Third-quarter scoring: Rutgers 82 - Opponents 27
 
- 2013 Rutgers Preview | 2013 Rutgers Offense
- 2013 Rutgers Defense | 2013 Rutgers Depth Chart