The pressure is on new coach Kyle Flood to produce a Big East champion.
By: Steven Lassan | 5/20/12, 3:15 PM EDT
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Big East PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Kyle Flood, First Year | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dave Brock | DEF. COORDINATOR: Robb Smith
New offensive coordinator Dave Brock, the third person to hold the position in as many years, was brought in — ironically enough — for the sake of continuity, since he has a background in the pro-style offense that Rutgers returned to last season. There’s enough returning talent and experience for Brock to make a splashy debut.
Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Gary Nova have both started, though head coach Kyle Flood is looking to avoid rotating at the position. “I think a football team is best served having one quarterback,” he says.
The wide receiver group is as talented as any in the Big East. Rising star Brandon Coleman averaged 32.5 yards for his 17 catches last season. Mark Harrison (19.6-yard average), Quron Pratt (32 catches in 2011), Tim Wright and Jeremy Deering make this a deep, proven unit.
Jawan Jamison (897 rushing yards) and heralded recruit Savon Huggins, now a sophomore, will split the tailback duties.
The key to Brock’s success is the revamped offensive line and the play of senior tight end D.C. Jefferson. The line has the potential to be better than last year’s unit, even with three new starters. One reason: Maryland transfer R.J. Dill — a 6'7", 310-pound right tackle with 33 starts at the ACC school — is eligible immediately (for this season only).
Three of the best players in the Big East — linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais and nose tackle Scott Vallone — and the league’s top secondary will give Rutgers a defense that should keep the Knights in most games.
The linebacking crew is brimming with talent and experience. Greene earned the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year award after making 141 tackles from his weak-side spot last year. That tackle total was the fifth-highest in school history. Beauharnais, who mans the middle, is a fourth-year starter. Jamal Merrell will again handle the strong side for a unit that returns intact.
The secondary might rate with some of the nation’s best. Corners Logan Ryan and Brandon Jones and free safety Duron Harmon are candidates for All-Big East honors. All three started every game last season. Sophomore Lorenzo Waters, the newcomer to the unit at strong safety, is a player the Rutgers coaches have been eager to see in a starting role.
Generating an effective pass rush up front is the only uncertainty on defense, with the interior anchored by Vallone — who has started all 38 games the past three years — and sophomore tackle Kenneth Kirksey. Michael Larrow and Ka’Lial Glaud are the best hope as disruptive factors at the end spots, though there’s depth at all four defensive line positions.
Justin Doerner turned in a solid first season at punter, averaging 40.3 yards per kick, and Deering’s dazzling athletic ability enabled him to average 31.2 yards on kickoff returns with a 98-yard score. Both are back. The biggest question is at placekicker, where true freshman Kyle Federico is being counted on to step in after enrolling in school in January.
On paper, Rutgers has the look of a contender, though the uncertainty over all the newness (new coach, eight new assistants) casts some uncertainty over the Knights’ hopes. This was a team pointed for a big season in 2012 by former coach Greg Schiano. He’s gone, but the expectations are not. How ironic would be it be if Flood won the league in his first year after Schiano failed to do so in 11 seasons?