College football is barely a week away, and I could hardly be happier about it. Despite the loss of Ray Rice and several other impact players (Eric Foster, Pedro Sosa, Mike Fladell, Jeremy Zuttah, Brandon Renkart, Ron Girault), I have high hopes for Rutgers heading into the year (again), though I’ll keep relatively quiet on it. If you are wondering why I am doing this, simply revisit my previews from last year. Ugh. I’m not even going to reread them, mainly because I already know some of the worst things I said. For one, apparently I thought the Linebacker Fairy was going to visit the new guys from last year and turn inexperienced and/or undersized and/or injured guys into grizzled veterans who knew the defense in and out. Second, I seemed to think there was some kind of vast conspiracy to discredit the all-powerful Rutgers football juggernaut, even though our generally accepted preseason standing (around #16) proved to be absurdly generous in the end. But being embarrassed about days gone by doesn’t really jive with this look ahead, so some thoughts heading into this season coming up just as soon as I rip off TV critic Alan Sepinwall’s blogging format…
1) No steady, dependable, often spectacular Ray Rice to bail the offense out when things aren’t going so well otherwise. (In 2006, Rice carrying an otherwise ineffective offense was more or less the game plan almost every week.) Now, the focus turns to the passing game, although it’s up to the Mason Robinson/Kordell Young/Jourdan Brooks/Joe Martinek quartet – which I, and I would guess many others, think has a lot of potential – to make things happen on the ground. (I’ll add this, though – two intrasquad scrimmages are in the books, and those guys have not been very productive. That’s a legitimate point of concern at this stage of the game.) Mike Teel threw for 20 TDs and over 3,000 yards last year. The bad news is that he put up a lot of those numbers against some weak defenses, but the good news is that now he’s healthy, whereas he played the majority of last season with a useless stump for a throwing hand that, in order for him to play at all, required: A) lack of participation in practice on his part, so as to not aggravate the already mangled appendage; B) approximately 892 cortisone injections per day. Factor in the return of receivers Kenny Britt, Tiquan Underwood, and Tim Brown (along with tight end Kevin Brock), and it’s easy to see why the passing attack is suddenly the center of attention. Still, the loss of three starting offensive linemen (Fladell, Sosa, Zuttah) and one of the best players in program history (Rice) presents a challenge for offensive coordinator Jimmy John McNulty (played by Dominic West pictured below), and how (if?) he adjusts playcalling based on different personnel will be something to watch.
2) Lots of new coaches – five new guys on the staff. New running backs coach Gary Brown comes from Susquehanna University, which I am going to assume is a product of his own imagination. (He served as offensive coordinator at this fictional college.) Kirk Ciarrocca, new wide receivers coach, arrives from Delaware, and if he enjoys near the success of offensive line coach Kyle Flood (who also last coached at UDel, and might honestly be the best O-line coach in the country), he might move up from receivers coach pretty quickly – most likely somewhere else. Gary Emanuel takes over the defensive line; he coached at San Jose State last year, and with the San Francisco 49ers before that. His other stops include Syracuse, Washington State, and Purdue. In addition, his official online bio includes the incredibly unnecessary tidbit that he and his wife “recently relocated from San Jose to the New Jersey area.” New special teams coordinator Chris Rippon arrives from Ole Miss in an attempt to clean up a truly awful area of last year’s team; having worked under Ed Orgeron, he should at the very least possess an uncanny ability to work himself into frothing rages over nearly anything. Finally, new secondary coach Steve Martin, apparently buoyed by his turn as a football coach in Cheaper by the Dozen, chooses a lower Division I-A FBS assistant job over the defensive coordinator position at Colgate. Senior safety Courtney Greene will certainly not regret his decision to pass up the NFL once his new position coach helps his banjo-playing skills take an unprecedented jump. Also, look for the defensive backfield as a whole to rank among the national leaders in the vital category of “fake arrows through head.”
(For the record, all these guys seem to me like solid coaches, and should succeed at RU.)
3) It’s time to beat some of these teams that have had RU’s number lately. West Virginia (no wins against them since 1994) is the first team that comes to mind, but Cincinnati (back-to-back losses to them, one humiliating in 2006 and one close last season) is another, somewhat less obvious choice. The last two losses to WVU were also close in one case and humiliating in the other, but in opposite years from the Cincy losses. Since last year, Cincy has lost key players such as quarterback Ben Mauk (although he still has yet to accept the fact that his college career is over) and safety Haruki Nakamura. WVU, meanwhile, loses head coach Rich Rodriguez, receiver Darius Reynaud, running back Steve Slaton, and beloved Caucasian Owen Schmitt (also a pretty damn good fullback). However, thanks to returnees such as QB Pat White and RB Noel Devine, WVU is still the Big East’s team to beat. Cincy, despite important losses such as Mauk and Hiro Nakamura, should still be a tough team – and it won’t help that this game will be on the road, a week after playing WVU in Morgantown. As tough as it will be for Cincy to replace Masi Oka, it might be even tougher for RU to break the two-year losing streak against them.
4) Even though I basically just used this post to make dumb jokes, I honestly cannot wait for college football to start. I truly enjoy it more than any other sport, and the promise of back-to-back intriguing home matchups for RU to open up the season just adds to my anticipation. Greg Schiano is talking like he’s happier than last year with the way camp is going, which can only mean good things – if there’s anything to it at all. That’s really the overall point here – soon enough, I won’t have to rely on Schiano’s words and games will actually be played. Since Schiano’s comments are generally vanilla to the point that his press conferences could be accurately represented with a Mad Lib, I have to say, with apologies to Futurama: “Soon enough.” “That’s not soon enough!”