“This is our year!”

In a chant that has become legendary among fans, Rutgers senior (then junior) defensive tackle Eric Foster shouted the above line in a victorious postgame chant. It was catchy, it was infectious, it got you pumped up – it did everything one of those chants was supposed to do. But was 2006 truly Rutgers’ year? Some people talked as if it was, but I thought as if it weren’t. I subscribed to the theory that Rutgers went 11-2 last year because they were better than their opponent 11 times, and were not as good twice. I also thought that if the season had truly been “magical,” as some called it, the record would have looked more like, say, 13-0 (or at least 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory). I was also of the school of thought that, though 2006 was a huge year for the team, 2007 could be better still. Why not? Heisman candidate Ray Rice returned, the aforementioned Foster returned, quarterback Mike Teel rapidly improved at the end of ’06, dynamite safeties Ron Girault and Courtney Greene came back, receiver Kenny Britt looked like an emerging star – there was plenty of reason to be excited. Sure, there were losses (RB Brian Leonard, OLs Cameron Stephenson and Darnell Stapleton, tight ends Clark Harris and Sam Johnson, DLs Ramel Meekins [pictured] and William Beckford, LBs Quintero Frierson and Devraun Thompson, DBs Manny Collins and Derrick Roberson), but isn’t that part of the fun of the college game? Witnessing huge amounts of turnover and enjoying the new kids on the block replace the old guard constantly? Isn’t that constant influx a joy to watch unfold?

I thought it would be. Right now, though, it’s lost some luster.

The last couple weeks, the influx has failed to replace the outflux. RU’s 2006 trademark, a swarming defense that put constant pressure on the quarterback, is nowhere to be found at critical times. And lately, even Ray Rice is having trouble getting anything going. Cincinnati, 28-23 winners over Rutgers this past Saturday, held him to 94 yards on 34 carries. Granted, Cincy shut him down last year, too, but Rutgers played better in this game than they did in that one (the ’06 Cincy game – one of the prime reasons I don’t buy into last season being “magical”)…and they still lost. Also, it seems like Rice is getting tripped up a lot – perhaps teams have adjusted to his surprisingly powerful running style by going for the legs rather than wrapping up and letting him churn out extra yards. Whatever the case may be, he wasn’t at his best on Saturday and at this point in time, the 2007 team is flat-out not as good as the one before it.

This would not be such a concern if expectations for this year hadn’t been so high. I’m a huge culprit in that area. I thought new fullback Jack Corcoran, based on what he showed in limited action last year, would be able to more or less pick up where Leonard left off. As it turns out: yeah, right. Corcoran has barely touched the ball all year and was being substituted out at times for backup Jean Beljour against Cincy. I remember my “preliminary breakdown” where I said I just couldn’t see all that inexperience at linebacker dragging the team down. This is why I’m not an expert and am just some idiot with 1/3 of a blog (and about 1/999,999 of the blog’s recent views). The incredibly disruptive presence of Ramel Meekins on the D-line is also sorely missed, although his replacement Pete Tverdov made some good plays on Saturday. Bottom line, there were a lot of experienced players on last year’s team who were vital to the season’s success. Many of those players are now gone. Hopes were so high because many players vital to last year’s 11-2 finish are back, but as it turns out, those who aren’t haven’t been replaced to the degree we fans hoped they would be. There’s no set tight end. Apparently, there’s no set fullback. Kevin Haslam and freshman Anthony Davis are splitting time at right guard. Those are some important positions that no one has 100% claimed, and it is adversely affecting this team.

My hopes were unrealistically high before the season, and I made no apologies for it. I thought Rutgers had the potential to win every game on their schedule, and therefore I would be somewhat disappointed with anything less than 13-0. Now, I’m not sure I ever actually thought 13-0 could happen, but the possibility of it was only fun while it lasted.  Now, they are a mere 3-2, and I can deal with that. Losses happen. Schiano’s even said it – you’re not going to win 11 games every year. (That was before this season.)  This season doesn’t look like it’s going to become what I hoped it would, but letdowns are the risk you run following a team. Rutgers will be back. Hopefully, that will start with a strong finish to this year, in which arguably the two toughest games (West Virginia and South Florida) still remain. Then, hopefully that will spill over into the 2008 recruiting class, off to a strong start. Then, maybe, some of the raw talent from this year’s team will have matured and gotten the experience necessary to make the run so many thought this year’s team was going to make. But, as I’m no stranger to doing, that’s getting ahead of myself. Right now, I’ll keep my eyes on the present, and Saturday’s game against Syracuse. If RU can’t win this game, they’re totally screwed. If they win, as expected, there’s still a glimmer of hope to make this a big season. However, with those two relatively early losses in tow, it looks like, well, that this isn’t our year.