Season Potential at All-Time Contrast

Jul 22, 2011

By: Brian Sokolowski- SOR Blogger


Your Rutgers Scarlet Knights!

Your Rutgers Scarlet Knights!

I’ve been around the Rutgers program for years. Over 15 years now. 


I’ve seen some of the worst football ever played on the banks, including an 0fer season. I’ve seen one of the best seasons in Rutgers history with RU shocking the College Football world. I’ve seen Rutgers go from a “who them Knights” type program to a program we regularly hear people say “you going to the game this Saturday” like it’s expected.
I’ve seen players come and go, transfers come in and go out, players get hurt, and young men rise to the occasion. I’ve seen potential recruits come in and make a splash, go elsewhere and fizzle after trying to transfer back, and some just never find their niche. I’ve seen players move on to careers in the NFL all the way down to local engineering firms.
I’d like to say that my 15 years of being a Rutgers football fan(atic) has brought many emotions. 
However, while I’ve always said that the next year could be a big year, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen as big a year as that for Rutgers when you look at this year.
There is so much at stake this year and so many questions that it’s like a soap opera waiting to happen. 
There are the new coaches. How will they mesh with the existing ones? Will they excel under new leadership and do something for Rutgers that the previous ones could not do? 
In 2008, we had the same scenario with coaches who were high on potential coming to Rutgers or getting promoted. They ended up being shuffled around and put in coaching positions great for them, but not great for the talent on the roster. That ended up in a 2 year flub where there was little chemistry on offense and a defense that seemed to only get sacks when the QB fell down.
This year, we have coaches who have made a bigger splash than Shamu doing a belly flop. Never have I seen the addition of 3 coaches get more attention from everyone around them than this year. When Coach Cignetti and Co. arrived at RU, the recruiting nation stopped for a second and did a double take. They almost brought key recruits they had at Pitt to Rutgers because the recruits believed in them and what they were doing. They installed the old Rutgers offense and moved players around into positions where it seemed logical. So far, they’ve gotten better production out of the offense and appear to be poised to take RU to the next level (whether this year or next). It also allowed Coach Flood to focus on the OL the way he loves to and they have responded as well with a solid spring game.
There are the questions at some of the positions on the roster. Depth on the roster is now fairly solid, talent on the roster is aptly present, but who will step up and say I’m the guy that is going to take this program to another level?
How will the kicking game go? After last season left much to desire, Rutgers saw some unexpected departures that have now turned punting and kicking into an adventure from it being pretty solid.
In the 90s and early 00s, Rutgers talent level was always a question. And when Rutgers did find a few diamonds in the rough, those diamonds always seemed to have issues that came along with them. 
The talent on this year’s team is higher than any I’ve seen other than maybe 2007. There’s depth on the OL, the quality of that depth is up for discussion. There’s talent at receiver all over the field. There’s talent at linebacker that we haven’t seen since 2006. There’s talent at defensive end. There’s so much depth at running back that we won’t even crack the surface by midyear. 
The main questions on the team is the experienced depth at QB, which I think will be OK in the end, because behind Chas Dodd there is no one with any quality experience in a college football game. Steve Shimko will likely be the back-up and has shown some talent, but has no experience. The incoming freshmen are another positive, but you also never know what you will get from them. The defensive line is another question. Behind Scott Vallone, the defensive line has a pretty large drop off. They have experience on the DL, but need some quality to step up and realize the immense talent they were thought to have. Same with the kicking game. It’s right there, but needs to get over the hump.
How will fans respond to the season? Tickets have been slowly being sold and with good merit. Not many people think RU will do well this year and with North Carolina being the second game, ticket sales are going to be slow unless Rutgers wins that game.
If RU struggles, will fans start to leave on the team the way they did last year? How many losses will it take to have them lose their commitment?
On the other side, will fans come back and trust the team if they win the first two games? The first game is a mere tune up so we know that fans will show up, just not in droves. The third game is homecoming and is always popular, but how will UNC affect that game if we win? Will fans sell that game out? If so, that will show that Rutgers has a solid fanbase as long as there’s a product on the field. How will the NFL’s late start to their season affect RU as well? Will the NFL, who looks like they will be starting in October, boost ticket sales for RU for September and part of October?


With the good and bad announcements of Rutgers being the school that spends the highest percentage of school budget on sporting programs and with the announcement of the partnership with High Point Solutions to rename the stadium; RU had good and bad news there.
We all know that the reason why we are so high in budget percentage is because of the expenditures on the football stadium and we also know that if we didn’t spend the money there, we would not have an Audi sponsored club box section, a large scale donation from an anonymous donor for the recruiting complex, and the new named High Point Solutions Stadium. Nevertheless, the high percentage of expenditures has to be addressed and one of the main ways of showing they are is by selling out in both football and basketball. Football has first crack at making Bob Mulcahy’s former vision a reality.
Never have I seen a season with as low a basement and as high a ceiling as this season and schedule is a big reason as well. We don’t have many “patsy” teams to fall back on with our schedule like 2009. We don’t have a team with a lot of seniority returning like 2008 to go with a tougher schedule. We don’t have that work horse back returning like Ray Rice in 2007 who willed us through tough games. We don’t have the “been there, done that” coaching staff of 2006-2007 where it seemed no coach left and everyone knew each other and who worked together to game plan so well. 
There also isn’t a schedule on tap that mirrors the toughness of the old Big East schedule. Where every game needed to be an A game effort just to even be close to winning. Back then, during the Terry Shea era, even our out of conference schedule featured up in coming FCS teams and tough FBS teams who would play us well. Then again, Terry Shea didn’t really do what Greg Schiano has done.
We have this year is a solid schedule with games that set up upcoming games well. Smartly, Rutgers made homecoming the Ohio game and after last year’s debacle against Tulane, you better be sure RU will be ready and won’t suffer a letdown if we pull out a win against UNC.  They made sure they scheduled another FCS game as the first game to provide a tune up for the coaching staff and players, rather than a tough game as in recent years. You have two service academies, which makes it tough on the players with injuries, which provide a challenge for RU, but not one where they cannot win both games. When you look down the line, no game looks like a trap game since Rutgers should be gunning for everyone and it shouldn’t be the other way around. That’s the sign of a solid schedule.  
From 2006 to 2009, we saw some of the most solid recruiting classes in RU history. Kenny Britt, Anthony Davis, Tom Savage, and others all headlined their classes and came to Rutgers with huge potential. No class saw a bigger spike in recruiting than the 2007 class who came in after the end of Rutgers’ 2006 season. The class had high end recruits littered among it when the final day hit. On the other side, the 2009 class started off with a bang and then started to fizzle as Rutgers struggled on the field. In the end, the class ended up being pretty good, but before Rutgers’ 1-5 start, the class was in line to be a top 10 class.
We have a potential recruiting class that is really high up there in potential. You go down the recruiting listings and you’ll see about 6 blue chip, top 100 recruits, and one already committed, that are seriously looking at Rutgers who have offers from EVERY major program. If Rutgers somehow, by the grace of God, landed all 6 it would be the greatest accomplishment I’ve ever seen on the recruiting front.
But to land those coveted recruits, it will all start with winning on the football field. While selling recruits on the new coaching staff will work, it will work even better if RU finishes the season playing in Orlando or Miami in December or January. Landing a Devin Fuller or Darius Hamilton is going to be from also matching that up with a 9 win (or more) season. If RU wins the Big East, we may see all of them on the banks next year and that will be amazing.
What we have is a team that can shock the world the way that the team from 2006 did. There is high level talent all over the field. If that talent reaches its potential, this can be the single greatest year in Rutgers football history. We have the fiery leader in Justin Francis on defense and we have the QB who has faced all odds and responded with poise and resolve. Lead this team and this team will respond.
This year shows a contrast in season outlook we haven’t seen in a while. The talented youth on the team will need to push the experience to make the team better and you see potential stability all over the field. It’s crazy to think that Rutgers is in position to have a season that could be a 1-2 win season OR be a 11-12 win season. That fraction of a second that Coach Schiano always talks about when taking a game from a loss to a win looks a lot more important when you talk about it in that context.
Good luck players, coaches, fans and everyone around the program. Let summer camp begin and may the best team be out there come September!