The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
Today at No. 36: Rutgers
Coach: Kyle Flood (0-0, entering first season)
2011 record: 9-4 (4-3 in Big East, tied for fourth in Big East)
Look back: After snapping a streak of five consecutive bowl appearances and posting a losing record in 2010, Rutgers bounced back in 2011. The Scarlet Knights opened the season with a 48-0 win over N.C. Central, then suffered a narrow 24-22 loss at North Carolina. Rutgers went on to win four consecutive games, including a double overtime 19-16 win at Syracuse. The team then suffered back-to-back Big East losses, falling 16-14 at Louisville and 41-31 against West Virginia. Rutgers started another winning streak, racking up three victories in a row to amass a 4-2 Big East record. The Scarlet Knights were in contention to tie for a share of the league title entering its final game of the regular season at Connecticut. However, Huskies running back Lyle McCombs and quarterback Scott McCummings ran for two touchdowns apiece to help UConn upset Rutgers 40-22.
College football programs went through an unprecedented number of coaching changes. Schiano was among the later departures, accepting the Tampa Bay Bucs head coaching job six days before National Signing Day. FIU coach Mario Cristobal, a former Rutgers assistant coach, seemed to be the frontrunner for the job, but Cristobal reportedly did not want to leave the Golden Panthers in the lurch so close to the critical signing period. Flood, a longtime Rutgers assistant coach, was eventually named the Scarlet Knights’ new head coach and helped hold together Rutgers’ recruiting class.
Offensive starters lost/returning: 5/6
Defensive starters lost/returning: 3/8
Key losses: WR Mohamed Sanu, OL Art Frost, OL Desmond Wynn, OL Caleb Ruch, FB Joe Martinek, DL Justin Francis, DL Manny Abreu, S David Rowe.
Top returnees: LB Khaseem Greene, OL Kaleb Johnson, S Duron Harmon, KR Jeremy Deering, P Justin Doerner, CB Logan Ryan, QB Chas Dodd.
Strengths: Flood played a key role in Rutgers’ success during Schiano’s tenure and is familiar with the players on the roster. While he did bring in his own coaching staff and is implementing his own philosophy, Flood’s knowledge of the program and the continuity he can provide is invaluable.
Linebacker Khaseem Greene, who ranked No. 12 nationally in tackles per game with 10.85, returns to help lead Rutgers’ stout defense. Greene was named the 2011 Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Greene is one of eight returning defensive starters who contributed heavily to the 2011 defensive lineup that ranked No. 8 nationally in scoring defense (18.31 points allowed per game) and No. 14 nationally in total defense (314.15 yards allowed per game).
Junior Chas Dodd and sophomore Gary Nova split time at quarterback during the 2011 season, but Dodd seemed to hit his stride late in the season and played a major role in Rutgers’ bowl win. Dodd and Nova continued to compete for the starting job throughout spring practice. Flood told reporters he planned to name one starting quarterback before the season opener and stick with that starter rather than following Schiano’s pattern of letting multiple quarterbacks lead the offense. If Flood sticks with his decisive approach, it should eventually bring more stability to the Rutgers offense that – at times during the past few seasons – looked erratic thanks to the quarterback rotation. Whoever Flood eventually names his starting quarterback will be working with a tall, athletic wide receiver unit anchored by seniors Mark Harrison and Tim Wright.
Weaknesses: Schiano has been the face of the resurgent Rutgers football program and it’s unclear how tough it will be to continue the program’s steady string of bowl appearances. The team also is moving on without some key playmakers. The departures include athletic receiver Mohamed Sanu, who earned 2011 first team All-Big East honors and was an honorable mention All American; first team All-Big East right guard Art Forst; and second team All-Big East left guard Desmond Wynn.
Outlook: While Schiano never led Rutgers to a Big East title or BCS appearance, it’s clear he created a culture of winning and left the program in good shape. Rutgers should remain competitive during Flood’s first season leading the team and has a chance to compete for an elusive Big East title.
Sept. 1 At Tulane
Sept. 8 Howard
Sept. 13 At USF
Sept. 22 At Arkansas
Oct. 6 Connecticut
Oct. 13 Syracuse
Oct. 20 At Temple
Oct. 27 Kent State
Nov. 10 Army
Nov.17 At Cincinnati
Nov. 24 At Pittsburgh
Nov. 29 Louisville
Rest of the countdown: