by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

Change and uncertainty aren’t necessarily good things in college football, but for better or worse, they are the watchwords of the new regime headed by Kyle Flood at Rutgers.

A large portion of change came when Flood was promoted to the top spot after serving as offensive coordinator under Greg Schiano, who shuffled off to Tampa Bay and the NFL. About half of the Rutgers staff is new, so a late start to spring workouts gave Flood a bit more time to get acquainted with his new colleagues and tie the bow on a solid recruiting class.

The uncertainty entered during spring, as several key positional competitions on offense remained undecided. The QB race between soph Gary Nova (right; 1553 YP, 11 TDs, 9 ints. as a true frosh in 2011) and jr. Chas Dodd (1574, 10 & 7) was as close in spring as was their production last season and that contest ended in a draw. The battle will be continued in the fall, and according to Flood, there must be a winner, because he is a one-QB coach. Last year Dodd was benched at halftime against Syracuse on Oct. 1 and didn’t see the field again until Gary Nova faltered against South Florida on Nov. 5. Dodd came on in the 4th Q against the Bulls and engineered an OT rally for the Scarlett Knight victory. Dodd was the QB the rest of the way in 2011, as Rutgers won 3 of its final 4 games, including a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Iowa State. In August it’s back to square one for Dodd, Nova and Flood.

A similar fight is in store at the starting running back position, where soph Jawan Jamison (897 YR, 9 TDs) is rated even with soph Savon Hugginsby the coaching staff. Huggins was the most heralded recruit in school history, but he struggled in the first half of 2011 and then had his season cut short by a knee injury. Jamison showed flashes of brilliance down the stretch last season, gaining 200 yards against Cincinnati and 131 in the bowl game. Huggins never quite got his game in high gear, but Flood is happy with his talent at the position, and the physical nature of playing RB makes it prudent to have a pair of capable backs.

The offensive line was shuffled in the spring after losing three starters including a pair of all-Big East performers from that unit. Three players with extensive starting experience return, and newbie soph guard Taj Alexander made a conversion from the defensive side and won a job, impressing coaches and being named to top offensive player in the spring. Pass protection was a problem last season, as the Scarlet Knights ranked 83rd in sacks allowed, while the running game produced just 98 ypg (112th). Therefore, there is good reason for some change up front, especially considering the loss of the best two performers. Jr. Andre Civil started every game at left tackle last season, but soph Kaleb Johnson was ahead of Civil on the depth chart after spring. Johnson started nine times last season on the right side, a position won by sr. R.J. Dill (6-7, 315). David Osei spent most of his time at center in 2011, but he was moved to left guard and was in another position battle with jr. Antwan Lowery. Tight end is also a competitive situation despite the return of sr. starter D.C. Jefferson (6-6, 258; 12 catches), as he’s listed as an “or” on the depth chart along with jr. Paul Carrezola.

The biggest hole to fill on offense is at wideout, where Mohamed Sanu caught 115 passes for 1206 yards and 7 scores a year ago but has graduated to the NFL. Sanu compiled those numbers despite the fact opposing defenses knew he was the focus of the offense consistently laid in wait for him. There are plenty of holdovers fighting for their share of the “reception” pie, as big targets Mark Harrison (6-3) and Tim Wright (6-4) combined for 25 catches and 4 TDs, and jr. Quron Pratt nabbed 32 receptions. All three have starting experience. Soph Brandon Coleman (6-6) moved ahead of Wright on the depth chart in spring, so there are plenty of candidates from which Kyle Flood can choose. But don’t forget, Sanu was something special.

If Flood wants to sleep well at night, he need only think about his stop unit. Eight starters return from a unit that ranked 8th in the nation in scoring defense, 9th against the pass and 8th in tackles for loss. Among those returning starters are three who were on the all-Big East squad, including co-defensive Player of the Year LB Khaseem Greene (led the Big East with 141 stops), CB Logan Ryan (67 stops) and FS Duron Harmon (5 ints.). No wonder the Scarlet Knights ranked 5th in pass efficiency. The defensive line should be in fine form, as sr. DE Ka’Lial Glaud was named as Rutgers’ top defensive player in the spring, and it’s anticipated true frosh stud DE Darius Hamilton will step in and start right away. Sr. DT Scott Vallone returns after starting every game last season and making 58 tackles. Greene is supported by MLB Steve Beauharnais, who was 2nd on the team with 77 stops and led Rutgers with 16 tackles for loss. In keeping with a theme, however, there is competition on the defensive side of the ball. Starting jr. DE Michael Larrow is listed as co-starter with jr. Marcus Thompson, as Larrow had his season cut short by an ankle injury after starting the first five games a year ago, but this could be the spot Hamilton fits into eventually. And the unit still has the Merrell twins (Jamal at LB and Jamil at DE) adding speed and athleticism to the mix.

Special teams could be outstanding, as all-conference punter Justin Doerner and all-Big East return man Jeremy Deering were joined by true frosh PK Kyle Federico, who enrolled early and immediately won the placekicking job.

Summary: Despite the turnover on the coaching staff, indecision at quarterback and running back, and an offensive hole created by the departure of Sanu, look for Rutgers to push for the conference title this season. The Scarlet Knights have been making serious recruiting inroads thanks to the turnaround reign of Schiano, and enough coach/recruiters remain to expect that talent flow to continue. Flood figures to have the league’s best defense by a comfy margin, and whoever wins the QB derby will have a legion of solid receivers and should better last season’s passing production. Jamison’s shooting for a 1000-yard season, and the only reason he might not get it is that Huggins has the talent to commandeer a good number of carries for himself. James Gandolfini (nee, Tony Soprano) should be very pleased with his alma mater’s progress.


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