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American Athletic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Kyle Flood, 9-4 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Ron Prince | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Cohen
The Scarlet Knights look to build momentum for a move to the Big Ten in 2014.
New offensive coordinator Ron Prince inherits an experienced quarterback in Gary Nova. But will he get the Nova who managed a 15-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio during Rutgers’ 7–0 start or the one who had a 7-to-13 ratio during a 2–4 finish? For the season, Nova threw for 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns. His shining moment came in a 35–26 win at Arkansas, when he threw for 397 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Wide receiver talent is plentiful again, with 6'6" Brandon Coleman on the verge of stardom and sophomore Leonte Carroo showing signs of a bright future. Quron Pratt, Miles Shuler and Ruhann Peele make this a deep unit.
The offensive line returns four starters, though Andre Civil, a 275-pound fifth-year senior, will slide over to right tackle from right guard.
Losing Jawan Jamison, a 1,000-yard rusher who declared for the NFL after his sophomore season, leaves the running game uncertain. Savon Huggins, a former top recruit, rushed for 179 yards against Cincinnati, finishing the year with 410 yards. He has all-conference ability. Paul James, redshirt freshman Desmon Peoples and true freshman Dontea Ayres all have a chance at playing time. The return of fullback Michael Burton from a season-ending leg injury after just four games is a big boost for Rutgers’ pro-style offense.
Two major issues face first-year defensive coordinator Dave Cohen — rebuilding a secondary that lost three starters and replacing Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais at linebacker. Greene was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year last season. Beauharnais was a three-year starter in the middle.
Kevin Snyder, who has played extensively, will step in for Greene and does so as a proven playmaker. Promising redshirt freshman Steve Longa is the frontrunner in the middle. Jamal Merrell, third on the team in tackles last season, has shown he’s an impact player at the strong side.
The secondary will have Lorenzo Waters returning at strong safety, converted wide receiver Jeremy Deering at free safety and sophomore Tejay Johnson at one corner. The other corner spot is up for grabs, although Lewis Toler, a three-year starter at Western Michigan, is expected to enroll this summer as a graduate transfer who would be eligible immediately.
The defensive line, deep and talented, is shaping up as the defense’s strength, with nose tackle Isaac Holmes healthy again and Jamil Merrell returning at end. Former prep All-American Darius Hamilton, now a sophomore, will start at the other defensive tackle spot.
A hip injury to starting placekicker Kyle Federico opened the way for walk-on Nick Borgese last year, and both performed well enough to be in position to kick this year. Punter is a concern, but a quick fix is expected from Nick Marsh, a fifth-year graduate student from Utah who is eligible immediately. Deering has been a productive kick returner for the past three years.
These are heady times for Rutgers. A year removed from a share of the program’s first league title, the school is Big Ten-bound after this season. That makes this year — in the newly named American Athletic Conference — a transition year. That could be the case on the field as well for coach Kyle Flood, whose team staggered to a 2–4 finish despite featuring six players invited to the NFL Combine.
The development of Nova and the revamped back seven hold the keys to this season. If both areas turn out to be a strength, Rutgers can compete for a league title and a BCS berth. If not, the Scarlet Knights could have trouble breaking the .500 mark.