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Rutgers Football: Can the Scarlet Knights Win the Big East in 2012?

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The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Is Rutgers Still a Big East Title Contender Without Greg Schiano?

Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
Rutgers is definitely a Big East contender despite Greg Schiano's departure for the NFL. First, Greg Schiano never won the Big East title outright as a coach at Rutgers, anyway. So while I've always respected the amazing job he did at Rutgers in building that program from almost nothing, it's not as though he was a championship coach that needs replacing. We may very well come to find that Flood and his made over staff are better managers of big games.

Second, Rutgers will compete for the Big East title because it has as much talent as Louisville, the main contender, and more than the rest of the conference. One thing Schiano did well was recruit, and Kyle Flood did a good job holding on the last recruiting class once he departed. Most of the starters from last year's defense, which was the best in the Big East, return and will be buttressed by the addition of a number of highly rated freshmen. Flood's got a talented and now experienced offensive line, a blue chip running back in Savon Huggins, and is determined to settle on one quarterback.

Third, Rutgers is a Big East title contender because it gets Louisville at home in the final game of the regular season in what should be a de facto Big East championship game. Having the home field advantage in a game of that magnitude, especially if it is especially cold that time of year, could be the difference between winning and losing and heading to a BCS Bowl in 2012. 

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Let’s face it: Rutgers was a marginal Big East contender with Schiano. That’s not a knock against the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach; he built that program essentially from scratch, and I’d bet Rutgers eventually would have won the Big East had he stayed. Still, Rutgers is 16-19 in the Big East since going 11-2 overall in 2006. If Schiano remained in Piscataway in 2012, Rutgers would be a sleeper for the Big East title, and since none of the players have changed, I suppose the Scarlet Knights still are. That said, a sleeper pick usually means everything has to break right. For Rutgers, that means the Scarlet Knights need some long-awaited stability at quarterback, they running game to stabilize under Jawan Jamison and perhaps a healthy Savon Huggins, and the offensive line to come together after two difficult years. In addition to all those questions on offense, Rutgers will miss Schiano’s touch on defense. With Schiano, Rutgers probably would need a few breaks to contend for the Big East. Without him, his defensive acumen and the other changes on the staff, the margin of error is even slimmer. Rutgers probably goes to a bowl game, but asking the Scarlet Knights to challenge Louisville might be too much to ask in Kyle Flood’s first season.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
In the short term I would say yes. It is impossible to totally eliminate Greg Schiano's influence on Rutgers football in a matter months. This team is three classes of tough-nosed, defensive-minded Schiano-coached athletes, so there will be a certain residue left over from more than a decade of teaching. The Knights boasted not just the Big East's top defensive unit a year ago, but one of the nation's stingiest groups. They won't forget how to play football because one man has departed campus. And there is more good news: Rutgers expects the most talented signing class in school history to join the party this summer.

And it's the mostly highly-touted class in program history where questions begin to arise about the future of Scarlet Knights football. Kyle Flood learned under Schiano for six years and undoubtedly will attempt to maintain as much continuity as possible within his community. He had a great talent to learn from and should able to keep Rutgers at certain level of competition for the time being. Yet, a major facet of his hiring had to be tied somewhat to keeping intact the historic haul of prospects. His long term coaching talents are a relative unknown.

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This team should be very competitive in year one after Schiano, especially with the schedule setting up the way it does. The Knights could start 7-2 or, with a win at South Florida, 8-1 (loss coming at Arkansas). But the ability of Flood to get Rutgers in competition for a BCS bowl is still left in question. He could very easily be the right coach to lead this program for the next decade. Although, if he were to reach a BCS bowl, I suppose he would have already outperformed Schiano, right?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Before Greg Schiano left Rutgers, I thought the Scarlet Knights had a chance to be considered one of the top two teams in the Big East. Without Schiano, I don’t think this team can win the conference title in 2012. Kyle Flood seems like a good fit at Rutgers, but is he more of a short-term solution or can he continue to build off of what Schiano started? Considering Flood has no head coaching experience, you really have to wonder how this hire will work out for Rutgers.

In addition to the concerns about the coaching change, the Scarlet Knights have some question marks on offense. Will a quarterback settle into the job and bring stability to the position? Gary Nova and Chas Dodd alternated time last year and neither stepped forward in spring practice. The running game, led by backs Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins, certainly has potential, but the offensive line has only two returning starters from a so-so group last year. The good news for the Scarlet Knights is the defense could be the best in the Big East with eight starters returning.

Outside of a date at Arkansas, Rutgers should easily handle the opponents in its non-conference schedule. Road dates against South Florida and Pittsburgh and the season finale against Louisville will be the toughest games in Big East play.

I think Rutgers is still a threat to win the Big East crown, but I’m hesitant to pick them first or second in the conference without Schiano. Flood did a good job of keeping the recruiting class intact, but it’s difficult to know what to expect from a first-year coach.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Scarlet Knights are not the favorite in the league, but I think they can compete with Louisville for the conference crown. The Cardinals probably return the most talent, but Charlie Strong’s club should be challenged by Rutgers, USF and possibly Pittsburgh. Greg Schiano will be missed, especially since the key to Rutgers success will continue to be its defense. Eight starters return on that side of the ball, led by all-league linebacker Khaseem Greene. That unit carried the Scarlet Knights to nine wins a year ago, and the defense will need to be a force once again in 2012. New coach Kyle Flood will try to find some stability at the quarterback position, and that would give RU a chance to compete for the title. If the Scarlet Knights’ defense can win low-scoring, close games early while the offense develops, they will have a chance to do some damage late with a season-ending slate of at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh and home against Louisville. I would project Rutgers for third in the Big East, but the Flood’s crew has a shot if the defense carries the weight one again.

How will Athlon predict the Big East standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day. 

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