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Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2014 Spring Football Preview

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

The College Football Playoff Era doesn’t just ring in a new era of postseason football for Rutgers. It’s a complete overhaul.

The Scarlet Knights will play in their third different conference in three years after the defunct Big East gave birth to the American Athletic Conference. Life in the Big Ten will be an entirely different beast, however, as Rutgers has never faced the level of competition it will now be seeing week in and week out in the B1G.

Landing in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State doesn’t help either. It means that Kyle Flood and his staff will have their work cut for themselves this spring as they prepare for the much deeper and more treacherous waters of the most lucrative league in the nation.

Getting nine starters back on offense is a big positive and there are a lot of developing names on defense, but this team will have to improve significantly across the board if it wants to return to the postseason as a Big Ten representative. Flood is hoping that a reworked coaching staff will provide the spark needed to compete at a higher level in '14.

Rutgers Scarlet Knight 2014 Spring Preview

2013 Record: 6-7 (3-5 AAC)

Spring Practice Opens: March 1

Spring Game: April 11

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Returning Starters

Offense: 9

Defense: 5

Three Things to Watch in Rutgers' 2014 Spring Practice

Find consistency under center
Kyle Flood totally overhauled his coaching staff this offseason, bringing in offensive guru Ralph Friedgen to run the offense. His first order of business is to find a stabilizing force under center for the Knights after a season in which Rutgers quarterbacks threw 22 interceptions and just 22 touchdowns. This is why Flood has opened up the position battle this spring despite Gary Nova (2,159 yds, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) returning after starting most of last year (until the final three games). He will have to battle redshirt junior Mike Bimonte, redshirt sophomore Blake Rankin, and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano. Rankin is the most dynamic athlete of the bunch but Laviano might be the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound pocket passer has impressed during his short time in Piscataway and could press Nova for starting duties should he develop quickly and take to the new offense this spring. Nova has a major experience edge but has been entirely too inconsistent. This position must improve if the Knights want to compete in the Big Ten.

Get back to pounding the football
Friedgen is known for his ability to develop a passer but that would be so much easier if this team could get back to running the football like it did under Greg Schiano. Rutgers ranked 100th in rushing offense nationally a year ago and was 106th in sacks allowed. So while all five starters return along the offensive line and three very capable backs return as well, this team must be more productive on the ground. Especially in a league known for pounding the rock on offense. The O-line needs to develop a killer instinct and the backs need to stay healthy. Should these two things happen in spring ball, it would allow time and creativity for both the quarterback and play-caller.

Shore up the secondary
The entire defense needs to continue to develop after a host of talented recruits got their feet wet a year ago. But this team was still 120th nationally in pass defense and 100th in pass efficiency defense last fall and something has to change in that department (especially, with Christian Hackenberg, Braxton Miller, Connor Cook and Connor Halliday on the schedule). Lorenzo Waters is the lone returning starter at strong safety and the rest of the starting spots will be up for grabs this spring. Gareef Glashen, Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi may be the leaders heading into spring at cornerback while new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will need to find some complementary pieces at safety. This unit was filled with inexperience last year and ideally that youth will develop during the offseason. At least, that is what Rossi and Flood are hoping anyway.

2014 Early Projected Win Range: 4-6
Under Schiano, Rutgers blossomed from perennial bottom feeder to conference contender. That is a tough act to follow for anyone let alone for someone who hadn’t ever been a head coach in college — or a head coach of any kind since coaching high school ball in 1994. Flood has reeled in some good talent on the recruiting trail and has ushered in a totally new era of Rutgers football. However, if this team doesn’t show marked improvement in ’14 and continues its downward trajectory, he may not be around to bask in the glory of all that Big Ten money. And the schedule offers little breaks. The division slate is impossible and crossover play features arguably the top two teams from the West. Baring some minor miracles from Friedgen (which is totally possible), the first year of the playoff era could be a forgettable one for the State school of New Jersey.

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