Coach: Kyle Flood (23-16, entering fourth season; 23-16 overall record)
2014 record: 8-5, 3-5 in Big Ten Conference; tied for fourth in East Division
Look back: It was an impressive inaugural season for Rutgers in the Big Ten. The Scarlet Knights opened by winning five of their first six games, highlighted by a two-point win over Michigan on Oct. 4. But blowout losses to Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin quickly tempered the excitement. Wins over Indiana and Maryland sandwiched another blowout loss to Michigan State. Rutgers closed the season with an impressive 40-21 win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. It was the program’s fourth straight bowl game and its first postseason win under coach Kyle Flood.
Offensive starters returning: 5
Offensive starters lost: 6
Defensive starters returning: 5
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: QB Gary Nova, OL Taj Alexander, OL Betim Bujari, OL Kaleb Johnson, TE Tyler Kroft, DB Johnathan Aiken, DB Gareef Glashen, DL Kenneth Kirksey, DL David Milewski, LB Kevin Snyder
Top returnees: RB Paul James, WR Leonte Carroo, WR Andre Patton, OL Keith Lumpkin, OL Chris Muller, LB Steve Longa, LB Quentin Gause, DB Nadir Barnwell, DL Darius Hamilton, DL Djwany Mera
Strengths: Leonte Carro became the first Rutgers wide receiver since Mohamed Sanu in 2011 to register 1,000 receiving yards in a season after tallying 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. He will be the primary receiving threat for the Scarlet Knights next season, while juniors Janarion Grant and Andre Patton will also see action.
Sophomore Robert Martin (434 yards/7 TDs) leads a talented and deep group at running back. He’ll be joined by redshirt junior Desmond Peoples (447 yards/3 TDs) and sophomore Josh Hicks (440 yards/2 TDs).
The defensive front features experience, with senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton (six sacks) and defensive end Dwayn Mera serving as leaders. The pair, along with Sebastian Joseph and senior Quanzell Lambert, combine to have played in more than 100 games in their careers. Linebacker Steve Longa was the team’s top tackler last season. Longa and Quentin Gause combined for 174 total tackles in 2014.
Weaknesses: Ben McDaniels is entering his first season as the Scarlet Knights’ offensive coordinator, and he’s tasked with improving an offense that ranked seventh in the Big Ten. His first challenge is finding a quarterback. Gary Nova’s departure leaves uncertainty at the position, with sophomore Chris Laviano and redshirt sophomore transfer Hayden Rettig in a close competition for the job. Laviano, a three-star recruit from the New York area, saw limited action behind Nova, while Rettig sat out last season after transferring from LSU.
Last season, Rutgers featured one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten, allowing just 19 quarterback sacks, but the departures of Taj Alexander, Betim Bujari and Kaleb Johnson leave the Scarlet Knights with just senior tackle Keith Lumpkin and junior guard Chris Muller as the only experienced players on the line.
Outlook: Eight wins during Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten is nothing to sneeze at, but only one of those wins (Michigan) came against a “power” program. There is plenty of experience returning on both sides of the ball, but settling on a reliable quarterback is the biggest challenge this team faces — especially when you will playing Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska during a stretch of 35 days.
Sept. 5 Norfolk State
Sept. 12 Washington State
Sept. 19 at Penn State
Sept. 26 Kansas
Oct. 10 Michigan State
Oct. 17 at Indiana
Oct. 24 Ohio State
Oct. 31 at Wisconsin
Nov. 7 at Michigan
Nov. 14 Nebraska
Nov. 21 at Army
Nov. 28 Maryland
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