As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.
What can be expected from Rutgers this season?
Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, most are expecting very little in the way of winning in their inaugural season in the Big Ten. Coming over from the American Athletic Conference — the Frankenstein’s monster of a conference formerly known as the Big East — the Knights will be facing competition that was quite literally out of their league just a few months ago. That heightened caliber of opponent is expected to take a severe toll on Rutgers.
Despite a reputation as a power-conference basement-dweller, Rutgers has actually been to three straight bowl games, including a postseason appearance in each of the two seasons under Kyle Flood. Last year, it was a loss to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl. The year before, it was an overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Knights finished with a sub-.500 record last season, but that was after a pair of nine-win campaigns.
[MORE BIG TEN: Welcome to the Big(ger) Ten: Meet the Rutgers Scarlet Knights]
Rutgers returns a lot of players from last year’s team. That includes the top passer (Gary Nova), rusher (Paul James) and receiver (tight end Tyler Kroft). Nova threw for 2,159 yards and 18 touchdowns but struggled with 14 interceptions. James found the end zone just nine times on the ground, picking up 881 yards. In fact, the only starters that need replacing on offense are the wide receivers. But one who features to play a prominent role, Leonte Carroo, caught nine of Nova’s TD throws last year.
The defense also returns a bunch of starters, and the linebacking corps figures to be a strength. Six of the team’s seven leading tacklers from 2013 return, with three of the top four — Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder, Quentin Gause — being linebackers.
But the bottom line is that Rutgers — while having experience when it comes to returning players — has very little experience facing the foes on this year’s schedule. Not one of the 12 teams they face this season were on last year’s slate, and the AAC didn’t throw anything at the Knights like they’ll see in the Big Ten. Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are new division rivals, and Wisconsin and Nebraska are also on this year's docket. The Knights have never — and remember, Rutgers is the Birthplace of College Football — faced four of the Big Ten teams on their schedule. It’s that group of opponents that will present the biggest roadblock to Rutgers improving upon last year’s record and making a fourth-straight bowl game.