Is this the year of the Knight in the Big East? Can the Rutgers get back into the top 25 one more time and make a play for the Big East title?
Here are my predictions for the 2008 Rutgers football season, game by game.
Sep. 1 vs. Fresno State:
Rutgers opens up the 2008 season with a tough home game against a very good WAC opponent. Fresno St. is coming off of a 9-4 season and a victory over Georgia Tech in the Humanitarian Bowl. Many put the Bulldogs in the top 25 to start the 2008 season.
Rutgers should have no problem putting up points in this game with a healthy Mike Teel at QB. The problem will be the RU defense containing a very prolific offense that averaged 33 points per game last season.
With QB Tom Brandstater back, the Bulldogs should be able to surpass the 33 point mark against a weak RU defense. The Bulldogs have won 12 games against BCS opponents.
Prediction: Fresno State 38, Rutgers 30
Sep. 11 vs. North Carolina:
After an opening week loss, many people in Jersey will begin to question Schiano and say that 2006 was only a fluke. Game two for RU is when everything will click.
UNC brings 10 starters back on offense, but the major question is at QB for the Heels. Last year, Rutgers was surprised by a bigger and more physical ACC team in Maryland at home. This will not happen two years in a row.
Mike Teel and company will put up points and the RU defense should be able to hold UNC to under 30 points.
Prediction: Rutgers 31, UNC 21
Sep. 20 at Navy:
Coming into the game 1-1, Rutgers should have no problem defeating the Midshipmen on the road. Rutgers is just physically bigger and better all around. No point going into details with this game.
Prediction: Rutgers 35, Navy 14
Sep. 27 vs. Morgan State:
The usual one team per year who is part of the playoff subdivision in college football. Should be an easy game for the Knights. The only thing fans should worry about is if Morgan State can bring a better band than Norfolk State brought last season.
Prediction: Rutgers 42, Morgan State 21
Oct. 4 at West Virginia:
Things finally start to get interesting as the Knights head to Morgantown. West Virginia should be coming off an easy win over Marshall but don't be surprised if WVU is looking ahead past RU and Syracuse to the game against Auburn.
Pat White and Noel Devine should get plenty of points against an RU defense that never does well against a running QB. I've said on my radio show that I feel Rutgers will finally break the losing streak against WVU this year.
Looking at that statement now, I may want to take that back after seeing a bad RU defense in the spring game. I'll say this—the game will be close and comes down to a field goal by either side.
Prediction: WVU 34, Rutgers 31
Oct. 11 at Cincinnati:
Plain and simple, Rutgers owes the Bearcats a major beating after they spoiled both the 2006 and 2007 seasons for the Knights. QB Ben Mauk is still crying over being denied his sixth season of eligibility, so Cincy does not have much talent left on offense. Rutgers should handle the Bearcat defense just fine. Look for the running game of RU to break out in this one.
Prediction: Rutgers 27, Cincinnati 10
Oct. 18 vs. UConn:
RU is 4-2 at this point and 1-1 in conference play. It's homecoming weekend for the Knights as they take on the Huskies. Rutgers was embarrassed last year in Hartford, and UConn depleted the RU defense. Look for Mike Teel and company to try and embarrass UConn at Rutgers Stadium.
Prediction: Rutgers 35, UConn 14
Oct. 25 at Pitt:
Rutgers is coming in at 5-2, but the Panthers are a team that is very dangerous. With a great running game and a solid defense, Pitt will keep Rutgers in check. Last season Pitt would have beaten RU had it not been for a pass interference call on the Panthers late in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers can give their best shot, and as long as Coach Wannstedt doesn't lose the game himself for Pitt, I think the Panthers may get a big home victory over RU.
Prediction: Pitt 33, Rutgers 24
Nov. 8 vs. Syracuse:
It's gut check time for Rutgers. 5-3 overall and 2-2 in conference. Luckily RU gets a home game against a bad team in the Orange. Rutgers should be able to put up points against a bad defense. The Knights defense will have to hold Andrew Robinson in check, and if that happens, RU will win easily.
Prediction: Rutgers 37, Syracuse 24
Nov. 15 at USF:
This is where the season either takes a stride for the better or the worse. This is simply the biggest game RU will have this season, at 6-3 overall with a chance to get back into the Big East race for second place.
QB Matt Grothe, RE George Selvie, and FS Nate Allen all return for the Bulls, but they have questions at linebacker and cornerback that Rutgers will take advantage of on the offensive side. Two years ago Rutgers went into Raymond James Stadium and pulled out a 22-20 victory, keeping their perfect record alive at the time.
This time RU will win once again in Tampa and march back to Piscataway.
Prediction: Rutgers 30, USF 24
Nov. 22 vs. Army:
The last non-conference opponent RU will face should be an easy win for the Knights. Last season Ray Rice ran all over the Black Knights, and even back up QB Jabu Lovelace had a solid performance. Look for Teel to throw touchdowns early and look to see Lovelace come into the game late in the third quarter.
Prediction: Rutgers 45, Army 14
Dec. 4 vs. Louisville:
It's a Thursday night ESPN primetime showdown once again with these two teams. Rutgers is 8-3, 4-2 in conference, coming into a huge game at home. With a win, Rutgers has a shot to finish in second if they can get help from either USF or WVU to knock out Pitt.
With Brohm gone and the entire Cardinals defense in question, Rutgers should be able to put points on the board. But just like last year, Rutgers cannot go into cruise control once they have the lead. With an opportunity to possibly get to the Gator Bowl, Rutgers will need to step on Louisville's throat.
Prediction: Rutgers 38, Louisville 28
This should be an interesting year for the Scarlet Knights. Their schedule is difficult but their talent alone may allow RU to pull off a road upset more than once. Don't write off RU if they lose to Fresno and/or UNC in the first two weeks.
What matters most for RU is the Big East Conference. If Rutgers can find a way to possibly end the losing streak to WVU on October 4, then the Knights can definitely pull off a string of victories. It may come down to the big game at USF determining whether the season really takes a turn for the better or worse.
Final Prediction: Rutgers finishes 2008 with a record of 9-3 (5-2), and with a little bit of help Rutgers can still finish in second and get to the Gator Bowl.