At the request of Bleacher Report's Big East liason, Ricky Hawkins, Danny Breslauer answers some questions about the state of Rutgers football.
1.) The 2008 recruiting class is ranked third in the Big East behind Pitt and West Virginia according to Rivals.com. How impressed are you with this class and do you think that it is just the first of many great recruiting classes that Rutgers pulls in over the next couple years?
First of all, I'm clearly very impressed with this class because of Greg Schiano's ability to stay true to his word about recruiting the "State of Rutgers." While the 2009 class will prove to be even more nationally-recognized, there are some staple signings in 2008 as well.
DC Jefferson, a three-star (rivals.com) dual-threat quarterback from Florida, headlines a group that contains three 4-star performers in wide receiver Keith Stroud, defensive lineman Scott Vallone and Manasquan (NJ) offensive lineman Art Forst.
If you look up and down the list of commits, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and southern Florida talents take over the majority. I believe that Colonia (NJ) linebacker Eric LeGrand will turn out to be the surprise of the class and make an immediate impact on a squad that desperately needs help at the linebacker position on run defense.
West Virginia and Pittsburgh are two very good classes because now Michigan head man Rich Rodriguez and current Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt are two of the best in the nation at recruiting. As for Coach Schiano, this is just a start to a fast-moving trend of bringing in high-end prospects, as evidenced by 15 commitments to the 2009 class before June 20.
2.) We all know that Ray Rice was a key component of the program over the last couple years. How much is the loss of Rice going to hurt this Rutgers program? How well can Kordell Young fill Rice's shoes?
No Rutgers fan will deny that the Scarlet Knights will severely miss Ray Rice. Without him, the 2006 miracle run and 2007 winning season most likely never occur. His ability to see even the smallest holes and shake off top-notch defensive linemen made him one of the best in the nation for the last two years.
2,000+ yards of rushing (last season alone) will be extremely hard to replace and not even Schiano knows exactly what the course of action will be.
In January (at Rice's NFL Draft declaration press conference), I asked Schiano if the running back flexibility would be the toughest adjustment for him come training camp. He responded that this will be the first time that he wishes he was locked into a decision because replacing Rice will be as daunting a decision as they come.
In my opinion, Kordell Young may not be 100 % ready for the season after rehabbing the ACL injury that sidelined him in mid-September of 2007. It will probably end up being a serious running back by committee with Young, Mason Robinson, Joe Martinek, Jourdan Brooks and Rashad White all getting touches.
While Young is the best option for the job, if Robinson or Brooks can break out while he?s still hampered with injury, the competition will be up in the air.
3.) Rutgers plays a pretty rigorous non-conference schedule to begin the season including Fresno State, North Carolina, Navy, and Morgan State. Which of these games are you most worried about?
There is no doubt in my mind that I'm most worried about the season opener against Fresno St. The Bulldogs will be a Top 25 team and have that up-tempo offense and put a ton of points on the board.
Rutgers defense is historically susceptible to lapses early in the season (see Maryland last year) and they will need to be sharp on Labor Day in order to avoid a season opening loss in Piscataway.
Pat Hill has Fresno St. on the upswing and Rutgers will need to be ready to avoid a shootout. If points are put up early, the onus will be on Mike Teel to win this ballgame.
I think that Rutgers will handle Butch Davis and North Carolina due to the Tar Heels inexperience and Navy and Morgan St. simply based on talent.
4.) Do you think playing West Virginia early in the season helps or hurts Rutgers?
Playing West Virginia early in October is a huge advantage for the Scarlet Knights. RU hasn't defeated the Mountaineers in 15 years and they usually match up late in the Big East slate when WVU has found its groove.
Seeing as it will be the Big East opener, you can expect a raucous crowd in Morgantown but if the Scarlet Knights can contain Noel Devine better than they did Steve Slaton, this is a serious opportunity for an early statement win.
If RU can get off on that foot in conference play, it could lead to the pundits changing their mind about Schiano's gridiron gang.
5.) How realistic is it that we see the Scarlet Knights on top of the Big East come season's end?
I don't think that it's realistic to call the Scarlet Knights the frontrunner or even the next option for the Big East champion. West Virginia and Pittsburgh are the clear one and two right now, in my opinion.
Rutgers could probably get into that two spot by season's end by knocking off USF and/or Pittsburgh, but West Virginia may be too tough to handle in Morgantown.
I'd put the odds at 25 % for winning the Big East title, but 50 % for the two spot. RU is clearly an upper echelon team in the conference purely due to talent.
6.) It is clear that Rutgers is slowly building towards becoming a power in the Big East. How long do you think it will take the Scarlet Knights to
begin recruiting similar 5- and 4-star athletes as West Virginia and Louisville seem to sign every year?
It will not take Greg Schiano much longer to get to that level. As I said, it's June 20 and he's already signed 15 players for 2009, with three 4-stars and five 3-stars in that mix.
After a couple of more successful winning seasons (and once the Penn State job passes by, which I believe it will), Schiano will start to bring in the talents from all over the country (and not just on the East Coast).
The nation is on notice - Rutgers football has arrived and the State University of New Jersey will never be a college football laughingstock again.
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