X

Countdown to Kickoff: The Preseason Top 50—No. 34 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer IAugust 12, 2009

PISCATAWAY, NJ - DECEMBER 04:  Greg Schiano head coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights celebrates victory over the Louisville Cardinals at Rutgers Stadium on December 4, 2008 in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The 2009 college football season will kick off in a little over a month. To make the time go a little faster, I have been counting down my top 50 teams one team at a time.

No. 35  Missouri Tigers

No. 34  RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

The 2008 season for the Scarlet Knights can be summed up in one word: bittersweet.

Greg Schiano's squad seemed poised to make a run at the Big East title, but opened the season 1-5 including three straight losses to Fresno State, North Carolina, and Navy to open the season.

Then something clicked.

In the final seven games, Rutgers outscored their opponents 272-117 and were playing like the team they were expected to be at the beginning of the season. The amazing show of perseverance has built a mountain of momentum for the Knights heading into the 2009 season.

If they are to maintain that momentum, however, they will need to replace a slew of offensive stars.

Leading the race to replace quarterback Mike Teel are seniors Jabu Lovelace and Domenic Natale. The battle for the starting job is fierce, and reaching the team's ultimate goals will rely heavily on their development under center.

But the most entertaining competition battle is with the running backs. Junior Kordell Young and sophomores Joe Martinek and Jourdan Brooks all showed flashes and slightly different gifts in last year's first season without Ray Rice.

Young is the playmaker, Brooks is the masher, and Martinek is somewhere in between. While a committee certainly remains an option for the staff, none of the three is ready to dismiss the possibility of being an every-down feature back.

The running game will also benefit from running behind an Anthony Davis-led fortress that returns all five starters and might be the Big East’s best line.

Replacing receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood may prove to be Schiano's toughest task. Aside from Tim Brown, the receivers are a giant mystery, with equally limited resumes.

Defensively, the Scarlet Knights must do a little rebuilding on the line replacing two new starters at defensive tackle, but are in good shape overall.

The strongest unit will be the linebackers, which features budding star Ryan D'Imperio in the middle and great athleticism surrounding him. The secondary will overcome its losses, thanks to the returns of Devin McCourty and Joe Lefeged, and a schedule that’s light on prolific passers.

The biggest concerns will be to shore up the run defense and start creating more turnovers, which used to be a Greg Schiano trademark.

With Howard, Army, Florida International, and Texas Southern on the non-conference schedule, a postseason invite is a pretty sure thing, but the Scarlet Knights are aiming a little higher than the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

UP NEXT: The ACC checks back in at No. 33. Can this coaching legend go out on top?

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.