Coach: Greg Schiano (5th season, 12–34) 2004 record: 4-7 Big East finish: 1-5 (t-6th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 113th (83.5 ypg) Passing: 6th (310.5 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 80th (178.2 ypg) Passing: 97th (250.6 ypg)
Depth Chart: Offense
7 returning starters in red
Depth Chart: Defense
8 returning starters in red
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Greg Schiano said he briefly considered lightening the mood at one of his offseason press conferences by jumping from his seat as soon as he sat down, staring down at the chair and declaring, "Wow, is that hot."
Rutgers' fifth-year coach decided against doing so, because he realized the subject of delivering the school's first winning season since 1992 is no joking matter.
It was supposed to happen last year because of a veteran lineup and a favorable schedule. But after opening the season by beating Michigan State, the Knights stumbled to a 4-7 finish. This year, the scenario is much the same: The roster is brimming with depth, experience and talent, and the schedule is accommodating.
"I think this team is prepared to take the next step for the program," said Schiano, who is 12-34 after four years. "I think the expectations [for a winning season] are reasonable. My expectation is to get to a bowl. I want to go to a bowl game. It's time to do it."
Schiano is taking no chances, either. When defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro left for a job with the Carolina Panthers, Schiano named himself the replacement.
All signs point to this offense making its mark as the best in the program's history. Senior quarterback Ryan Hart has shattered school records for attempts, completions and passing yardage the past two seasons, and should own every major passing record if he stays healthy. Hart, though, needs to cut down on his interceptions (38 the past two seasons).
Rutgers has three of the Big East's best at the other skill positions. Senior wide receiver Tres Moses set school records for receptions (81) and yardage (1,056) last year, tight end Clark Harris emerged as one of the country's best and hybrid back Brian Leonard earned first-team All-Big East honors despite an injury-plagued season.
In addition, wide receiver Shawn Tucker is back after redshirting last year because of a groin injury that required two surgeries. He was Rutgers' leading receiver two years ago.
Guard John Glass, an All-Big East candidate, anchors a solid line that features budding sophomore star Jeremy Zuttah at left tackle.
Schiano turned to someone he trusts when he went looking for a new defensive coordinator to overhaul a unit that ranked among the nation's worst last year -- himself. Schiano, who formerly held that position at Miami, needs to get more out of an experienced group that finished 104th in total defense.
The front four has a chance to be solid, with Ryan Neill, a first-team All-Big East selection, although both tackles must be replaced.
Six linebackers with starting experience return, with junior Devraun Thompson likely to anchor the middle. Schiano needs injury-free seasons from William Beckford and Quintero Frierson to shore up the unit. Will Gilkison and Terry Bynes have proved to be dependable starters.
Joe Porter and Derrick Roberson, first-time starters last year, return at the corners. Ron Girault, a major surprise when he started at free safety as a true freshman last year, will shift to strong safety.
Jeremy Ito's 15 field goals led all I-A freshmen last year, and he brought stability to an area that has lacked it for quite a while. His six kicks of 40 yards or more were two more than Rutgers had managed in the previous four years combined. Joe Radigan, erratic at times, returns for his third season as the punter.
Willie Foster emerged as the latest in a line of good Scarlet Knights return men, averaging 21.1 yards on kickoffs and 12.4 on punts. He returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown against Connecticut.
Rutgers' season unraveled last year because its defense couldn't do enough to give a record-setting offense a chance. A 4-2 start deteriorated into a 4-7 finish when the defense yielded an average of 38.4 points in the final five games, allowing 95 points and 1,100 yards to Navy and Connecticut in the final two games alone. Schiano knows that has to change.
The offense should score plenty of points again. Louisville is a major obstacle in the new-look Big East, and the Knights, a senior- and junior-dominated team, have to show they have moved past losing games they should win (i.e. I-AA New Hampshire in '04).