New Neighbors: Getting to Know the Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers head football coach Kyle Flood. - Chuck Cook -US PRESSWIRE

Kevin Recio of the SB Nation blog "On The Banks," which covers Rutgers football and athletics, took some time to answer our questions and tell us a little bit about the Scarlet Knights football program.

Last time we covered the Maryland Terrapins. The second program that will be joining the Big Ten Conference this year is none other than the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, based out of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Their stadium is located in Piscataway, New Jersey. For a more general run-down of Rutgers football, their wikipedia page has a pretty good synopsis.

However, to get a more detailed feel for Rutgers football, I caught up with Kevin Recio, who operates the Scarlet Knight blog here on SB Nation known as On The Banks.

Talk about your general impression of the Big Ten. What was your opinion of the conference, positive or negative, before you heard Rutgers was joining? Has that changed in any way now that Rutgers is just as much Big Ten as Michigan is?

I've always thought of the Big Ten as the most prestigious conference in college football. It is the only conference with arguably four blue blood programs: Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Penn State. Bowl results and the run by the SEC may have put the B1G on the backburner in terms of the national conversation, but you can never ignore tradition.

I wouldn't necessarily say that my perception of the Big Ten has changed now that Rutgers and Maryland are members, but I would say that my opinion on college football as a whole has changed somewhat after the bastardization of conference realignment. I'm getting used to most of the moves, but West Virginia in the Big 12 already looks like a terrible mistake.

Along those same lines, take us through the moment when you heard Rutgers was leaving the Big East (or the Big East was dissolving) and they were ending up in the Big Ten? What was your immediate reaction? If you can recall, what was the overall reaction from the Rutgers fan base (or at least your readers on "On the Banks")?

There was a definite moment when Rutgers looked like it was headed for conference matchups with Boise State and San Diego State for the foreseeable future. TCU became the 18th school to leave the sinking ship that was the Big East, and even the aforementioned western schools were having second thoughts.

Enter Jim Delaney, who basically told every Rutgers fan that they won the $500 million powerball lottery. The only reaction to the news that RU was getting a life preserver to the richest conference in college football was sheer joy, peppered with disbelief and skepticism that the move was actually going to happen. Besides TCU and Utah, Rutgers was definitely one of the biggest winners in the entire realignment saga, and the fans were nothing but ecstatic. Here is one of the earliest threads about the announcement at On The Banks, where you can see the comments from the readers.

Talk about Rutgers as a program. What is the biggest thing that you like about the Scarlet Knights and why are you a fan of the team?

Sleeping giant is a term that many have used to describe the Rutgers program, so much so that it's actually gotten sort of annoying (only in the sense that it's frustrating RU still hasn't taken that next step). I personally have always felt that Rutgers has an underdog mentality stemming from the program's historical futility. As a born and raised New Jerseyan, seeing the program's rise in the mid-2000s established a new sense of pride in the program that had not been felt in quite some time.

The New Jersey/New York metro area has always been somewhat lacking in terms of interest in college football, besides Midwest and Deep South transplants who took their college allegiances with them. Once Rutgers became part of the national conversation alongside these name programs, it was undeniably cool.

There are two things that make the Big Ten big: academics and tradition. What does Rutgers bring to the conference in those areas?

There is no question Rutgers is a great school academically. The main campus is in New Brunswick, NJ and there are two satellite campuses in Newark and Camden. The main campus is made up of over 58,000 students, with almost 44,000 being undergraduates. RU is the eighth-oldest university in the United States, making the school a member of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution.

As the state university of New Jersey, Rutgers prides itself in its research in several areas, from agriculture to medicine. Recently, RU and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey joined in what was the largest higher-education merger in U.S. history. It puts Rutgers in the top-25 research universities in the nation, with more spending than Harvard, Yale, or Northwestern (sorry Wildcats).

In business, Rutgers is #10 in awarding degrees to Fortune-500 CEOs, with fellow B1G members Michigan, Indiana, and Northwestern joining the list. Milton Friedman, one of the most famous economists in U.S. history, called Rutgers his alma mater.

As for tradition, Rutgers may not have the most sterling win-loss record, but it's important to note that the game we love started in New Brunswick. With tradition playing such a large part of Big Ten membership, I think Rutgers fits in quite well as the birthplace of college football.

You might be surprised to know that the Big Ten features offensive styles of everything from the wide-open Air Raid (Indiana) to your basic pro-style (Michigan State, Wisconsin). What kind of offense does Rutgers run and how do you think it will match up against the Big Ten's tough defenses?

Rutgers definitely fits into the basic pro-style set. Establishing the run to theoretically set-up play action has been the offensive gameplan for years (I say theoretically because if it actually worked our record would have been better than 6-6 in the AAC). The last two recruiting classes have stocked up on huge, towering offensive linemen as RU prepares to handle the size of Big Ten trenches. Hurry-up and high-octane offense are not words you would use to describe the Rutgers offense, so I think the Scarlet Knights are B1G-ready. We've also lost our last two bowl games in unwatchable fashion, so there's that too.

Same question, different side of the ball: what kind of scheme does Rutgers run defensively?

The Scarlet Knights run a 4-3 scheme with several blitz packages. Greg Schiano was a defensive-minded coach who established a very aggressive mindset within the program. In the early years, Schiano decided to recruit in favor of speed rather than size, utilizing undersized players who could attack offenses from every position. This scheme is still in place, as even safeties and corners are asked to aid in run support and QB hurries.

Defense will be an interesting side to watch as Rutgers transitions to the B1G, mainly because I personally believe that RU will be forced to abandon the undersized/speed scheme. Rutgers had trouble matching up with the size of Notre Dame in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl, and it was evident that more bulk and strength would have helped slow down the Irish offense.

Talk about head coach Kyle Flood, who took over after Greg Schiano left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What was the reaction when Flood replaced Schiano, and how has his tenure generally gone so far?

Flood's promotion to head coach before the 2012 season was met with a lot of "meh" reactions. At that point in time, Schiano had amassed a top-25 recruiting class, and it was of the opinion of the many that promoting Flood would keep the recruiting class intact. Heading into the 2012 season, Rutgers was a favorite in the Big East with Kyle Flood inheriting arguably the most talented roster in the conference in his first year as head coach. Even though RU ended with a share of the conference title, the popular notion was that the season was a disappointment. Rutgers finished with a three-game losing streak that swung the program from heading towards the BCS to a snoozer matchup with Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

Flood's sophomore season was even worse. 2013 started out well, with Rutgers going 4-1 in the first five games and sniffing the top-25 poll. With a statement game coming up against Louisville, RU proceeded to poop the bed, essentially having a stoppable offense and a very movable defense throughout the course of the season. The fact that the Scarlet Knights even made it to 6-6 and a bowl was somewhat astonishing considering RU did not beat an FBS team with a winning record.

Rumors were swirling that Flood was getting axed before the bowl game, but eventually athletic director Julie Hermann gave the embattled head coach a vote of confidence to save his job. Prior to the hiring of Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator, popular opinion was that Kyle Flood would be a lame duck coach for the inaugural B1G season, noting that if he couldn't even make it in the weak American Athletic Conference, what chance could he have in the B1G?

Now that he has actual head coach experience on his staff with Ralph, expectations are a little better for him, but Flood was also sort of a disaster in terms of recruiting. At one point, his 2014 class was ranked third in the Big Ten, behind only Ohio State and Michigan. After approximately 1,000 decommitments, the 2014 class is now ranked 11th in the conference by 24/7 Sports.

Long term, I don't think Flood is the answer for RU. He was a continuity hire that many hoped would work out, but that doesn't seem to be the case. I wish him the best, but I don't believe he'll be the head coach entering 2015.

Let's talk about the Rutgers roster. Who are the names Michigan fans should know as they anticipate the matchup between the two teams this upcoming season?

The biggest star is junior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton. The son of former NY Giant Keith Hamilton, Darius was a former five-star prospect who is living up to his high rating as a recruit. The 6'4" 260 pounder decided to stay home and spurned basically every college that fielded a football team. He plays the three-tech spot and does a great job wreaking havoc for his size.

Running back Paul James is a former walk-on who earned his way into a starting role past former top recruit Savon Huggins. James is a bruising runner who won't kill you with his speed, but has the vision and instincts to get big yardage. He also has the power to bowl over defenders once he gets downhill. James was a first-team All-AAC player even though he missed four games due to a leg injury.

Future B1G breakout stars could be tight end Tyler Kroft or wide receiver Leonte Carroo. Kroft is a smart player who has a knack for finding the opening in defenses, coming up with many catches that sustain key drives. Carroo is quickly becoming the clutch receiver that you depend on late in games, as five of his nine touchdowns have sent the Knights to overtime or won the game. His combination of speed and great hands is lethal.

What, if anything, is the biggest misconception about the program?

I feel like I've said a lot about the program, so I'd like to use this question to just talk about New Jersey as a state. The biggest misconception about Jersey comes from the abomination of a show, "Jersey Shore." Those cast members are all from Staten Island save for one I believe, and the actual Jersey Shore, meaning the coast, is actually an awesome place that everyone loves to visit growing up in the state. It's a common notion that many New Yorkers love to ruin everyone's fun by driving down the Garden State Parkway en masse during the summer months being as loud and obnoxious as they can possibly be.

I'm not saying that New Jerseyans can't be loud and obnoxious as well, I just want people to realize that the Garden State isn't just a big community of individuals who are of Italian-descent that are either mobsters and/or shore bros. The greatness of The Sopranos and Goodfellas notwithstanding, New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the entire country, with extremely luxurious and affluent neighborhoods that can border the worst slums you've never even dreamed of walking through.

If Wolverine fans decide to visit Piscataway for a game, I have no doubt they'll find a great, inviting fanbase that loves college football just like any other red-blooded American.

Rutgers enters a situation of joining the Big Ten East Division where it will now have annual games against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State for the foreseeable future. Can you talk about your expectations for the Scarlet Knights in the short term as well as the long term?

The short term situation doesn't look good. I've already given my opinion of head coach Kyle Flood and his future, so 2014 could be a bit rough. I do have high hopes for offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, and regardless of what happens to Flood, I hope he finds a home on the staff, unless he turns out to be a disaster (highly unlikely).

Long term, I believe that Rutgers will be a solid mid-tier program within the Big Ten, and the East Division. With a fertile recruiting base, a good coach can really turn the program into a competitive team that should be able to challenge for a division crown every couple of years, most likely based on recruiting cycles. Keeping top coaches and paying them market rates will most likely be a determining factor to long term success for the Scarlet Knights.

Who do you anticipate to be your biggest rivals in this division and why?

Penn State and Maryland are the most obvious choices. Many readers at On The Banks had negative things to say about the Nittany Lions before Rutgers joined the Big Ten, and I don't believe our new membership has eased tensions one bit. With Rutgers and the turtles both being new kids on the block, I can definitely say I personally want my program to be better than the other.

Maryland and Rutgers each recruit in the opponent's state, so that rivalry already exists. Terp head coach Randy Edsall formerly led the UConn program, and Rutgers definitely got the better of him quite often, so there's a bit of history there. Also, there's is coaching familiarity between Penn State, Rutgers, and Maryland. Ralph Friedgen famously led the Terps to their first BCS berth, then was fired after winning coach of the year in 2009. James Franklin, now head coach at Penn State, was supposed to be the coach in waiting when the Fridge retired, but was chased away when new Maryland AD Kevin Anderson brought in Edsall. Friedgen made some bitter comments about his alma mater after they fired him (which he later said was a joke), so the whole situation definitely adds fuel to a budding fire.

Special Thanks to Kevin for the phenomenal answers!

And be sure to check out On The Banks anytime you're curious about Rutgers football/athletics!

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