Big Ten previews: Rutgers

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Despite finishing 3-5 in conference play a year ago, Rutgers still managed to put together an 8-5 record and a bowl victory over North Carolina.

However, conference losses against Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State, and Wisconsin were by a combined score 180-44, and, unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, they play those four again this year.

Welcome to the Big Ten round two, Rutgers.

“When you play in the Big Ten and certainly the Big Ten East [Division], the margin for error is so slim,” said Scarlet Knight head coach Kyle Flood during Big Ten media days. “You have to be ready to play every week.”

Despite the tough schedule, Rutgers should have a fairly decent chance to go to its 10th bowl in 11 seasons.

One of the biggest reasons comes in the form of highly touted wide receiver Leonte Carroo’s decision not to enter the NFL draft after the bowl victory over North Carolina.

A senior this season, Carroo had 55 receptions for 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns during his junior campaign.

“I felt that after beating Maryland and beating North Carolina and the energy off of those two wins, the next season was going to be something special,” Carroo said. “I went right up to Coach Flood after the game, gave him a hug, and told him that I was coming back.”

Rutgers also gets talented, but oft-injured running back Paul James back from an ACL tear he suffered on Sept. 20, 2014. He returns to a backfield that will also feature sophomore backs Josh Hicks and Robert Martin, who performed well in James absence last season.

“Our backfield is very strong this year,” offensive tackle Keith Lumpkin said. “We get Paul James back, and when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best backs in the country.

“Everyone’s competing for time right now, and it’s making everyone better.”

The running backs are certainly not the only group of players in tight competition as the season rolls closer. QBs Chris Laviano and LSU transfer Hayden Rettig are both battling for the starting spot and both may see playing time early on in the season.

In limited time last season, Laviano threw for 107 yards and 1 interception. Rettig has never thrown a pass in a college game.

“Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports and we need to got to get that settled,” Flood said. “I’m anxious to see how that all shakes out once we get playing real football.”

On defense, Rutgers will need to get production from the line. It’s the Scarlet Knights’ best position group on defense, and in order for any sort of positive season to happen, they will need to be on point.

Combining for 13.5 sacks last season, defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and end Kemoko Turay will again have to put up big numbers for Rutgers to stay competitive with the best teams in the conference.

After the bowl victory last season, there is a lot of confidence from Rutgers’ players. Carroo even went so far as to pin a rose on his suit during the Big Ten media days and said they wouldn’t take anything less than a 10-win season.

“I wore this rose on my suit today because I want to go to a Rose Bowl,” Carroo said. “Last year we didn’t know what to expect; we got our feet wet. Now, we know what to expect. We know how to prepare, how we need to compete, and that’s all it is.”

 

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