As Rutgers moves from the AAC to the Big Ten this season, there’s a good chance that its fan base is feeling both hope and trepidation: hope because Rutgers returns 16 starters and is going to a better, more high-profile conference, and trepidation because the team just went 6-7 in a weak AAC last season.
So, what’s the prognosis for Rutgers in 2014, especially going against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State?
“This’ll be my 10th season at Rutgers – the first seven as an assistant and now the last three as a head coach,” Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said on The MoJo Show. “Every time we’ve recruited, we’ve always recruited with conference championships and national championships in mind. Since becoming the head coach, I’ve tried to schedule aggressively. We’ve had Arkansas on the schedule the last couple years. I think that’s the only way you can prepare your program. You have to go out and you have to play good people. We’ve done that. I think our football team is excited to challenge themselves against some of the most storied programs really in the history of college football.”
Rutgers has always been a popular draw among New Yorkers, and Flood expects that popularity to increase as the team goes to a bigger, better conference.
“I grew up in New York City, and there’s no doubt in my mind,” Flood said. “Rutgers has always been the football program over the last decade that moves the needle in New York. When you look at ratings and you look at what college football teams are being watched in this area, Rutgers is at the top of the list every time. I was there in person during that 2006 season (when we went 11-2), and I saw exactly what could happen during a magical year. Now in the Big Ten – because the level of competition is so much more attractive to the fan base – there’s no doubt in my mind that that this is going to continue to go up as we get started.”
Despite its mediocre record last season, Rutgers has three returning tailbacks – Paul James, Justin Goodwin and Savon Hughes – who combined for 1,688 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013. The Scarlet Knights will also feature Desmon Peoples, a 5-8, 175-pound scat back whom Flood said “may be the toughest guy to tackle on our team.”
“It’s a position where we have some proven players and some up-and-comers as well,” Flood said. “It’s something that Ralph Friedgen has really looked at this offseason to see how we can put as many of those guys on the field at the same time to really get our money’s worth out of them.”
Friedgen, 67, takes over as offensive coordinator after a three-year retirement, and has experience both in college and the NFL.
“I certainly don’t have to speak for his experience or his resume,” Flood said. “He’s one of the finest offensive minds in football and somebody that we’re very fortunate to have at Rutgers and somebody that I courted really for two years to bring him on the staff. The first thing you gain (with him) is really somebody who’s seen everything. It doesn’t matter what the other team lines up in. At some point, he’s seen it and he has the answers. I think our players could feel that as soon as they got to know him a little bit this spring.”
“But the other part that I probably enjoy more than that is the creativity,” Flood continued. “He’s somebody who has had so much success on the offensive side of the ball in his career, but really has done it a lot of different ways. He did it with the option at Georgia Tech. He did it with a pro-style offense with the San Diego Chargers when they went to the Super Bowl. (He coached) 10 years at Maryland (and was a) three-time ACC Coach of the Year. Certainly his work with quarterbacks is well-chronicled, and I thought (that was) something that could really benefit our program – just a seasoned veteran who’s got a proven track record of making the quarterback better.”