Old face returns

After years of dwindling near the bottom of the Big East Conference and making plenty of Jay Leno's monologues, there is finally hope among the faithful that follow Rutgers University football.

Ticket sales have increased; the team actually occupies the front page of the The Star-Ledger in New Jersey; even talk of moving up the ladder in the Big East and whispers of making a bowl game have surfaced.

And a good portion of the optimism is because of Schiano.

The former University of Miami defensive coordinator, Schiano returned to his home state last December as new head coach of the Scarlet Knights.

Now, eight months later, Schiano returns to the place were he molded one of the best defensive units in the nation from 1999-2000 as the Scarlet Knights visit the Orange Bowl to take on the University of Miami (Sept. 8, 4 pm, no TV).

Schiano will be getting his first taste of the UM-Rutgers series on Saturday, one that the Hurricanes have dominated since its inception. Miami owns a 8-0 all-time record against the Scarlet Knights in a series that dates back to 1993. The Hurricanes have scored over 50 points in the four of the eight contest, including a 64-6 blasting last season.

"Not to take away anything from Miami, but that is one of the reasons I took this job," Schiano said, earlier this week. "I want to see right away how we stack up against the best. And the Hurricanes are definitely that. I couldn't think of a better way to measure ourselves as a football team."

Schiano, at 35 the youngest head coach in Division I football, feels he isn't only delivering all the fresh words boosters, alumni and school officials all want to hear whenever a new boss is hired. Schiano means them.

"This program will be built on a rock foundation. It will take longer than building on stilts. But when it's built, it will be built forever," said Schiano.

"I can tell you right now, we are going to win. We're going to win big, we're going to win championships at Rutgers and we're going to do it the right way."

A tall order indeed as Schiano takes control of a team that hasn't posted a winning season since 1992. The Scarlet Knights are 9-46 in the Big East Conference in the last eight years. In 1997, Rutgers went 0-11 and 0-7 in the Big East.

Although so far, so good.

Schiano made good on his promise of getting to work right away and start to turn the program around immediately as the Scarlet Knights defeated Buffalo 31-15 in Amherst, New York.

Behind the best performance of his career by senior running back Dennis Thomas (30 rushes, 177 yards, 1 TD) and an agressive defensive gameplan Rutgers (1-0) made their head coach look good out of the box.

Thomas, who had 331 of his 587 rushing yards last season in the final three games of 2000, carried what seemed like a dreadful beginning to the Rutgers' offense.

Freshmen quarterback Ryan Cubit was 11-of-23 for 157 yards, with two touchdown passes and two interceptions. The defense allowed just 235 total offense yards to Buffalo. Buffalo had just 11 yards rushing in the first half.

"Obviously there are things I was proud of, although there are plenty of areas on this football team that need improvement," Schiano said. "With Miami coming up we need to fix those things in a hurry. If not we're in trouble."

Just like what they're intentions will be for the rest of the season, the Scarlet Knight most likely will try to pound Thomas at a very impressive Miami defensive front.

Thomas, a senior, is the Scarlet Knights bread and butter. The 6-1, 225-pounder opened the season fifth all-time in Rutgers history with 1,173 kickoff return yards and 2,873 all-purpose yards, ninth ever. His combination of finesse and power make him difficult to bring down.

Last year against the Hurricanes, Thomas didn't have much success rushing for six yards on five carries. He is eager how far he has come since that dreadful evening when the then-No. 10 Canes had their way against the Scarlet Knights.

"This team is better than that," says Thomas. "We're not Miami, I mean you're talking about the No. 1 team in the nation. But this team isn't going to be pushed around. We're going to stick our nose in there and compete."

Cubit, who was named the team's starting QB shortly before the start of the season, was highly recruited and can't wait to face the Hurricanes.

Cubit, rated the 18th best quarterback by SuperPrep, struggled with injuries his senior season at Central High School in Michigan. But as a junior, Cubit threw for 1,830 yards and ran for another 620. He added 18 TD passes.

"I'm confident I can lead this team get to the next level," Cubit said. "Playing against Miami can only make me a better player and indicate to me where I'm at."

The Hurricanes, coming of a sound 33-7 pasting of Penn State in Happy Valley last weekend, are also eager to see their former defensive coach lined up across the sidelines.

"I think everybody in this locker room is going to be juiced up for that game. Coach Schiano meant a lot to us and this program," said Dorsey, minutes are throwing for 344 yards against the Nittany Lions.

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