Schedule Preview: Rutgers

North Carolina broke a six-year, 20-game losing streak outside of N.C. borders the last time it traveled to Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The Tar Heels will be hoping for a similar performance when they return to the Garden State for a nonconference showdown with the Scarlet Knights on Sept. 25.

Overview: Greg Schiano enters his 10th season at Rutgers with a streak of four straight eight-win seasons, highlighted by the 11-2 breakout season in '06. Since losing five of their first six games in '08, the Scarlet Knights (9-4, 3-4 Big East in '09) have reeled off 16 victories in the past 20 contests. But despite resurrecting a program that has long been the laughingstock of college football, Schiano has received a healthy dose of criticism from legislators, newspapers and fans alike for forcing his hand in getting the $102 million stadium expansion complete. News surfaced two summers ago that a secret addendum to Schiano's contract would allow him to leave town without having to a pay a $500,000 buyout if the expansion wasn't complete prior to the '09 season.

Schiano survived that avalanche only to have to take cheap shots from former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue (see below) in criticizing the relevance of Rutgers football in the New York market. Even so, Schiano has remained focused on the task at hand and embarks on the '10 season with a solid chance for scoring a fifth straight eight-win season.

Kirk Ciarrocca and Kyle Flood enter their second season as co-offensive coordinators with six returning offensive starters, led by sophomore quarterback Tom Savage (149-of-285 passing, 2,211 yards, 14 TD, 7 INT). The Scarlet Knights struggled offensively in '09, totaling 326.3 yards per contest (97th nationally, 8th Big East). Joe Martinek returns as Rutgers's top rusher after tallying 967 yards and nine touchdowns in the offensive backfield. Mohamed Sanu (51 catches, 639 yards, 3 TD) will serve as Savage's top playmaker at wide receiver, but the sophomore also took plenty of snaps out of the Wildcat set in churning out 346 rushing yards and five touchdowns. One area of concern is an offensive line returning just two starters, as second-team All-American Anthony Davis jumped to the NFL after his junior season. That's bad news considering the Scarlet Knights tied for 111th nationally in sacks allowed (3.1) last fall.

The defensive side of the ball also boasts co-coordinators (Ed Pinkham, Bob Fraser) and six returning starters. The defense carried Rutgers in '09, ranking in the top-20 nationally in five statistical categories – rushing defense (15th, 103.2 ypg), scording defense (16th, 17.9 ppg) total defense (18th, 307.8 ypg), tackles for loss (1st, 8.69) and sacks (4th, 3.1). But where the Scarlett Knights really made noise last season was in posting a plus-20 turnover ratio, good for the second-best margin (plus-1.54) in the country. Pinkham and Fraser have their work cut out for them in '10, however, as they lost five of their top six tacklers from '09. Gone are all All-Big East standouts CB Devin McCourty and DE George Johnson, as well as middle linebacker Ryan D'Imperio. Rutgers does return three starters and six of its top eight along the defensive line.

Quotable: "One of the real challenges for the networks is to provide value, but you only provide value in markets where you provide traction. Is Minnesota and Rutgers going to get a big rating on Long Island? Give me a break. Every game isn't Michigan and Michigan State… Am I going to rush home from a tennis game on Saturday to watch Minnesota and Rutgers if I live on Long Island?" -- Former NFL commissioner and current Big East advisor Paul Tagliabue on the Big Ten's rumored expansion into the New York market earlier this year

Matchup to Watch: Despite the critical losses on defense, Rutgers still returns 29 sacks from last season's sack-happy squad. Senior defensive end Jonathan Freeny did not start last season but totaled 33 tackles and 9.5 sacks en route to second-team All-Big East honors. Nine other returnees notched at least one sack and five tallied at least two. The Scarlet Knights' ability to pressure the quarterback set the tone for solid pass defense (39th, 204.5 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (34th, 117.2 ypg) numbers.

North Carolina returns three starters from an offensive line that battled injuries and defections yet still managed to allow just two sacks per contest (63rd). Quarterback T.J. Yates was hit and hurried often in the early part of '09, but the line improved as the season progressed. Left tackle Carl Gaskins will be seeing only his third game of significant action in New Jersey, so expect Freeny and Co. to test the red-shirt junior consistently on the edge to make Yates get rid of the ball before he's ready.

Remember Me? It looked as though North Carolina had finalized its running back recruiting class on Jan. 28 when Jacksonville, Fla. native Casey Turner (2,232 yards, 31 TD) reneged on his verbal commitment to Rutgers and verballed to UNC, seemingly giving the Tar Heels a bruiser to go along with Gio Bernard. But less than a week later, Turner faxed his letter of intent to Rutgers in the early hours of National Signing Day. Increasing the significance of the blow was the absence of any backup plans for UNC to add a second running back in the class in Turner's spot. The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder enrolled at Rutgers in early June and expects to challenge for playing time as a true freshman this fall. Turner will also get an opportunity to play another school that he committed to earlier in the process when the Scarlet Knights travel to Florida International on Sept. 11.

2010 Schedule

Sept. 2   Norfolk St. (Thurs.)
Sept. 11  @ FIU
Sept. 18  OPEN DATE
Sept. 25  North Carolina
Oct. 2    Tulane
Oct. 8    Connecticut (Fri.)
Oct. 16   Army
Oct. 23   @ Pittsburgh
Oct. 30   OPEN DATE
Nov. 3    @ South Florida (Wed.)
Nov. 13   Syracuse
Nov. 20   @ Cincinnati 
Nov. 26   Louisville (Fri.)
Dec. 4    @ West Virginia

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