Storyline Central: Ready for Some Football?

At this time next week, the Rutgers football team will be checked in for training camp. The 2011 season kicks off in little more than a month against North Carolina Central. To conclude our storyline central series, looks at past season openers and the team's performance immediately after breaking camp.

In recent seasons, Rutgers has a shaky record in season openers. There is no consistent theme in these openers, but the Scarlet Knights have not come out of the gate the way they wanted since 2007.

With three new coaches and plenty of new starters, how will Rutgers fare in its season opener against North Carolina Central? How important is a strong start with North Carolina looming the next week?

Here is a look at the last five season openers under Greg Schiano, focusing on what it meant for the season ahead.

2010: Rutgers 31, Norfolk State 0 — The final score here is misleading. Rutgers held just a 6-0 lead over the FCS team at halftime and golden boy Tom Savage did not look ready to play.

Rutgers scored only two offensive touchdowns and the Norfolk State game was a sign of what would become a rough season in Rutgers football.

There were also positive signs in this win, however. Joe Lefeged showed that defense and special teams would keep Rutgers in games through the season by blocking a punt and scoring a touchdown.

2009: Cincinnati 47, Rutgers 15 — Oh boy. It is tough to say how much of this loss was Rutgers' fault and how much was because of Cincinnati's pure talent.

Cincinnati's win was no fluke. Its first loss did not come until the bowl game when Brian Kelly jumped ship to Notre Dame.

But Rutgers certainly could have been more competitive. Dom Natale threw three first-half interceptions before Savage took over. Savage and Mohamed Sanu were major bright spots late in the game for Rutgers. Both in their first college games, Savage and Sanu built a connection that led the team to an eventual bowl victory in St. Petersburg, Fla.

2008: Fresno State 24, Rutgers 7 — Fresno State had a lot of talent that year, including future NFL draft picks Tom Brandstater and Ryan Matthews. But again, Rutgers came out flat and the running game appeared lost without Ray Rice.

Mike Teel, Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt eventually got things figured out, but not until the team dropped to 1-5. 2007: Rutgers 38, Buffalo 3 — The last time Rutgers came out of the tunnel absolutely on fire, Buffalo was the victim.

Underwood had his best statistical game as a Scarlet Knight and Teel showed he could be more than just a game manager.

Underwood had two touchdown catches of more than 60 yards and finished with 10 catches and 248 yards. Teel threw for 328 yards and completed 70 percent of his passes.

Rice, in his final season before becoming a Baltimore Raven, started off where he left off in 2006 with three touchdowns and 184 yards.

The Rutgers defense, led by Kevin Malast's 10 tackles, held Buffalo to just 235 total yards.

2006:Rutgers 23, North Carolina 16 — The start to a magical season, Rutgers held on to the lead against a tough Tar-Heel team on the road.

In Rice's breakout game, he put up 201 yards and scored all three of Rutgers' touchdowns. Teel kept the game under control and the Rutgers defense held Hakeen Nicks in check.

The next time the Scarlet Knights travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., they hope to kick-start another season like 2006.

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