Big Ten Bound: Special Teams

Rutgers football ended 2013 with the disappointment of a bowl loss at Yankee Stadium and a losing record, but has every reason to be excited for 2014. Arguably the national champion of conference realignment, the Scarlet Knights are set to join the Big Ten, and is here to look ahead position by position.

Today finishes its Big Ten Bound series with a look at special teams. Managed for the second year under Joe Rossi, special teams remained an impact portion of the Rutgers weekly game plan and created some of the most exciting plays of the season.

In 2013

What Went Right -- Janarion Grant provided the ultimate spark in the return game. Grant set an AAC record on his first career touch when he took a kickoff back 100 yards against Fresno State for a touchdown. The shift Grant did not look back from there. He finished his freshman season with 38 special teams touches for 673 yards and two touchdowns. Punter Nick Marsh was the perfect example of a fifth-year transfer panning out. Marsh was a significant upgrade at the position, and arguably one of the most valuable Scarlet Knights of 2013. Rutgers experienced minimal mistakes in its special teams execution, and continued its success with trick plays in the punting and field goal games. Fullback Michael Burton broke a career-long run out of the fake punt formation, and two fake field goals went for big plays in the red zone against Louisville and Connecticut. Fifth-year senior Joe Behnke's "Rudy moment" in the home finale gave the memory of a lifetime to a walk-on that earned the opportunity.

What Went Wrong -- Rutgers had the game won against Fresno State before kicker Kyle Federico could not convert in regulation on a makeable field goal. Federico made two-thirds of his kicks, including a 47-yarder at Yankee Stadium. His misses, however, came at costly times. One time missing four out of five, Rutgers opened up the kicking battle two separate times. Each time, backup Nick Borgese failed to overtake Federico in practice.

Heading to the Big Ten

Reason for Excitement -- The good news for Federico is that he bounced back. Federico went more than a month between made field goals early. By the end of the year, he had eight makes out of 10 attempts, including three at Yankee Stadium in the Pinstripe Bowl on poor turf conditions. Rossi showed what he can do as a play-caller and special teams coach in his first two years at Rutgers. Graduate assistant Sam Williams also played a key role in the training of specialist positions. There will be new faces on special teams in the Big Ten, but they will be trained by a group that has experience getting things done.

Cause for Concern -- There are major vacancies left to be filled at punter, long snapper and holder. Walk-on Joe Roth will get a shot at the punter drop, and has a vote of confidence from coach Kyle Flood. Long snapper and holder are recruitable positions at the walk-on level, and Rutgers already has some plans in place, but it will be hard to immediately replicate the consistency provided by Robert Jones and J.T. Tartacoff. Federico may have had a strong finish at kicker, but he came up short when it truly mattered and that is cause for concern going into a conference where every point counts.

New Year's Resolution -- Rutgers has always been on the stingy side when it comes to scholarships for special teams positions. The result is an interesting cast of walk-ons. Some work, and some do not. If a punter or specialist is reliable enough to be on scholarship, lock him up when possible. Going through National Signing Day, Federico and Borgese are the only specialists on scholarship, though Roth could earn one.

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