I decided to pick up where Denman left off. I have dusted off my crystal ball and here are my predictions for top Rutgers and Big East news stories for 2004.
Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson announces that Walt Harris has been hired to take over as head football coach for the Cornhuskers. Harris, who had been the head coach at Pittsburgh replaces Frank Solich as the coach who was fired in December after a 9-3 record. Upon hearing the news in Lincoln, Nebraska, Husker fans took to the streets and danced in celebration. Across the country in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, upon hearing the news Pittsburgh Panther fans took to the streets and danced in celebration.
Rutgers football signs one
of its best classes ever. Ranking second in the Big East after Miami, the class
include QB Mike Teel, RB Dimitri Linton, Fullback Dwayne Jones, DB Hussein
Shakir, RB/ DB Jean Beljour and OL Jeremy Zuttah.
Pittsburgh hires Urban Meyer
as head football coach. Meyer had recently led the Utah Utes to a 9-2 record in
his first season and had seriously been considered for the Nebraska
James Williams, a 5-11 safety out of Plainfield becomes Rutgers first verbal in 2004-2005 recruiting class. Williams chose Rutgers over early offers from Boston College, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Rutgers makes the Big East Tournament and ekes out a first round win over Villanova before losing to eventual champion Seton Hall in the second round on a final second bench technical. Rutgers is invited to the NIT and hosts Duquesne, Richmond and University of Pennsylvania before going on the road to play and lose to UVA in the quarter finals.
In the Rutgers spring game the Scarlet beat the White 24-17. The star of the game is tight end Sam Johnson who catches 6 passes for 111 yards including longs of 32 and 47 yards. Johnson, now up to 265 pounds, breaks 14 tackles during the course of the afternoon. Brian Leonard also caught 5 passes for 55 yards. The offensive line graduations are filled out by Davon Clark and Bill Vogt while, Brian Duffy who is granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. J'Vonne Parker and Nate Robinson take over the center of the Rutgers defensive line and are nicknamed "The Great Wall of Rutgers."
After the game Craig Ver
Steeg was very quiet but for the next four weeks, at the Hale Center, the lights
in the office of the offensive coordinator burned till early in the
Basketball recruiting starts with a bang as Rutgers signs former Elizabeth star Frantz Dorsainville, a 6'9" power forward and a foreign seven foot center who's name no one can pronounce. Meanwhile, former Rutgers recruit, Shagari Alleyene, announces that he will transfer out of University of Kentucky to Hofstra to be closer to his family. Alleyene states that he just wants to play ball where he'll be appreciated but that his word is his bond and he will not sign a letter of intent.
In Boston, Boston College
athletic director Gene Defilippo discovers that neither Florida State nor
Georgia Tech have ice hockey teams. In a press conference Defilippo states that
"Boston College has faced and overcome challenges in the past and there is
nothing in this news which will alter our direction in the future." After the
press conference, however, Defilippo buys a map of the United States and is
heard in his office muttering, "it's in the south, its in the freakin' south,
for god's sake."
Mike Fasano steps down as sportswriter for Mike and the Big Dog's Rutgers Sports Site. After hearing the news Rutgers Sports Information Director John Wooding dislocates a shoulder slapping a high five with another staff member in the athletic department.
Boston College athletic
director Gene Defilippo announces that BC will drop men's and women fencing and
and men's and women's tennis from the roster of intercollegiate sports offered
by the college.
Rutgers athletic director
Robert Mulcahy calls it a career and announces that he will resign as athletic
director of Rutgers. After rumors circulate that Mike Tranghese will be named
the new RU athletic director, national guard troops are dispensed to campus to
Boston College athletic director Gene Defilippo announces that BC will drop men's and women's swimming and men's and women's skiing from the roster of intercollegiate sports offered by the college.
In a surprise move Rutgers president Richard L. McCormick appoints Mike Fasano as interim athletic director at Rutgers.
Boston College athletic
director Gene Defilippo obtains the travel budget for the coming academic year
and announces that BC will drop men's and women's soccer; men's and women's
track; men's and women's cross country and volleyball from the roster of
intercollegiate sports offered by the college.
Acting AD Mike Fasano wearing an all new wardrobe that has been approved by Fashion Emergency announces that the Rutgers Basketball team will be taking a summer tour to Lithuania to part take in a four team tournament during the month of August.
Shagari Alleyene announces
that he will cast his lot with the Red Storm and Coach Masur. Alleyene
said in his latest interview that he expects to lead the Storm into the NCAA
Soccer Tournament and that he really never liked basketball but was forced to
play it because of his height. He stated that he was a goalie at heart and has
tried to use those skills in basketball but it just wasn't working for
Rutgers's latest foreign basketball recruit turns professional just three weeks prior to the season. There is no comment from the SID's office. Four recruits show up on campus for class.
Summer camp left everyone in the media grumbling. After only a couple of open practices all practices were closed to the public and to the media. The storm of protest didn't change a thing and Greg Schiano's only comment was that he thought closed practices "were better for the program and caused less distractions to the players"
On August 28th the Knights opened the season in style with a 63-0 victory over Michigan State of the Big 10. Craig Ver Steeg unveiled the "Air Rhino" offense which had been implemented in the closed summer practices. The new offense used the wideouts to stretch the defense early, then threw the ball to a variety of "Rhinos" (Sam Johnson, Brian Leonard, Justise Hairston or Dwayne Jones) underneath. Sometimes all the Rhinos were out in pass patterns, sometimes only two, sometimes only one and sometimes none as they ran it up the middle.
Early in the game it became apparent that Michigan State's linebackers could not keep up with the Rhinos on pass plays. MSU had to involve its defensive backs more and more to help out with the coverage. It wasn't pretty. One one play Sam Johnson hit a cornerback so hard that the CB flew up in the air and knocked over another cornerback. Johnson took the ball 47 yards for a touchdown on that play. Even worse, when the DB's cheated in, Hart would throw deep to Moses, Tucker or Daniels for easy scores.
The backbreaker, however, occurred late in the second quarter. With Rutgers up 42-0, Hart sent all the Rhinos wide to both sides along with Tucker and Moses. When MSU's linebackers moved to the outside to help with coverage, Hart handed off the ball to Tres Moses on an inside reverse which Tres took for a untouched 65 yard touchdown. At that point MSU head coach John L. Smith threw a clipboard up in the air and said, "how the hell do you defend this thing?"
After the game CBSsportsline
says that Smith's job at MSU will be in jeopardy after a loss like this to
"lowly Rutgers." Similar comments appear in the Sporting News website but ESPN
notes that "people at Rutgers have been saying that the program is about to take
off, if today's game is any indication the rest of college football had better
fasten their seatbelts."
Nebraska, under new head
coach, Walt Harris opens up its season with a 42-14 win over
Boston College athletic director Gene Defilippo attempts to drop the chemistry department but that move is vetoed by school president William Leahy who sends a terse note to Defilippo that simply stated "chemistry is not a sport."
Boston College loses its season opener to Duke 24-21.
Shortly after Rutgers 42-0 win over Connecticut, Rutgers secures a verbal from the state's top player, 6-6, 330 Eugene Monroe. In explaining his decision Monroe calls Rutgers the "next great power" in college football.
Nebraska beat Iowa State 31-13 to open up at 2-0. Lincoln, Nebraska new commentators call Harris' hire, "a great move."
New Pittsburgh coach Urban Meyer also finds himself 2-0 with wins over Toledo and Notre Dame.
Rutgers finishes September 4-0 and gears up for the showdown with undefeated West Virginia in early October. In order to assure a sell out for the game, Rutgers Interim Athletic Director Mike Fasano declares that the game with be "Circus Day" with special entertainment and rides for kids 9 and under.
Rutgers upsets West Virginia 42-21 on 21 unanswered second half points. However, controversy erupts after the game. Mountaineers coach Rich Rodriguez complains that elephants from the "Circus Day" festivities were herded into the West Virginia locker room at half time and apparently dosed with laxatives. "Half time adjustments were impossible". Rodriguez demanded and received an NCAA investigation which centered around the activities of interim Athletic Director Mike Fasano. Fasano, however, was cleared of wrong doing by the NCAA due to lack of evidence. After the NCAA ruling clearing him, Fasano announces that the Knights coming home game against undefeated Louisville would be "Poisonous Snake Day" at Rutgers Stadium.
Nebraska was upset 35-14 by Troy State. The Huskers turned the ball over 8 times in the contest. Head Coach Walt Harris dismissed the loss as growing pains.
Boston College finished October 0-8 after a 63-0 loss to Florida State. Boston College athletic director Gene Defilippo puts in an application for the vacant athletic director's job at Rutgers. In a letter to him from Rutgers president Richard McCormack, Defilippo was told his "questionable decision making while at Boston College" made him an inappropriate candidate for the Rutgers position.
Rutgers finished October 9-0 and ranked 12th in the ESPN/ USA Today Poll.
ABC TV scrambles to clear a late national telecast featuring 11-0 Rutgers at 11-0 Pittsburgh. Among the games bumped from the regular schedule are Boston College 0-11 vs. Maryland 8-3 and Miami 6-5 vs. Florida State 9-2.
When game time rolled around, with the league title and a shot for the national championship on the line, Heinz Field was standing room only and Panther fans were in a frenzy. Rutgers quickly quieted the Pittsburgh crowd. On the opening series of the game Terrence Shawell starting for the injured Ryan Hart led Rutgers on a typical "Air Rhino" drive. After setting up the pass with some power running by Justice Hairston, Shawell hit Brian Leonard in the flat with a swing pass that Leonard took 35 yards down to the Pittsburgh 22. Runs by Hairston and Dwayne Jones took the ball down to the 5 and a quick slant to Shawn Tucker gave the Knights the opening score.
After that the Pitt defense toughened and Larry Fitzgerald got his Heisman game in gear in a big way. Fitzgerald caught 8 passes against double (and sometimes triple coverage) in the first half for 122 yards and three touchdowns. The Knights could only manage a field goal near the end of the half and went into the locker room with down 21-10.
In the third quarter the two teams traded touchdowns with Rutgers score coming on a bruising 55 yard jaunt by Sam Johnson. However in the fourth quarter both offenses stalled. With only 30 seconds left in the game Pittsburgh had the ball on the Rutgers 47 yard line up 28-17.
ABC TV decided that the game was out of reach for Rutgers and at exactly 4:00 P.M. it shifted its coverage to the feature movie "Heidi".
That is when what would become known as the "Rutgers Miracle" took place.
In the ABC control room, technician and long time Rutgers fan, Fred Zouter had had enough. "I have been putting up with this shit for 30 years. The Rutgers' curse ends now" and with that he switched the broadcast feed from "Heidi" back to Heinz Field.
It seemed to work a magic on the Knights. With Pitt only needing one first down to salt away the game, Bill Beckford forced a fumble with a jarring hit on Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko. Will Gilkison recovered the fumble and Rutgers was in business on the Pitt 45 with 24 seconds left in the game. Shawell came in and immediately sent Rhinos wide to both sides. It seemed like Pitt was ready for the play. When Shawell handed off to Moses on inside reverse Panther safety Josh Lay was hurdling towards the middle to stop the play.
But this wasn't the inside reverse. It was the inside reverse freeze. As Moses got to the center of the line he pulled up and lofted a gentle pass to Clark Harris who was now wide open down the middle. Harris pulled in the pass and cruised into the endzone untouched. After the extra point the Knights were within four.
Back in the ABC control room a SWAT team was trying to take control of the situation and restore "Heidi" back to the air waves. Zouter, emboldened by the touchdown, drove off the attackers with a fire extinguisher and the entire northeast continued to be tuned to Heinz Field.
The Knights set up for the obvious on side kick. Mike Cortese hit a bouncer at the Panther "good hands" people. However, their hands weren't good enough. The ball bounced off the wrist of tight end Keith Hill and was recovered by a diving Jason Nugent with five seconds left in the game.
Shawell came in and set up with Rhinos left and three wideouts to the right. On the snap the Rhinos swept underneath and the wideouts headed for the endzone. Shawell lofted up a "Hail Mary" against Pitt's "dime package" defense and hoped that one of the Knight receivers could out leap the defense and pull in the score.
Marcus Daniels did just that and Rutgers won 31-28.
Mike Fasano's title was changed from "Interim Athletic Director" to just "Athletic Director". In his first official action he appointed Dan Welch as Sports Information Director at Rutgers. Welch immediately declared a new "openness" policy which he referred to as "glasnost." Consistent with that Welch revealed that 15 former Terry Shea recruits were in junior college still attempting to qualify. "Unfortunately," Welch noted, "we had to advise them that their scholarships were no longer available."
Walt Harris finished his first season at Nebraska with a 7-5 record. In his post season comments he told Husker faithful, "this is just the beginning." After losing the last four straight games of the season, Husker fans were not sure exactly what he meant.
Gene Defilippo was fired as athletic director at Boston College but later resurfaced as a salesman at "Honest Al's Used Cars" in Greensboro, North Carolina.
A controversy erupted as to whether or not Rutgers would play in the national championship game. Invoking a little known clause called the "Rutgers rule", BCS officials hinted that the Knights might not be eligible for the Championship game despite their number one BCS ranking.
When asked about the
controversy head coach Greg Schiano said, "I'll let them sort it all out. I'd
love to go to the national championship game but we'll get there
"I'm not worried", Schiano noted.
"Better times are on the way."
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Mike Fasano: MikeFasano@comcast.net
Mike and the Big Dog's LLC