10 Things I Learned This (Regular) Season.

It sure was a roller coaster regular season in college football, and Rutgers was no exception. Ranked as high as No. 10 in September, the Knights (7-5, 3-4 Big East) plummeted and joined the legions of unranked teams. They say adversity can teach you a thing or two. Well, this year has certainly given RU a few lessons, and I caught a thing or two. Following are 10 Things I Learned This Season.

1. Ray Rice is as good as advertised.
The Ray Rice for Heisman Trophy campaign fizzled after he was held under 100 yards in consecutive games in losses to Maryland and Cincinnati. But the true junior had another stellar year that earned him first-team all-Big East honors as a unanimous selection. He now owns or shares 12 individual season and career records at Rutgers. Rice has put together seven consecutive 100-yard games to run his career total to 24 100-yard games, including five games with at least 200 yards on the ground. If Rice comes back next season, he has a shot to set the school record for all-purpose yards and the NCAA record for rushing yards. After 12 games, Rice has the best rushing average (144.3) among all rushers in BCS conferences, and he is third overall in Division I-A (now called Football Bowl Subdivision by the NCAA).

2. This was the best Rutgers offensive line in recent memory.
Maybe the 1961 undefeated team led by All-American center Alex Kroll was better. I don't know since that was before I was born. All I know is this year's offensive line at Rutgers executed well and never appeared outmatched. RU set a new record for offensive production (5,246 total yards), demolishing the old mark of 4,765 yards set by the 2005 squad. True senior Jeremy Zuttah, a four-year starter at tackle, garnered first-team all-Big East honors. Left tackle Pedro Sosa, a fifth-year senior who battled through injuries this season, was named second team all-Big East. RU's offensive line was second in college football with just nine sacks allowed this season. Unfortunately, the offense had trouble scoring because of point 3.

3. Inconsistency was the only consistent element on the Banks.
A perfect example of this point was the Connecticut game. RU rolled to 511 yards of total offense but was beat by 19 points on the road because it couldn't punch the ball in the end zone. Rutgers converted just 52 percent of its red zone opportunities into touchdowns during the regular season. The Scarlet Knights looked like world beaters at times and could strike quickly, but at other times they couldn't get out of their own way, leading to five losses. Rutgers was outscored 128-118 in the second half this season, including 64-51 in the third quarter. This leads to point 4.

4. Rutgers is still experiencing growing pains.
Rome wasn't built in a day, as this cliché goes. And this Rutgers program is not going to get to the top overnight. After experiencing an overachieving year in 2006, Rutgers took a step back in 2007 (except in bowl payout, which increased $250,000). The program is still learning to deal with success, sometimes with very disappointing results. Coaches as well as players are still making mistakes that you see in programs that haven't quite established themselves.

5. Anthony Davis is outstanding.
The heralded true freshman from Piscataway lived up to his billing as one of the top offensive linemen coming out of high school. Davis saw action sparingly through the first few games of the season and took advantage when he got the call to start the last seven games of the year at right guard. He can pull on counters and sweeps, he keeps defensive tackles in check in pass blocking, and he consistently gets to the second level in run blocking. Pittsburgh tailback LeSean McCoy deserved his title as Big East Rookie of the Year, but I would rate Davis second on the ballot. A Rutgers freshman offensive lineman hasn't made an impact like Davis' since Zuttah burst on the scene in 2004.

6. Thursday is the night for creative coaching.
Rutgers came up with trick plays, misdirection and aggressive offensive play calling in its Thursday night games this year. RU compiled a 2-1 record on Thursday this season due mainly to its inconsistency and inability to close the door. But a fake punt for a key first down (South Florida game), a fake field goal for a touchdown (USF), a lateral pass to Zuttah (Louisville game) and a key fourth-down touchdown pass (UL) were all brilliant calls. That kind of imagination was lacking on Saturdays.

7. There's no excuse for this team to not perform next season.
The offense posted four games with at least 500 yards this year. Quarterback Mike Teel and receivers Tiquan Underwood (first team all-Big East), Kenny Britt (second team all-Big East) and Tim Brown are all back. Britt and Underwood, forming a deadly 1-2 punch, became the first pair of Rutgers receivers to gain 1,000 yards in a season. It was also the first time in Big East history two receivers from the same team gained at least 1,000 yards receiving in a season. The jury is out on whether Rice will return for a senior season. Still, with that offensive firepower returning, RU should set another offensive record. Also, the linebacking corps should benefit from a year of experience despite losing co-captain Brandon Renkart, a Draddy Award finalist. Only eight players (possibly nine with Rice) from this year's two-deep roster will not return.

8. This program is going places no other Rutgers team has ever been.
The growing pains stem from the fact that Rutgers had never gone to back-to-back bowl games before last season and had not put together back-to-back winning seasons since the early 1990s. RU had never won a bowl game before last year. Now the Scarlet Knights are headed to their third straight bowl appearance and are playing in a January bowl game (January in date only; it's really a mid-December matchup). This year's bowl payout is $750,000 -- $250,000 greater than last season's Texas Bowl share. RU is only a decade removed from 0-11, and it was only five years ago that Rutgers got blown out by Division I-AA Villanova. In that context, the strides are great, and consistent bowl contenders bring in recruits and alumni donations. Also, the extra practices and game should benefit younger players' development.

9. The defense needs improvement in all areas.
This is another unit that suffered from inconsistency this season. Rutgers had the No. 2 pass defense in the nation, the 13th-ranked overall defense and the 29th-best scoring defense. But the Scarlet Knights often got torched in the running game, allowing 155.9 yards per game on the ground. The secondary looked lost in the regular season finale, allowing five Louisville passing plays of at least 20 yards. Defensive tackle Eric Foster, a fifth-year senior, was named first team all-Big East and true junior safety Courtney Greene was awarded second team all-Big East honors.

10. The key moment of the season was . . .
When Teel threw an interception to Cincinnati's Ryan Manalac that sealed a 28-23 UC victory on Oct. 6. The Scarlet Knights were coming off a humbling 34-24 defeat to Maryland the previous week and were driving deep in Cincinnati territory with less than a minute to go. A win would have kept Rutgers in the top 25 and would have put the team in the driver's seat for the Big East race. RU never really recovered from the loss and finished fifth in the conference.

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