If Rutgers is "the birthplace of college football," they've been terrible parents. It's like they locked college football in the back of their car with the windows up and went shopping... for about 80 years. But it has to turn around at some point, right?
"This is as talented a group as Rutgers has had," said coach Greg Schiano in reference to the new freshmen and transfers to the Rutgers football program, and I'm wondering how much of a compliment that really is.
Actually, it has to be a good thing, because really, how much worse could it get? Defensive tackle Nate Robinson was headed to Miami as the #1 tackle prospect in the nation, and then suddenly ended up at Rutgers. He's 6'5", 305, runs a 4.9 second 40, and can dunk. That is frightening. There were also a handful of other well-regarded players that transferred to Rutgers, including three massive offensive linemen, so the infusion of actual talent may be underway.
New offensive coordinator Craig Ver Steeg, if he can keep his players from giggling every time they have to say "Coach Ver Steeg," is installing a two-back set offense, which has to be better than whatever they were using last year when they lost to Buffalo and Villanova... at home. Defensively, Rutgers wasn't terrible last year, and they return seven starters, including three in the secondary.
But still, Rutgers had the nation's worst offense last year, so we can hold off on the Orange Bowl reservations for the Scarlet Knights. However, if Rutgers can win four of the five games in which they can expect to have a reasonable shot at not embarassing themselves (Buffalo, Army, Navy, Temple, UConn), it will have been a successful season.
Miami and Virginia Tech will soon be out of the Big East, and so will Temple, though it is for a completely different reason. Considering, however, that they won four games last year, compared to the one win of Rutgers, one has to wonder if the right team has been shown the door.
Temple has a mountain of JuCo transfers, including All-American Walter Washington at QB. He'll challenge Mike McGann for the starting job. WR Phil Goodman is another JuCo All-American transfer, and adds to an already experienced WR corps, so it's actually not inconceivable that the Owls could put together something resembling a passing game. Tanardo Sharps is gone, though, and will have to be replaced by Makonnen Fenton. He might not be as good as Sharps, but it will be fun to hear announcers mangle his name.
Defensively, Dan Klecko is gone, yes, but there are some players remaining, too. The Owls defense was the least of their worries last year, and shouldn't be that bad this year, either. They didn't give up a ton of yards, but the offense didn't do them any field position favors, either. They actually finished first in the Big East against the run. Taso Apostolidis starts at nose tackle, and hopefully, announcers don't have an aneurysm trying to pronounce his name.
The basement battle in the Big East this year could be the most interesting it's ever been, with Temple and Rutgers both trying their hardest to field competitive teams. At this point, I give a slight edge to Temple, but by 2005, it's safe to say that Rutgers will be faring significantly better than Temple in the Big East.
Syracuse may be the nation's best football program that currently doesn't field a very good football team. Syracuse's fall has been quick and thorough, from winning 10 games in 2001 to going 4-8 last year. They even lost to Temple, and if you're a college football program, that pretty much means you've hit rock bottom. Call up Gary Busey, because it's time for rehab.
The biggest area in need of rehab is the defense. Last year, they gave up 478 yards per game, and seven times allowed over 500. It was harder to spell Paul Pasqualoni's last name than it was to score against Syracuse last year. Last year in Morgantown, WVU racked up 279 rushing yards on the Orangement, and I think I may have even had 30 of them. It may be good news or it may be bad news, but that defense does return 7 starters, including the entire defensive front. The onus is on the secondary to be considerably less terrible this year. The only returning starter is Steve Gregory, who is one of the better young corners in the conference.
Offensively, things are a bit brighter. The Orange should be able to accomplish things in the running game behind Walter Reyes and Damien Rhodes, the Big East's top running back tandem that doesn't call Morgantown home. QB R.J. Anderson was largely responsible for the 10-win season in 2001, but was also largely responsible for last year's train wreck. If he doesn't regain some of his form, Syracuse will be better suited for the MAC than they were the ACC.
Syracuse should be able to move the ball some, but it won't matter if the defense doesn't get a lot better.
5th: Boston College
BC has made bowl game appearances in the past four years, including a win in last year's Motor City Bowl. Feeling good about themselves, they tried to jump to the ACC with Miami, but their hopes were crushed when Tech whined their way into their spot. And now, like any good Catholic school would, they'll pretend to be happy where they are, are act like nothing bad ever happened.
QB Brian St. Pierre is gone, as are three starters from last year's offensive line, so if BC wants to continue their bowl-game streak, they'll have to get that worked out. And they'll have to do it quickly, too, as the first five teams on their schedule were better than .500 last year. No one lacks confidence in Junior QB Quinton Porter, and he'll compete with Paul Peterson, a JuCo transfer that threw for almost 3,000 yards and 35 TDs last year. It seems like the Eagles always have an excellent running game anymore, and if the offensive line can come together at all, Derrick Knight should get back over 1,000 yards.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles held opposing offenses to under 20 points per game last year. They did lose seven starters, although the players replacing them are said to be more talented.
The Eagles should get back to another bowl game this year, and won't contend for the Big East title, but can be a dangerous team on any given week. The BC program is in good shape. I miss the days when they were crippled by a gambling scandal, but that's just me.
Coming Soon: Part II of the Mighty Big East Preview, the top half of the conference.
M.J Darnell is a columnist at BlueGoldNews.com, and maintains his own independent web site as well. The opinions expressed herein are his own.