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Team countdown: No. 41 Rutgers

Coach Greg Schiano left Rutgers in late January to take over the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but new coach Kyle Flood – who had been the offensive line coach – and a new staff still were able to sign the best recruiting class in school history.

Most of the players had committed before Schiano left, but the new staff was able to keep most of the key commitments, giving Rutgers some hope for this fall.

Schiano made Rutgers a nationally relevant program – a staggering accomplishment – but never won the Big East title. The Scarlet Knights aren't likely to win the league this fall, but the talent is on hand for a top-three finish. That means we'll see if the new staff can coach as well as it can recruit.

The particulars

Last season: 9-4 overall, 4-3 in Big East (tied for 4th in league)
Coach: Kyle Flood (1st season)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (5) – T Andre Civil, QB Chas Dodd, TB Jawan Jamison, TE D.C. Jefferson, T Kaleb Johnson. Defense (7) – LB Steve Beauharnais, LB Khaseem Greene, SS Duron Harmon, CB Brandon Jones, LB Jamal Merrell, CB Logan Ryan, T Scott Vallone. Special teams (1) – P Justin Doerner.
Fast fact: Schiano took Rutgers to six bowls in his 11 seasons; the school had been to one bowl before Schiano was hired.

Offense

The Scarlet Knights struggled to run the ball last season (97.8 ypg, 112th nationally), and that must change if they want to legitimately challenge for the Big East title.

Sophomore Jawan Jamison is a squatty guy (5 feet 8/200 pounds) with a burst, and he is the best of Rutgers' tailbacks. Sophomore Savon Huggins is an able complement.

Will those guys have room to run? The line was a problem last season, and that could be the case again. Two starters are back, but one of them, T Andre Civil, was listed as a backup on the post-spring depth chart. Civil also could end up at guard.

The other returning starter is sophomore T Kaleb Johnson, a rising star who exceeded expectations as a true freshman last season.

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The line should get a boost from Maryland transfer R.J. Dill, an almost-certain starter at tackle. Dill was a three-year starter for the Terps; he transferred after last season, and as a graduate student, he is eligible immediately. The interior, though, is a mystery.

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D.C. Jefferson might be the best tight end in the Big East. (Getty Images)

Rutgers is going to miss WR Muhammad Sanu, who made 115 catches last season. Only one other wide receiver, Quron Pratt, had more than 17 receptions last season. A return to form by Mark Harrison would be welcomed; he had 44 catches for 829 yards and nine TDs in 2010 but fell to just 14 receptions in an injury-marred 2011. Pratt, Brandon Coleman, Tim Wright and Jeremy Deering will get their opportunities, too.

D.C. Jefferson arrived on campus as a quarterback, but he has become a solid tight end who should vie for all-league honors this fall. He has the speed to get deep as well as good hands.

Quarterback is another question; junior Chas Dodd made eight starts last season and sophomore Gary Nova made five. Neither is going to be a star, but coaches would be fine with mistake-free play.

Dave Brock is the third coordinator in as many seasons, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that this group may struggle at times.

Defense

While the offense has some issues, that doesn't appear to be the case with the defense, which should be the best in the league.

LB Khaseem Greene made the move from safety last season and turned in an all-league campaign. He made 141 tackles, and had at least 10 stops in eight games. He added 14.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Steve Beauharnais is solid in the middle, and Jamal Merrell is steady on the outside. Depth is good, too.

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CB Logan Ryan is another returning all-league player. He had three picks and 14 pass breakups, and also made 67 tackles. He and Brandon Jones should be the best corner combo in the Big East. Safety looks strong, too, with returning starter Duron Harmon at free safety and rising star Lorenzo Waters at strong safety.

T Scott Vallone is the standout up front; he made 58 tackles last season and can be a disruptive force in the middle. He is the only returning starter among the front four, but the Scarlet Knights look to have enough big bodies to put together a solid front.

There are high hopes for freshman E Darius Hamilton, the most touted recruit in school history. He is expected to be in the rotation at end, which could have as many as five players. Depth at tackle looks fine, too.

Special teams

Senior P Justin Doerner returns after averaging 40.3 yards per punt. True freshman Kyle Federico, who enrolled in time for spring practice, is expected to be the kicker.

Deering is a big-time threat on kickoff returns, but Rutgers needs a new punt returner. The Scarlet Knights also need to tighten up their kickoff coverage; their punt coverage was fine.

Schedule

The first two games should be a breeze (at Tulane, FCS member Howard) and give the Scarlet Knights a chance to ease into their roles. But then come road games at USF and Arkansas, and the game against the Bulls, in particular, will be a good gauge as to how the season will go. If Rutgers wants to win the league, it needs to win at USF.

The October schedule is easy, but the slate toughens again late in the season; Rutgers' final three games are at Cincinnati, at Pittsburgh and vs. Louisville.

Overview

Despite Schiano's departure, there is some momentum with this program, thanks to a highly decorated recruiting class. It's up to the new coaching staff to keep momentum on its side.

The defense is going to be fine, but the offensive questions cause some concern, as does the schedule. Rutgers seems primed for another bowl bid, but winning the league seems too tough a task.

The recruiting side

Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 41st nationally
The buzz: Despite the loss of Schiano right before National Signing Day to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there was reason to celebrate. The staff brought in arguably the best recruiting class in the program's history. Coaches signed the highest-ranked prospect to choose the Scarlet Knights in DE Darius Hamilton and rounded that out with four additional four-star prospects, led by WR Leonte Carroo and OT Chris Muller. Rutgers finished 24th nationally and easily won the Big East recruiting title. Mike Farrell, Rivals.com

Breakthrough player

SS Lorenzo Waters. During the spring, Waters was all over the field, making plays in coverage as well as coming up and stopping the run. He will be playing next to 2011 first-team All-Big East selection Duron Harmon, and the pair has the chance to be among the better safety tandems in the country. Waters played sparingly last season as a true freshman, but should be one of the Scarlet Knights' hardest-hitting players this season. Bobby Deren, ScarletNation.com

For more on Rutgers throughout the season, check out ScarletNation.com

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