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BIG TEN Team Previews: Rutgers

BY JACOB SHEYKO | AUGUST 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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If Rutgers was hoping for a warm welcome to the Big Ten, they were sadly mistaken.

Given perhaps the toughest schedule, and predicted to be at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in nearly all preseason predictions, Rutgers is seemingly facing odds that make it impossible for them to succeed in their inaugural season in the league.

But according to players on the team, those are odds that they would gamble on any day of the week.

“I just think that people come out of left field with how they feel about us,” defensive lineman Darius Hamilton said at Big Ten media days. “A lot of times, from my perspective, it’s people who don’t know too much about football. I’m very confident when I say that I believe in this team more than I ever have before.

“I’m behind them 100 percent, I’m here to be a leader in any shape or form that they need me, and we’re going to go special places this year.”

At the front of all the doubt surrounding the Rutgers potential this season is the schedule they will face.

Likely one of the toughest in the Big Ten — and maybe the country — Rutgers will play teams among the likes of Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska — not to mention a season opener that takes them across the entire country to play at Washington State.

Just as they did with the low expectations, fullback Michael Burton brushed off their tough schedule as something that comes with playing in one of the five power conferences in college football.

“We obviously have a tough schedule but so do the other teams. This is big-time college football, everyone is going against obviously tough teams but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Burton said. “I like to play against the best of the best and this conference offers that.”

Still, Rutgers will have the benefit of returning nine starters on offense and seven on a defense allowed just 3.1 yards per carry last season.

Under the most pressure, as it is with most teams, will be quarterback Gary Nova, who regains his status as a starter after he was benched for the final three games.

“Gary's done an excellent job this offseason of really improving his decision-making,” head coach Kyle Flood said. “It's never been about making the throws for Gary. Gary can make all the throws.
“It's really just being a consistent decision-maker, and I think he is really taking to what [offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen] has been preaching.”

Questions will continue to surround Rutgers as their season-opening contest draws closer. Will they be able to handle their tough schedule? Will Nova become a consistent quarterback? And ultimately, can they compete in the Big Ten?

Those questions will soon be answered; whether that’s good news for Rutgers is yet to be determined.

“No question,” Hamilton said when asked if this season can change attitudes about Rutgers football. “It’s all on us, and I think that’s the best part about it. When we get to line up with players that we love to death … we control our own destiny.”


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