In 2011, the Big Ten Conference added Nebraska as its 12th member, and effectively set in motion a frenzy of conference realignment. The latest wave of expansion hits this offseason, as the Big Ten will again expand. Looking for more of an East Coast footprint, commissioner Jim Delany invited Maryland (ACC) and Rutgers (AAC). Along with the expansion to 14 teams, the league axed the infamous “Leaders” and “Legends” division titles for the more geographically sound “East” and “West.” In order to get to know the Big Ten’s new members, we brought in Rutgers expert Kevin Recio who is the managing editor of the RU SBNation website, On the Banks. Through this Q&A feature, we look to learn more about the Scarlet Knights. Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers!
Pick Six Previews: Rutgers joined the Big East in 1991, and besides a few winning seasons in the early 90s, became the laughingstock of the conference. Enter Coach Greg Schiano. Tell us a little about how Schiano turned around this program, and instilled a winning culture at Rutgers.
On The Banks: Former coach Greg Schiano turned around Rutgers Football by building everything from the ground up. He had his hand in almost every facet of the football team, from championing the block ‘R’ on the helmets to the brand of hard-nosed defense the program is known for. Almost every modern tradition is traced back to his tenure, including the CHOP mantra.
By building a strong foundation to support a BCS-level program, Schiano slowly but surely upgraded the facilities, including the Hale Center, new practice fields, and the practice bubble. His efforts culminated in an expansion of High Point Solutions Stadium (then Rutgers Stadium) in 2009 to the south end zone. This $102 million renovation project added over 11,000 seats, a new scoreboard, and a recruiting pavilion.
Of course, these shiny new upgrades were all for the sake of recruiting, and Schiano quickly gained a reputation as an ace recruiter. He took advantage of his Florida recruiting pipeline during his days as a Miami (FL) assistant to mine the talent coming out of the sunshine state. In addition to his Jersey recruiting, he was able to secure talent from the recruiting hotbed of Florida.
Schiano was a great defensive mind, and he favored speed and aggression over size. His unique blitz packages produced stellar defensive teams in the Big East, and were a huge part in Rutgers magical 2006 season, in which the Scarlet Knights reached as high as #7 in the AP Poll. That season, Rutgers won their first ever bowl game against Kansas State. Before Schiano left after the 2011 season, he led the Knights to a school-record six straight bowl games, including a 5-1 record in postseason play.
Pick Six Previews: One by one, programs started leaving the Big East, first the Boston College/Virginia Tech/Miami group, but more recently the West Virginia/Pittsburgh/Syracuse group. What were the thoughts among the Rutgers community as these longtime members began departing for greener pastures?
On The Banks: Each group departure had different results to the Big East. Virginia Tech played for the National Championship in 1999, and Miami (FL) had just finished another dynastic run in the early 2000s before jumping ship. When these schools (along with Boston College) left for ACC, it allowed programs like West Virginia, Louisville, and Rutgers to arrive to the forefront of college football. Louisville enjoyed great success under Bobby Petrino and QB Brian Brohm, West Virginia would go on to multiple BCS trips under Rich Rodriguez, and Rutgers would rise from the cellar to a formidable program that few had expected before.
Fast forward to 2011-2012, when conference realignment meant the end for the Big East. Rutgers fans were confident that the program would land on its feet, but with rival schools leaving for more stable homes, there was definitely a sense of urgency building among the community. After all, at one point Rutgers would be forced to look forward to conference games against Boise State and San Diego State.
Pick Six Previews: November 2012, Maryland is offered a spot in the Big Ten…did Rutgers believe it would be next in line for an invite, or was it a total surprise?
On The Banks: Sources leaked the story about the Big Ten expanding to 14 teams, including the Rutgers contingent invite if Maryland accepted. While some Terp fans derided the move, many believed that the school from the ACC to the Big Ten was a done deal, allowing Scarlet faithful everywhere to exhale like never before.
Pick Six Previews: How has the transition been from Coach Schiano to Coach Kyle Flood? Further, how has Rutgers handled the shift from the old Big East, to the new American Conference?
On The Banks: Kyle Flood served under Schiano since 2005 under various roles, most notably offensive line coach and assistant head coach. His experience within the program allowed Rutgers to maintain several of the traditions from the old regime. Coach Flood preaches toughness and winning the right way, similar to his former boss. It may be far too early to judge Coach Flood on his efforts, and a new, tougher conference makes the situation even tougher for him.
While it might not be called the Big East, the American Athletic Conference might as well be called the Big East 2.0, or possibly even Conference USA 3.0. Since the announcement that Rutgers will join the Big Ten was announced in 2012, the 2013 season in the AAC was nothing more than a temporary home, and it truly felt like it. Fans definitely had an eye towards July 1, 2014.
Pick Six Previews: Now part of the Big Ten, do you foresee any shifts in recruiting strategy and success? Will Rutgers become more appealing to the talented pipeline of North Jersey athletes?
On The Banks: Kyle Flood has definitely made use of new recruiting areas from membership into the Big Ten. The 2014 class includes three-star QB Giovanni Rescigno from De La Salle (Warren, MI) and big 6’5” TE George Behr from East Ridge (Saint Paul, MN). The recruiting staff will most likely look to the Midwest to augment the existing territories of the Northeast and Florida.
Membership in the premier football conference in the nation can only help Rutgers recruiting. However, the biggest factor for young prospects will be showing them that the Scarlet Knights can compete with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin on the field. An upset or two could go a long way to securing the border around the state of Rutgers.
Pick Six Previews: Which teams are you most looking forward to playing, and which Big Ten locations are you most excited to road trip to?
On The Banks: Renewing the rivalry with “that team from Pennsylvania,” as Kyle Flood referred to them, is an exciting opportunity for Rutgers fans. New PSU coach James Franklin has seemingly drawn a target on New Jersey for prospects, and the future battles on the recruiting trail between the two schools should be interesting to say the least. Also, the hiring of Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator could create a three-headed rivalry between Rutgers, Penn State (Friedgen was Franklin’s former boss), and Maryland (Friedgen’s alma mater and former employer). In any case, annual matchups with Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State are undoubtedly more exciting than playing Syracuse and UConn.
We actually just discussed which venues we’re most excited to travel to over at On The Banks, and a few choices were more popular than others. Michigan Stadium was cited for the historical and traditional factor, while Camp Randall Stadium was mentioned for the “Jump Around” chant after the third quarter. The Big Ten has so many tradition-rich programs, it’s hard to go wrong with any venue to be honest.
Pick Six Previews: How important will the series with Penn State become? Rutgers is just 2-22 against PSU, and one of those wins was 1918.
On The Banks: While Syracuse and UConn were developing into good rivalry games, Rutgers lacked a true rival in the Big East. This is where the annual game against Penn State can really turn into something special, for both teams. Since PSU joined the Big Ten, they’ve always sort of been on an island in the east. With Rutgers joining the conference, the game can become a “mark-you-calendar” type of event with both fan bases seriously hating each other.
And while the record against PSU is just 2-22, it’s important to put those numbers into context. The last time the two teams met was in 1995, and college football was vastly different back then. The SEC was the only conference with a championship game, the Big East still played football, and Nebraska was in the midst of a dynasty – while still a member of the Big Eight Conference. Rutgers was still struggling with big-time college athletics, and won’t be competitive among BCS-level programs until the mid 2000s. RU may enter the game as underdogs, but the talent level between the Nittany Lions and Scarlet Knights will be closer than ever before.
Pick Six Previews: Lastly, any early predictions for 2014 Rutgers Football, or a win/loss estimate?
On The Banks: I have the Scarlet Knights going 2-6 in conference play and a 6-6 overall record, good for a bowl trip in the first B1G season. Since Rutgers has been to the Pinstripe Bowl twice in the last three years, I’m betting they get picked for the new Detroit Bowl against former Big East mate Pittsburgh.
Pick Six Previews: See our award-winning previews and how we think Rutgers will fare in their inaugural Big Ten season, August 2nd, our Release Day of our 2014 Season Preview.
Thanks for joining us, Kevin. Make sure to check out On The Banks (@OTB_SBNation) to stay updated on everything Rutgers.
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