Rutgers football defied all conventional wisdom last year by racing to an 8-5 recordin their first season in the Big Ten. There was a narrow loss to Penn State, some very solid wins - including one over Michigan - and a tremendous road comeback in their season finale at Maryland. Then there was the bowl win, a solid thumping of North Carolina.
It will be tougher this year for the Scarlet Knights, who not only lostfour-year starting quarterback Gary Nova to graduation but now play the likes of Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin on the road. Getting to six wins to ensure a bowl game will be a challenge.
Then again, the same thing was said last year and the team exceeded expectations.
Where the program goes in 2015 will rely heavily on wide receiver Leonte Carroo, who returns for his senior season, as well as the play of a revamped secondary that should be much better than last year's unit.
They open the season this Saturday against Norfolk State.
Three Things to Watch from the 2015 Rutgers Scarlet Knights:
Hayden Under Center: In part because of a suspension to Chris Laviano, it will be Hayden Rettig who starts at quarterback for Rutgers this weekend. It has been a stiff quarterback competition between Rettig and Laviano this past summer but Rettig came on strong and will capitalize on the fact that Laviano is suspended for the first half of the Norfolk State game for violating a team rule. He'll get the start and the chance to show off his cannon of an arm.
Rettig is a former four-star recruit and a U.S. Army All-American who transferred from LSU last year and had to sit out the year, per NCAA rules.
"It's one of the difficult things for a player who transfers at that early stage," Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said of Rettig. "You spend a year on a scout team at one place, and then you go to another place and you are still ineligible. So you have to spend another year on the scout team.
"Hayden is really excited. He's working really hard and I have a lot of confidence in him and so does the football team."
Blessaun Austin: One of the big names to emerge this summer in camp is Blessuan Austin, a freshman who was lightly recruited in high school but has likely earned a starting job at cornerback. And given how poorly the team did with their pass defense last year, his emergence could be huge for the team.
He has a long frame that is perfect for lining up opposite Big Ten receivers.
"We are excited about him," Flood said. "This is a big challenge for him.There's an evolution of a football player that happens, and fortunately we had him here in January, so he was able to start that a little bit earlier than some of the other first‑year players.
"Bless was somebody that we recognized right away, was a player with a lot of talent, and then it was just a matter of how quickly did we think he could fit into the system.I think he's done a good job.
"Now I'm anxious to see a lot of the things I've seen in practice.I want to see those things materialize in a game against another opponent on a big stage, and this Saturday is going to be a great first test."
Making a Statement: Rutgers last year opened a lot of eyes with a fewbig wins and then a bowl win against an opponent from a quality conference. This year they have some tough road tests and face a very good Washington State team. Six wins isn't out of the question, but this team will have to get a couple of quality wins in addition to their four "gimme"games to do so.
A second straight bowl appearance in their second season in the Big Ten would impress the nation.