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News, insights and analysis on the Rutgers football program

Monday, July 30, 2007

Almost there

For those of you who haven't been crossing off days on your calendars counting down to the start of training camp, after today, there are only three more days without football in Piscataway.

Players report Thursday, with a press conference scheduled for 3 p.m. with Greg Schiano, and the 2007 Scarlet Knights will hit the practice field for the first time as a team on Friday afternoon.

While you're waiting for camp to start, a few notes:
  • Here's a link to a story I wrote a couple weeks back in The Trentonian about my conversation with ESPN college football analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Speilman.
  • The Knights got a verbal commitment late Saturday night from Manasquan High School offensive tackle Art Forst, a consensus top 5 New Jersey recrut who, at 6-feet-8 and 305 pounds, gives the Knights some serious size at tackle in 2008. I'm doing my best to get the story I wrote in today's paper online so I can put up a link.
  • The Trentonian's 16-page, full color college football preview special section will be in the paper on Aug. 24. It'll be packed with stories and information on Rutgers and the Big East, and feature staff picks for conference and national champions, along with The Trentonian's national rankings.

That's it for today. Enjoy the Phils and Cubs.

- Ben

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lindy's football preview

As promised, here's a quick rundown of a few highlights from Lindy's college football preview. We've gone through several of these previews, and gotten a pretty good idea of what national forecasters think of the Scarlet Knights.

Training camp is now only two weeks away (the Knights open Aug. 3), and more and more news from campuses should start pouring in in the next couple of weeks. But since today isn't a big news day, a few highlights from Lindy's:
  • The editors rank Rutgers 16th in the country. That's two spots higher than CBS Sportsline, 14 higher than Phil Steele, but six spots lower than Athlon Sports. I think 16 is right around where the Knights will fall in both the AP poll and the Coaches' poll.
  • West Virginia and Louisville are ranked fourth and ninth, respectively.
  • As is the case in every single publication in the country, they have USC ranked No. 1. And like many other publications, they have LSU picked second. It's interesting that the two teams many thought should have met in the 2004 Sugar Bowl, in which LSU beat Oklahoma (while USC won the Rose Bowl and the AP national title) are the popular picks to meet in the BCS title game this year.
  • The SEC -- by far the best conference in the country coming into the season -- has five teams in Lindy's top 20: LSU, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and Georgia. When the defending national champions might be the third best team in the conference, you know it's a tough league.
  • The Big East, with three, has the same amount of top 20 teams as the Big Ten and Big 12, and one more than the Pac 10.

There's plenty more to check out at Lindy's web site.

Check back tomorrow for some news and notes from around the country.

- Ben

Thursday, July 19, 2007

ESPN convo

Sorry it's been a while, but with the season right around the corner, we should have something to talk about almost every day from here on out. I haven't forgotton about the Lindy's preview, but since I got a chance to talk to Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Spielman from ESPN yesterday on a conference call, I thought I'd highlight a few of their thoughts. The story I wrote that appeared in today's Trentonian should be online at some point. When it is, I'll put up a link. The analysts were promoting "College Football Live," a show that will debut on Monday at 3:30 on ESPN2 with Ray Rice as one of the guests.

Herbstreit and Spielman were both very high on the Big East and fairly high on Rutgers. Herbstreit said he thinks the Scarlet Knights weren't a fluke last year and should win at least 10 games this year. He also said that Ray Rice will be right there in the Heisman mix if the Knights have a good season. Same goes for the other Big East Heisman hopefuls: if their teams are in the BCS picture, they'll be in the Heisman picture; if their teams have disappointing seasons, their Heisman hopes won't be as high.

I thought a few things they said were particularly interesting, including the following:

  • Spielman said he thinks West Virginia QB Pat White is the closest thing in college football to Vince Young, and that "there's not a bigger threat in the country than Pat White." Everybody is high on White -- though teammate and fellow junior Steve Slaton generally gets more attention -- but to call him the biggest threat in the country is very high -- though certainly not unwarrented -- praise.
  • Both analysts said West Virginia and Louisville could be darkhorse national title contenders. They both think Rutgers is a notch below those two, which was the general consensus in the pre-season Big East media poll, in which the Knights were picked third. (Although they did get one first place vote)
  • Herbstreit on newly hired NC State head coach Tom O'Brien, who coached at Boston College before being hired by the Wolfpack: : "They hired the most underrated coach in college football. You look at what they did at Boston College. In the last five years he won nine games, eight games, nine games, and 10 games. He won five straight bowl games." He also had nothing but good things to say about the "other" new coach in North Carolina: UNC's Butch Davis.
  • Herbstreit and Spielman both went to Ohio State, but neither picked the Buckeyes to repeat as Big 10 champs. Speilman went with the most conventional pick: Michigan, which has one of the most explosive offenses in the country and a bona fide Heisman candidate in RB Mike Hart. Herbstreit went a more unorthodox rout, picking Penn State to jump past Michigan, OSU and Wisconsin to win the conference.
  • Both of them were very high on defending champion Florida, especially when it concerns sophomore QB Tim Tebow. They both think Tebow is capable of making the throws necessary to carry the offense, in addition to his well-known ability to run with the ball.

Check back soon for some Trentonian links.

- Ben

Monday, July 9, 2007

CBS Sportsline preview

Had a chance to check out the CBS Sportsline preview, some of which is online, today. I've got to start laying out pages for tomorrow's paper pretty soon, but here are a few highlights:
  • Dennis Dodd has a really nice feature about Rutgers, during which he re-plays last season's "Pandemonium in Piscataway" win over Louisville. If you need to explain to an out-of-state friend why Rutgers is now a big deal, tell them to read Dodd's piece.
  • CBS ranks the Knights third in the Big East and 18th in the country. I think they'll be slightly higher than that in the AP and Coaches' polls -- maybe 16th? -- but CBS's ranking is pretty consistent with those of other publications, and its significantly higher than the No. 30 ranking Phil Steele gave them.
  • Ray Rice, as expected, is on CBS's Heisman watch list, as the other two usual suspects from the Big East: West Virginia RB Steve Slaton and Louisville QB Brian Brohm. Brohm is the QB on the CBS first team All-America squad.
  • Rice and DT Eric Foster are CBS second team All-Americans.
  • CBS has a full slate of very early bowl predictions. Some highlights: They have the Knights in the Meineke Car Care Bowl -- which pits the 3rd place team from the Big East against the 5th, 6th or 7th place team from the ACC -- Dec. 29 against Wake Forest. They have West Virginia (Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech) and Louisville (Sugar Bowl against Florida) in BCS bowls. And last but not least, they have USC -- who will only lose a game this year if it beats itself -- taking on LSU in the BCS title game.

That's it for today. Any insight is welcome. Tomorrow we'll look through Lindy's preview, which ranks the Knights 16th.

Enjoy the Home Run Derby.

- Ben

Friday, July 6, 2007

Phil Steele's preview

Phil Steele's college football preview is unlike any other preview magazine in the country in just about every way possible.

I'm still not sure what my overall impression of it is. It's a whopping 328 pages. It has all the information you could think of being included in a magazine. It ranks everything from the top 40 teams in the country to the top 60 offensive tackles (Rutgers' Jerremy Zuttah is ranked 28th, if you're wondering). It has seemingly no punctuation marks and, as far as writing is concerned, it looks more like a 328-page text message than anything resembling journalism.

Add all that up, and all I can say about the format -- and its the same every year -- is that my head is still spinning and I don't think it's because of the 90 degree weather in Trenton.

If you want to fully dissect all of this stuff, it's well worth picking one up for yourself. But here are a few interesting -- and sometimes puzzling -- tidbits:

  • Steele gives Rutgers by far the least respect of any magazine editor. While Athlon Sports ranks the Knights 10th in the nation (higher than most ranking sets, to be sure), Steele ranks them 30th in the country and fourth in the Big East, behind West Virgina (No. 4), Louisville (7) and South Florida (24.) Steele has an exceptional track record of making outside-the-box predictions, so I'm not necessarily doubting his apparent snub of the Knights. But I was a bit puzzled by one thing: he gives the Knights so much less respect than other publications, but rather than telling us why the Knights are so overrated, he writes next to their No. 30 ranking that "the Knights nearly appeared in the National Title game last year and just missed out on a BCS bid with their OT loss to West Virginia. It should be a 6-0 start for RU and RB Ray Rice is one of their 13 returning starters. " To me, that doesn't adequately explain how a team that finished 12th in the rankings last year and has an offense centered around the greatest player in school history isn't even one of the best 29 teams in the country this year.
  • Among the other eye-opening -- though not necessarily wrong -- picks Steele made are the following: He has Florida State, which went 7-6 last year and is ranked 26th by Athlon, ranked eighth in the country, six spots ahead of their cross-state rivals -- the defending national champion Gators, who Athlon ranks sixth; and he ranks Wisconsin, who went 12-1 last year and might be better than Ohio State and Michigan, a mediocre 16th, behind the likes of Georgia and South Carolina, and just one spot ahead of Alabama. (I guess Steele is pretty high on the SEC, wouldn't you say?)
  • He gives Rice very little respect compared to everyone else, which I think is the most puzzling of anything in the magazine. While almost every other publication has Rice ranked as either the 2nd or 3rd best runing back in the country (Darren McFadden of Arkansas is the consensus No. 1), Steele ranks him seventh. He's really high on Oregon's Jonathan Stewart (ranked 3rd), Arizona State's Ryan Torain (4th) and Texas' Jamaal Charles (6th), all of whom are above Rice on hist list but not on any other list in the country. The other three backs ahead of Rice are McFadden (1), West Virginia's Steve Slaton (2) and Michigan's Mike Hart (5), all of whom are potential Heisman finalsits.
  • Steele, with good reason, loves Louisville's offense, especially its passing game. He rates Brian Brohm ahead of USC's John David Booty as the top QB in the country, and has Mario Urrutia and Harry Douglas ranked 7th and 15h respectively on his list of top wide receivers.
  • A look at where Rutgers players fall on his positional rankings lists: Zuttah, as mentioned, is ranked 28th on the offensive tackle list and Rice 7th on the running back list. Rice is not even the highest rated Scarlet Knight from New Rochelle, N.Y. That goes to Rice's high school teammate Courtney Greene, who Steele ranks as the fourth best strong safety in the country. The other Scarlet Knigts listed: Mike Teel is 46th on the QB list, Jamaal Westerman is 24h on the defensive end list; Eric Foster is 44th -- much lower than on most other lists -- among defensive tackles; and Ron Girault is 26th among free safeties.

That's all for today. Feedback is welcome.

- Ben

Thursday, July 5, 2007

USA Today preview

Before we get to football today, I wouldn't be doing my job as a sportswriter if I didn't mention that today marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most significant days in American sports history: July 5, 1947, when Larry Doby broke the color barrier in the American League.

Doby, one of the most feared hitters in the American League in the late 40s and early 50s, probably fought through even more adversity than Jackie Robinson, but is unknown to most young people who aren't baseball junkies.

Jerry Izenberg has a great piece in today's Star Ledger about Doby, who grew up in Paterson and was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.

. . .

Now, as promised, we'll take a look at the USA Today Sports Weekly college football preview, which, like several other publications, features Ray Rice on the cover.

The editors at Sports Weekly, who are adding college football to their baseball and pro football coverage for the first time this year, didn't include nearly as many sets of rankings as the editors of most other publications, including Athlon Sports, which we looked at yesterday.

But they do have some interesting content, including their projections for who will play in every BCS game.

Among the items regarding Rutgers and the Big East are the following:

  • Rice is one of five players -- all running backs -- featured as potential Heisman winners. The other four are Arkansas' Darren McFadden (the presumed front-runner), West Virginia's Steve Slaton, Michigan's Mike Hart, and Boise State's Ian Johnson, who became an instant celebrity in January when he scored a two point conversion on the famous Statue of Liberty play to beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, then proposed to his girlfriend, a Broncos cheerleader. Most other lists have USC QB John David Booty and not Johnson, but Johnson is an interesting story because he played such a major role in what, for my two cents, may have been the best college football game ever played.
  • USA Today didn't scoop anyone by including this -- its public information that you can get anywhere -- but they include a complete Bowl schedule. In case anyone is looking way ahead to potential season outcomes, here are the bowls and locations in which the Scarlet Knights could end up, starting in chronological order with non-BCS games: The Bowl on Dec. 22 in Birmingham, Ala. against a C-USA team; The Meineke Car Care Bowl, Dec. 29 in Charlotte against an ACC team; the Brut Sun Bowl, New Year's Eve in El Paso, Texas against a Pac-10 team; the Gator Bowl, New Year's Day in Jacksonville, Fla. against an ACC team; and the International Bowl, Jan 6 in Toronto afgainst a MAC team. If they're in the BCS picture, they could end up in the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day, the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, or, in a dream situation, the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7 in New Orleans.
  • If you flip to the Big East preview as I did and realize there are seven teams featured instead of eight, that's because West Virginia has its own page. Why? Because USA Today picked them to go to the BCS title game against USC. I'm not sure exactly how good that would be for the Big East. It'd be great to have a Big East team in the spotlight, but I think anyone who plays the Trojans in that game is going to lose in a rout of Reagan-Mondale proportions.
  • Like Athlon Sports, USA Today picked the Scarlet Knights ahead of Louisville as the No. 2 team in the Big East. West Virginia, obviously, is No. 1. The rest of their projections are exactly the same as everyone else's: Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, UConn, and Syracuse.
  • Rice, OT Jeremy Zuttah, DT Eric Foster and S Courtney Greene are all on the All Big East team.

That's it for today. I've got a busy day on the copy desk here at The Trentonian, so I've got to turn my attention back to baseball for the rest of the night.

Look back tomorrow for some highlights from Phil Steele's preview, which has more information than every text book I read in college combined.

If there are any Sox fans out there, enjoy the Sox-Rays game, and hope Josh Beckett is back on top of his game after a mediocre start last time out.

- Ben

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Athlon Sports preview

Thought since there isn't any breaking news today I'd highlight a few things from the Athlon Sports college football preview, on which Ray Rice and Greg Schiano are on the cover of the issue distributed in the Northeast. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the USA Today Sports Weekly preview, which also features Rice on the cover.

Looks like the editors at Athlon think very highly of the Scarlet Knights. I've flipped through or read four preview magazines so far, and Athlon has the Knights rated higher than any other publication.

Among the highlights:

  • They rank the Scarlet Knights 10th in the nation, and second in the Big East, behind only No. 5 West Virginia, who just about everyone covering the sport thinks is a bona fide national championship contender.
  • They gave every team in Division 1-A a projected record with three columns: wins, losses, and "swing games." No team in the top 14 has any guaranteed losses. The Knights have a projected record of 10-0-2, meaning if they win swing games against West Virginia and Louisville and don't lose any of the games they are "supposed to" win, they would finish 12-0. It will obviously take everything going right -- nearly perfect play from everyone on the field, plus some luck -- for that to happen, but clearly, it isn't completely out of the realm of possibility.
  • Rice is on the "A list" of Heisman contenders, along with Arkansas RB Darren McFadden, West Virginia RB Steve Slaton, USC QB John David Booty, and Michigan RB Mike Hart. Louisville QB Brian Brohm, considered by some to be Booty's superior as an NFL prospect, is on the "B list", and West Virginia QB Pat White is on the "C list."
  • Rice, OT Jeremy Zuttah and DT Eric Foster are all on Athlon's first team All-America team. Rice is one of two running backs on the team, along with McFadden. Slaton is on the second team and Brohm is on the third. (Hawaii's Colt Brennan is the QB on the second team.)
  • They rank the Big East as the third best conference in the country, behind only the SEC and the Big Ten. That would have been unthinkable two years ago, but it's pretty hard not to agree with their rankings.
  • A look at where Big East teams fell in Athlon's rankings: 5. West Virginia; 10. Rutgers; 13. Louisville; 31 South Florida; 53. Cincinnati; 55. Pittsburgh; 80. UConn; 99. Syracuse.

You can check out the whole Big East preview online.

Thoughts and analysis are more than welcome. And again, tomorrow we'll take a look at what USA Today's editors and writers had to say about the Scarlet Knights and the rest of the Big East.


- Ben

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Marvin Booker

Rutgers got a verbal commitment today from Marvin Booker, a 6-foot-2, 200 pound linebacker/defensive end from Piscataway.

Booker decided to stay close to home -- in fact, as close to home as he possibly could, after considering UConn, Iowa, Maryland and Pitt.

Booker joins linebacker Eric LeGrand, offensive lineman Devon Watkis, running back Rashad White, defensive tackle Scott Vallone and wide receiver Tim Wright in the class of 2008.

Check back later for details.

- Ben


Hello and welcome to The Trentonian's Rutgers football blog!

From now through the Scarlet Knights' last game (which we assume will be a bowl game on or after New Year's Day), I'll update you on all things Rutgers, from what's taking place on the practice field to what's said at the press conferences and which high school players you can expect to see wearing red and white in the near future.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with me -- and since I just started at The Trentonian in early June I'm sure that's most readers -- my name is Ben Doody, and I'll be the RU football beat writer for the upcoming season.

Before coming to The Trentonian, I was a student at Fairfield University, where I was sports editor and then editor in chief of The Mirror, the university's student newspaper. I covered Fairfield basketball as an intern for The Hartford Courant, and as a stringer for The Stamford Advocate in southern Connecticut. I've also written for the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport, Conn., and The Republican in Springfield, Mass.

I grew up in South Hadley, Mass., where I followed the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Whalers (when they existed.) I got hooked on the Big East as a third grader watching UConn basketball, and hopefully all those hours spent pouring over box scores and reading game stories will help me out now that I'm covering the Big East full time.

To get you started on some Rutgers reading, here are two stories that I wrote in this week's Trentonian -- one about Scarlet Knights' running back Ray Rice's Heisman Trophy campaign web site, and the other about wide receiver Tim Wright, who will join the Scarlet Knights as a freshman in the 2008 season.

You can expect more Rutgers coverage both at this blog and in The Trentonian in the near future, and in mid-August, be sure to check out The Trentonian for a special section previewing the Scarlet Knights and the rest of the Big East.

All feedback, questions and your own analysis of what's going on in Piscataway are more than welcome, so type away!

- Ben