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News, insights and analysis on the Rutgers football program

Sunday, August 31, 2008

ECU would be a good fit

In late July, Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese sat in an auditorium at Big East media day, and declared that despite pleading from several Big East coaches, the conference was not interested in adding a ninth football school.

Tranghese’s reason was twofold: the Big East already has 16 members in non-football sports, and there were no teams out there that met the conference’s criteria for admission.Even with Tranghese retiring after this season, it is unlikely expansion will happen any time soon, mostly because of resistance from the member schools’ presidents.

But whoever is appointed to succeed Tranghese should strongly consider adding East Carolina as a football-only member.The notion of doing such has been floated before, but has become more appealing with the continued growth of the East Carolina program, which was showcased Saturday when the Pirates beat — it wasn’t really even an upset — Virginia Tech in Charlotte in a nationally televised game.Adding a ninth football member is a popular concept with coaches and athletic directors because having only seven conference games in a 12-game regular season has often left coaches scrambling to schedule enough non-conference games.

Rutgers had that problem this past spring, when the Scarlet Knights’ schedule wasn’t finalized until April.Having seven non-conference games also creates disparity in the schedules of Big East teams, four of which play four conference home games and four of which play just three.

Look no further than Rutgers’ 2006 season for evidence that the disparity makes a difference. In Big East games, the Scarlet Knights went 3-0 at home that year and 2-2 on the road.

Had they played four home games instead of three, as they did last year, they would have stood a far better chance of winning an extra game — and the conference championship of which they came one win short.Tranghese is right to have high admissions standards for potential members.

Adding a ninth football member would be counterproductive if the team would bring down the quality of the league, so despite Temple’s improvement under coach Al Golden, it wouldn’t make sense to reinstate the Owls, who were essentially ousted from the league after the 2002 season.

It would also be unwise to expand the conference in any sports other than football, given that 16 teams is already four more any other conference.

But adding East Carolina as a football-only member would have no impact on the constitution of the league in non-football sports, and would substantially improve the quality of the football conference while solving the scheduling problem and satisfying the league’s coaches.

Why would the Pirates improve the conference?For starters, if they joined the league next year, they would instantly be among the top four or five teams. That’s more than could be said of South Florida or Cincinnati when they joined the conference along with Louisville in 2005. At that time, Cincinnati had been a mediocre Conference USA team with a tiny fan base.

South Florida’s program was in an even less developed stage: The school had only had a football team for seven years.East Carolina, on the other hand, has a team that could crack the top 25 at some point this season, one of the country’s rising coaching stars in Skip Holtz, and a hungry fan base that would be certain to grow if its team were in a BCS conference.

Here’s something else the future commissioner should consider: Saturday’s results did more than remind us of how good East Carolina is and how good it can be in the future.

They also reminded us of the Big East’s flaws.Pittsburgh, ranked 25th in the AP poll and thought by many to be a rising power, lost at home to Bowling Green. And Syracuse, a program that not too long ago gave us Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison, showed again how far it has fallen by losing to Northwestern — the Big Ten’s version of Syracuse — by 20 points.

Those results reminded us that before the Big East definitively dismisses East Carolina, it should look in the mirror and realize Connecticut — which shared the league title last year with West Virginia — came within a blown call last year of losing at home to Temple, and that there is no guarantee Louisville will return to national relevance any time soon.

The Big East still has a perennial national title contender in West Virginia and a pair of fledgling powers in South Florida and Rutgers. Dismissing claims that the conference doesn’t deserve a spot at the BCS table, its champions have won three straight BCS games, and a fourth is certainly possible this year.

Granting East Carolina admission as a football-only member wouldn’t just be good for the Pirates.

It’d be good for the Big East, too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Haslam good to go

Restless but not rusty, Kevin Haslam returned to the practice field today, saying his ankle is feeling “100 percent” and that he won’t be at all limited Monday when Rutgers plays Fresno State in the season opener.

Haslam, the Knights’ starter at left guard, re-injured his surgically repaired right ankle two weeks ago and for a time, wasn’t certain if he’d be back on time for the opener.But the injury wasn’t as severe as he originally feared, and he returned yesterday, giving him five days to prepare for Monday’s game.

“I was a little frustrated, because I twisted it before, then I twisted it again, so I was like ‘oh no, not again,’” he said. “But you know what? I try to think past it and not worry about twisting it again.”

Haslam said the timing of his return was good for two reasons: he has some breathing room before Monday rolls around, and he got to come back on a day when the Knights were in full pads and doing full-contact drills.“I didn’t want to come back when we were in half pads,” Haslam said. “I prefer to come back when we’re actually hitting people.”

Haslam’s return solidifies the starting offensive line. Coach Greg Schiano said left tackle Anthony Davis, despite back soreness, will be good to go against Fresno, and redshirt freshman Caleb Ruch, despite struggling early in camp, has earned the starting job at right guard.

Fifth-year senior Mike Gilmartin will start at right tackle — just the second start of his career.Haslam, a fourth-year junior from Mahwah, said in order to not fall too far behind, he watched extra film each day after receiving treatment.

“It didn’t really affect me that much,” he said. I was in there watching film with everybody just to make sure I got the reps in my head.”

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Game Week

As pictured above, construction crews are working hard putting the final touches on the first phase of the Rutgers Stadium expansion, which is scheduled to be completed on time for next Monday's season opener between Rutgers and Fresno State. 

The Blog will have more later today on the Knights and Bulldogs, but for now, here are a few links: 

The main story in today's paper advancing next week's opener. 
A sidebar with a few quotes from different players with different vantage points on the game. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Camp concludes

There was yelling, screaming, laughing, and even some fun regarding ice tubs that included ice being hurled from player to player and strength coach Jay Butler getting dunked. There were sighs of relief and  exhaustion, and plenty of anticipation for Sept. 1 at 4 p.m., when finally, Rutgers will tee it up against Fresno State. 

The Scarlet Knights concluded training camp today, bringing to a close three weeks of drills, scrimmages and plenty of conditioning. And fortunately for the Knights, they did it without any major casualties, leaving Greg Schiano upbeat as his team heads into its first day of game preparation tomorrow. 

"I thought we made progress," Schiano said. "We stayed relatively healthy, which is good. We're still a long ways off from being the team that I think we can be, but Sept. 1 is going to come, so we're just going to play the best we can and see where it stacks up against the team we're playing, and then we'll move on."

Schiano, to a much greater extent than he seemed a year ago, seemed genuinely pleased with -- and in many cases, proud of -- the Knights' work. 

Asked to name areas with which he was pleased, he started with the obvious -- the wide receivers and quarterback -- but then proceeded to name virtually every position group, even those that have progressed slower than others during camp. 

"I'm pleased with our skill guys; our passing game," he said. "I'm pleased with our secondary. I'm pleased with our linebackers. I think our defensive line, some guys have come back and really played really well this camp. The offensive line is progressing. Kevin (Haslam's) injury has allowed some guys to get some reps that they probably wouldn't have gotten. They're getting better, which will serves us well in the long run. I think the running backs, we still have a very intense competition." 

While a year ago, Schiano was frustrated with -- if not outright angry about -- the lack of quality tight end play, and concerned with the clear shakiness of the punting game, he didn't single out a single position group or facet of the game that desperately needs to improve in the next week. 

He said even the running game -- clearly the most visible weakness in both of the Knights' two scrimmages -- will straighten itself out. 

"There's not an area where I'd say there's a total mystery," he said. "Out of those running backs, we're going to be able to run the ball. It's just a matter of who." 

That "matter of who" will be decided at some point during the next week. The Knights will get an introduction to Fresno State tomorrow and Sunday and go into full-throttle prep mode on Monday, before taking Tuesday off and resuming work Wednesday. 

In addition to tailback -- it's unclear if Mason Robinson or Kordell Young will start, though both will definitely play -- the battle between Joe Lefeged and Highstown's Zaire Kitchen at strong safety is still up for grabs, and Schiano indicated he isn't 100 percent sure who'll start at either guard spot. 

He said he's convinced Caleb Ruch is "capable" at right guard, and that he thinks the redshirt freshman is the Knights' best option, but that he still has to talk it over with his assistants. It's still possible, though probably unlikely, that walk-on Howard Barbieri, who Schiano said is "pushing everybody," could take over the spot. It's also possible Barbieri could start at left guard if Kevin Haslam hasn't fully recovered from the ankle sprain he suffered earlier this week. 

"I think (Ruch) is a good player," Schiano said. "Am I comfortable that he's going to be able to do everything that we need him to do in the heat of the battle? I can't tell you that because I've never seen him do it. Is he capable? Yes."

Schiano said Shamar Graves is the No. 2 tight end, edging out Lawrenceville's Craig McGovern. Dennis Campbell and Tim Brown are likely to duke it out for the No. 3 wideout spot, though both will likely play, as will Julian Hayes. 

So over all, there are far more answers than there are questions. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Scrimmage extras

On some plays, the ball-carrier -- whether it be Mason Robinson, Kordell Young, Jourdan Brooks or Joe Martinek -- would hit a hole only to be flattened immediately by a linebacker. On many others, the back would take a pitch or a handoff in the backfield and be flattened before even moving toward the line of scrimmage. 

It was that kind of day for the running game during the Knights' second intrasquad scrimmage, and the Knights have a lot of work to do in that area before Fresno State comes to town on Labor Day. 

But since there's plenty on the running game in the paper but not much, because of the lack of space we had, on a few other things I wanted to get to, here's some stuff I couldn't fit in the paper: 

1. It got overlooked because of the focus on the running backs' struggles, but Mike Teel, per usual, looked really, really sharp, completing 11 of 16 passes for 194 yards  (excluding the two-minute drill sessions the Knights ran at the end of the scrimmage.) Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's working with the best 1-2 receiving punch in the Big East in Kenny Britt and Notre Dame High School's Tiquan Underwood. Britt, by the way, did most of the work on a 70-yard touchdown reception early in the scrimmage, but headed for the locker room early with what Greg  Schiano said might have been a stomach ache. 

2. It looks like this Joe Lefeged/Zaire Kitchen competition for the starting strong safety spot is going to go down to the wire. Both played extensively yesterday with the first-team defense (though Lefeged started) and both played well. Schiano said Kitchen made some plays that stood out, and, perhaps in an understatement, said "he can thump you." Schiano is under no obligation to announce any of his probable starters  (in theory, he could list whoever he wanted to, then make 22 last-second changes) until the week before the Fresno State game, and I wouldn't be surprised if strong safety is the last unknown on the depth chart. 

3. I caught up with Dennis Campbell, who's trying to hold off a resurgent Tim Brown for the No. 3 wideout job. I asked Campbell if he had fully moved out of Schiano's dog house, and he said "I'm trying to get out of it. Hopefully I am." Judging by Schiano's comments, though, he's out of it, having won the team's most improved offensive player award during spring practice and followed that up with a solid camp so far. 

Campbell said he's a lot more confident and focused than he was last summer, when he had what he called an "up and down" camp. He said the spring practice award was a confidence boost, but that he couldn't let the confidence turn into arrogance. "I can’t let that get to my head, because it’s not what you did yesterday, it’s what you did today," he said. " So I still have to come out and perform every day." 

4. I'm not saying it's a better connection than Teel to Britt, but Chris Paul-Etienne and Lawrenceville's Craig McGovern abused the second-team defense on a couple of occasions. Paul-Etienne, who probably has the strongest arm of any QB in camp not named DC Jefferson, completed 4 of 8 passes for 71 yards, and two of the passes were to McGovern, a Michigan State transfer (and former Hun School star) who's making a strong push to be play along with starter Kevin Brock when the Knights are in two-tight-end sets. "He’s throwing it my way so I’m catching it," McGovern said. " I guess he can always count on me. It’s been  clicking. Last scrimmage we had a couple too." 

5. I'll end on this note: Unlike in real games, when official stats are kept, tallied, printed out and handed to members of the media, scrimmages require reporters, if they so chose, to keep their own stats. For the most part, we all check with each other to make sure we're on the same page when it comes to rushing yards, passing yards, et all. But here is one stat, that I just came up with at 4:11 a.m., that I guarantee will not appear on anyone else's blog: 

Rutgers has four players with surnames of former American presidents. If in 1972, they had put in a law saying that your vote only counted if you lived in Massachusetts, the Knights would have five, but George McGovern (Craig's namesake, which is what got me thinking on the subject) lost 49 states to Richard Nixon, leaving the total at four. 

So what, you say, there are 105 guys on the roster, so some of them are bound to share names with former presidents. Fair enough, but get this: The jersey numbers of the presidentially named players go in the same order that their respective presidents served: Jefferson (president No. 3, jersey No. 10), Hayes (president No. 19, jersey No. 18), Johnson (president No. 36, jersey No. 31), and Carter (president No. 39, jersey No. 54). 

Good thing McGovern lost, or else he would have messed up the order. 

With that, I'm out. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

O Linemen

As Rutgers heads into scrimmage No. 2 this morning, we've got news on two fronts regarding offensive lineman: 

First, the Piscataway front: 

1. The news on Kevin Haslam's right ankle is relatively easy for Rutgers to digest: Greg Schiano said yesterday that the injury isn't serious and that although he cautioned "you never know," signs point to Haslam being ready to go for Fresno State on Sept. 1. 

2. Walk-on Howard Barbieri will start the scrimmage at left guard in Haslam's absence. The Rutgers coaching staff has been extremely pleased this summer with the play of Barbieri, a redshirt sophomore whose only scholarship offer out of Middletown South High School was from Division I-AA Wagner.  Barbieri had already established himself as the Knights' "sixth man," putting himself in position to fill in in the event of an injury. Today will be his first experience in a game-like situation working with the first-team line. 

3. Schiano said he'll be closely watching redshirt freshman Caleb Ruch, who, to borrow a term from the world of politics (sorry, I fully admit to watching MSNBC and even C-SPAN on occasion), is the presumptive starter at right guard. Other than Barbieri, who likely has an outside chance to wrestle the job away, Ruch doesn't have much competition, but Schiano still hasn't endorsed him as the starter. A good showing today could earn an endorsement or something close to one, at least as it pertains to Week One against Fresno State. 

Now, on the NFL front: 

If you're a diehard Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan (which is the case with Trentonian sports editor Matthew Osborne), yesterday was a rough day for you because your team lost starting right guard Davin Joseph for at least a month with a broken foot he suffered in Sunday's exhibition win over the Patriots. 

But if you're a Rutgers fan who's sole interest in the Bucs is former Knight Jeremy Zuttah, this whole broken foot stuff is good news, since Zuttah, who had been getting reps at guard and center, moved to the top of the depth chart at right guard in Joseph's absence. That means depending on Willis McGahee's health status, both Zuttah and Ray Rice could be in NFL starting lineups on Week One. 

Pretty cool. 

As for the scrimmage, it'll be interesting to watch a few position battles play out. It looks like no matter what happens today, Mason Robinson and Kordell Young are going to split the carries in some fashion at tailback when the regular season starts, with Jourdan Brooks likely getting the call in short yardage situations. So there's not too much of a battle going on there anymore. But  aside from Ruch's attempt to solidify the aforementioned right guard spot, there are a few other battles to watch: 
  • Zaire Kitchen and Joe Lefeged at strong safety. The reps in practice have still been 50-50, and Schiano has had plenty of praise -- more of it than he's had for players at some other positions -- for both players. One thing both players should feel good about is that since the Knights like to frequently throw out nickel and dime packages, both are likely to be on the field a lot, with Lefeged the top nickel/dime guy when that's what Schiano opts to do. 
  • The No. 3 wide receiver spot is still up in the air between Dennis Campbell, Julian Hayes and Tim Brown. There are pros and cons to all three, and the competition probably won't be over when the regular season starts. But Brown is the most talented of the three, and by midseason, assuming Schiano feels he's fully straightened himself out after having academic difficulties last spring, I bet he'll get the most time of those three. 
  • Pardon me if this sounds dramatic, but today will be the most important day to date in three years of in the program for Chris Paul-Etienne. Schiano acknowledged last week that he had played his way into the competition for the No. 2 QB job, and if he wants to wrestle the job away from Jabu Lovelace, he'll have to out-perform him today, then follow it up with further improvement in the next couple of weeks. 
Lastly, before I get a little bit of sleep, a couple of links to pass along: 
  • A Big East QB with a famous New York QB dad was suspended last night by his coach. 
  • If you haven't checked this out already, SI's Stewart Mandell is promoting a cool debate for a good cause. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thoughts on Scrimmage #1

Yesterday, we got our first look at the Knights in a game situation during their first of two formal scrimmages (the second one will be next Wednesday). 

Here's a link to the story in today's paper. And while we're at it with the links, one to a feature yesterday on Kevin Brock, who has emerged as one of the top tight ends in the Big East after being a little-known walk-on for the first two years of his career. 

As for the scrimmage, today's story touches on the impressive showings turned in by several quarterbacks. Mike Teel was sharp for the two series he played, leading the first-team offense down the field in seven plays for a touchdown on its opening drive, and connecting with Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood like he did so many times last year. 

Jabu Lovelace and Chris Paul-Etienne, completing for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, both got extensive looks and both performed fairly well. The spot is clearly Lovelace's to lose, but Paul-Etienne has improved significantly since last year and has a stronger arm than Lovelace or Teel. 

But speaking of arms, no one in camp has a more lethal gun than 6-6 true freshman D.C. Jefferson, who launched a 70-yard touchdown pass to Tim Brown and thew plenty of other passes that either hit their intended targets with some zip on them or whizzed past them. Jefferson is likely to be redshirted this season, but it's pretty exciting to think about the QB competitions he's likely to be involved in during each of the next two training camps.  He figures to contend with Lovelace and Paul-Etienne for the job next year. Pretty impressive for a redshirt freshman-to-be, but even if he wins the job in 09, he'll have to duke it out with Tom Savage -- who'll be a true frosh next year -- for the job in 2010. 

What will happen? Who knows. But the cool thing is this: Five of the Knights' six QBs will be back next year (Teel is the only one who won't be, assuming none of the others leave the team) and none of them are in any way entitled to the job. Whoever gets it is going to have to earn it, and likely keep proving he's the right guy for it during the season. 

A few other notes on the scrimmage that I couldn't fit in the paper: Mason Robinson, who started as the first-team tailback, is day-to-day with an injury that Greg Schiano said is just below his waste. Damaso Munoz left the scrimmage because Schiano said he "banged his head." ... Robinson, Kordell Young and Jourdan Brooks all got work with the first team. ... Zaire Kitchen and Joe Lefeged evenly split the plays at strong safety, but Ryan D'Imperio, at least for the time being, has moved ahead of Munoz at middle linebacker. "It's not over, but Ryan's taken the lead," Schiano said. "Ryan has played better, so the only reason we play 50-50 is if we feel it's 50-50; it's too close to call. It doesn't mean in week 2 or 2 1/2 that Damaso can't go back in front." 

A few observations: Joe Martinek was solid both as a ball-carrier and a receiver out of the backfield working with the second-team offense. ... Pat Brown --  a transfer from LaSalle -- was the most impressive of the new wideouts who got significant work. ... The offense was clearly ahead of the defense, but as Schiano noted, the defense made some big plays, they just weren't as consistent.

And some praise for Jefferson from Paul-Etienne: "DC is a special kid. When I first met him, he was so open to me. The first time I met DC I felt like I had known him for at least a month already. That's how he is. He has personality, he has character, and as you've seen, he has an arm."  

Monday, August 11, 2008

Happy Monday

My favorite baseball analogy relating to my job as a beat reporter and assistant sports editor is the day game after a night game: a night shift in the office, followed by an afternoon game or practice. It's a quick turnaround, but one I'm more than happy to make because, well, I'm covering sports, not working at any kind of real job. 

Today is a prime example of that quick turnaround: My shift in the office ended at 2, and practice starts at 10. I have a few errands to run when business hours roll around, so rather than sleep and inevitably oversleep, I'm pulling an all-nighter, with a little blogging mixed in. 

First, a few links: 

My story in yesterday's paper (apologies for the link being a day late) on Greg Schiano's response to all the talk about his contract. 

A feature in today's paper about Mike Gilmartin, the soft-spoken fifth-year senior who appears to be the front-runner to open the season as Rutgers' starting right tackle. 

Now, a few things from media day that I couldn't fit in the paper in either of the last few days and am not saving for any future features. 

1. Last week, in a story about the Rutgers linebacking corps, we heard from Ryan D'Imperio that the linebackers had won every battle in a team-wide paintball war over the summer. I asked Mike Teel about the aforementioned war, and he had an interesting response: "They cheat at everything," he said. "Seven-on-seven, paintball, everything." But Teel said he had fun despite the alleged foul play. "It was the first time I've ever done it," he said. "It hurts a little bit when you get hit. But the whole team went and it was a fun 3 1/2 hours." Other team-wide activities over the summer included a whiffle ball game and a leadership course at Wagner College run by the Navy SEALS, which we'll talk more about later. 

2. I caught up with a couple of local guys: Hamilton's Wayne Thomas, a former Nottingham High star, and Trenton's Keith Newell. Both players are redshirt freshmen. Thomas, a defensive lineman, and Newell, his offensive counterpart, both singled out veterans who have been especially helpful. Thomas has been leaning on Gary Watts, while Newell goes to Kevin Haslam for anything he doesn't fully grasp. More on them later, too. 

3. Freshman offensive lineman Art Forst on the benefits of enrolling at Rutgers last spring, when most of his classmates were still in high school: "It got me stronger, it got me leaner, and it got me ready to play. ... I feel like I have a little bit of a head start, without a doubt. Learning the playbook over spring and getting to work out with the strength coach, getting in better shape, I was more ready to play football." 

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Make that 20

Rutgers got its second verbal commitment of the day -- and 20th overall -- Friday when Malcolm Bunche, a massive offensive tackle from Newark, Del., committed after watching the Knights practice at Rutgers Stadium. 

Bunche's commitment came hours after David Osei, a center from Abbington, Pa., became the 19th member of Rutgers' class of 2009. Bunche, rated a three-star recruit by, had scholarship offers from West Virginia, South Florida, Tennessee, UConn and Maryland, among others. 

"I heard some good things from the players," Bunche told "After dinner, I spoke to coach Schiano and he's a great man to be around. He's a great coach. He just wants to succeed in life and wants to win a championship and big games, and that's what I want to do."

Friday, August 8, 2008

Savage the recruiter

Tom Savage was wearing a Hofstra football t-shirt (brother Bryan is the starting QB for the Pride) and a black Phillies hat yesterday, not one of the green practice jerseys adorned by Rutgers' six quarterbacks. 

It will be a full year before Savage -- the quarterback considered by some the biggest recruiting find in Rutgers history -- can join the Scarlet Knights in real life. So until then, he'll continue playing -- as Rutgers -- in his NCAA PlayStation game against Cardinal O'Hara High School teammate Corey Brown. 

Savage, who watched practice Friday at Rutgers Stadium, has been serving for the past several months as an unofficial recruiting assistant to coach Greg Schiano, lobbying fellow high school players to come to Piscataway. 

And he's had plenty of success. Nearly every recruit that has joined the Knights' heralded recruiting class since Savage committed last spring has sited Savage's commitment -- or conversations they've had with him -- as a reason for choosing Rutgers. Trenton's Abdul Smight, for instance, said a text message from Savage helped convince him to chose Rutgers over Pittsburgh, Maryland and Boston College. 

He's in full-force recruiting mode with Brown, a rising junior who's considered one of the top running back prospects in the class of 2010. 

Brown, he said, is constantly over his house in Springfield, Pa. playing video games and talking about college football. 

"He's over my house every day playing NCAA," Savage said. "I'm using Rutgers and pounding on him. He uses everyone. He's just that kind of kid. He'll play receivers at quarterback and just let them run around back there" 

Savage said he's "absolutely" trying to convince Brown to come to Rutgers, and that the early indications are Rutgers has a head start on schools like Penn State, Pittsburgh, Maryland and Illinois. 

"He loves it here," Savage said. "He likes it a lot." 

Knights go get a center

A day after Mark Brazinski, a highly touted center from Basking Ridge, reneged on his verbal commitment to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights went out and got a center who could end up filling the void left by Brazinski. 

David Osei, a 6-4, 250-pounder from Abbington, Pa., committed to Rutgers, once again giving the Knights 19 members of the 2009 recruiting class. This is is the third time the number of commitments has been at 19. It went to 18 after Desmond Scott, a running back from Durham, N.C., de-commited and decided to go to Duke. It went back up to 19 when Terrance Taylor, a safety from Miami, committed last week, down to 18 when Brazinski de-committed, and is now back up to 19. 

Osei is a standout on the Abbington High wrestling team. 

They didn't do their homework

Today, we've got some reading to help get you through the last few hours of the work week, including my take on the latest bit of negative media attention directed at Rutgers. 

Here's my story in today's paper about the competition for Rutgers' starting  strong safety spot, with a few notes tacked on. 

SI's preseason top 20 came out this week, without much love for the Big East. West Virginia (14th) and Pitt (19th) are the only Big East teams included. 

Now, something on which I felt obliged to weigh in: 

You'd think that with two wars and a historic presidential election going on, and with plenty other monumentally important things going on in the word (people trying, with varying degrees of success, for instance, to stop genocide, find cures for deadly diseases or come up with alternative energy sources to combat global warming) that the Rutgers football program would be pretty low on a list of potential topics for an editorial in The New York Times. 

But if you thought that, you were wrong. 

My take on the editorial? First, there are two inaccuracies, one relatively minor, one absurd.

The relatively minor one is that tennis, swimming and fencing were downgraded to CLUB status, not INTRAMURAL status. Club status means they compete against other schools, just not in games sanctioned by the NCAA; intramural means they compete against other Rutgers students, in games that could generously be considered casual. (When I was a student at Fairfield University I played  on intramural volleyball and slow-pitch softball teams and was a two-time champion in intramural sports trivia; not exactly the kind of competitions taking place in the Olympics.)

The really irresponsible mistake was writing that "another secret agreement would allow the coach to walk way from his job without paying the $500,000 penalty stipulated in his contract without paying the $500,000 penalty stipulated in his contract if the stadium expansion is not completed on time." 

If that addendum exists, Bob Mulcahy has taken lying to the public to a level that almost approaches "there are weapons of mass destruction," "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" or "I am not a crook." 

Not only has Mulcahy said on the record for the past three weeks that such an addendum does not exist, he wrote an editorial that appeared in multiple newspapers earlier this week specifically saying, in his most lengthy and formal response to the hubbub surrounding his department, that the aforementioned addendum was never finalized and was not added to Schiano's contract. 

Here's what he wrote in his op-ed piece. 

A purported amendment to the coach's so-called "buyout clause" – an amendment that would allow him to leave Rutgers without financial penalty if the stadium expansion is not completed on time – was never finalized as part of the coach's contract. After numerous discussions and offers, the coach believed that the university was working with him and was committed to the completion of the stadium. A drafted document was never executed, and there is no such agreement amending the coach's contract.

If the folks at The Times were unaware of Mulcahy's denial of the existence of that document, that's incredible. If they're aware of it and are essentially calling Mulcahy a liar, that's even more incredible. 

I've always thought the biggest and, despite all its critics, most widely respected, paper in the world would be more responsible than that. 

But let's put the inaccuracies aside. It irked me to see the editorial not as someone who closely follows Rutgers football and thinks most of this stuff is being blown drastically out of proportion, but as someone who reads The Times every day and wants to read about things that actually matter. 

It isn't that there's a shortage of stuff in the paper or on that page about real issues. It's that instead of wasting valuable space in a paper that so many people read chiding the Rutgers athletic department, they could have -- and should have -- touched on anything from the long list of serious and intriguing issues about which their readers deeply care. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Brazinski decommits

Mark Brazinski, a center from Basking Ridge who announced at a press conference in early June that he was going to Rutgers, said today he was reconsidering his college choice. 

Brazinski, a standout at Immaculata High School, told he is still considering Rutgers but also might attend Penn, Boston College or Florida State. Brazinski's older brother, Brian, was an offensive lineman at Penn from 2003-07. 

Brazinski is the second player in the past three weeks to decommit from Rutgers. Desmond Scott, a running back from Durham, N.C., decided to stay home and attend Duke. The Knights are back to having 18 commitments. 

Some housekeeping

I had the day off yesterday and didn't get around to blogging (my apologies), so we've got a few things to catch up on: 
  • A link to my story in yesterday's paper on the Rutgers linebackers 
  • Rutgers hired former Red Bank Catholic head coach Frank Edgerly as its director of recruiting operations. Edgerly, a quarterback at Rutgers in 1992 and 93, won a share of two Shore Conference Liberty Division titles at RBC, where his teams went 48-42 from 1999-2007. 
  • Rutgers tickets are sold out for the season, guaranteeing the Knights will extend their consecutive sellout streak to 17. There's still some ticket availability, the amount of which will depend on how many tickets are returned by visiting teams. Those tickets are available here. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Getting started

The first practice of Rutgers training camp is today at 2:50 at Rutgers Stadium, and to get things started, we've got three Rutgers stories in today's paper: 

One on Hightstown's Zaire Kitchen's remarkable comeback from his third reconstructive knee surgery. 

A notebook from reporting day with a look at the Knights' running back situation. 

A column that takes a look at five storylines likely to emerge during camp and throughout the season. (And a correction for a mistake I made: Mike Teel threw 12 touchdown passes in Rutgers' final nine games, not eight as the column said. He thew eight during the first three games and 12 in the final nine for a school-record of 20. My apologies for the mixup.) 

Also, a few things I couldn't fit in the paper: 

  • Redshirt freshman Caleb Ruch, the front runner for the starting job at right guard, competed in -- and won -- a strongman competition at a local fair over the summer. "I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I decided to compete in it," he said. "We had a truck-pull with a Dodge 1500, we had a tire flip, we had a farmer's walk (carrying 90-pound weights 100 feet) and there was firewood that you had to carry a certain distance."
  • Quarterback Mike Teel said he was more excited for this year's reporting day than any of his previous four at Rutgers. "I couldn’t sleep last night," he said. "I went to sleep at 10:00, I fell asleep at one and I woke up at 6:30. I’m ready to go. It’s exciting and I’m ready to play football."
  • The Knights' complete training camp schedule up until Game Week for the Fresno State game is as follows: Aug. 6 at 3:20; Aug. 7 at 3:20; Aug. 8 at 2:50; Aug. 9 at 6:50 (media day at 3); No practice Aug. 10 but the fan fest at 6; Aug. 11 at 10:20 a.m.; Aug. 12 at 10:30; Aug. 13 at 10:10; Aug. 14 at 2:50; Aug. 16 at 3:30; Aug. 18 at 3:20; Aug. 19 at 10:10; Aug. 20 at 10:10; Aug. 21 at 2:50; Aug. 22 at 10:10; Aug. 23 at 3:20; Aug. 24 at 3:20. The first major scrimmage will be Aug. 13 (a week from tomorrow.) 
I'll be at practice today and check in later on with a report. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Back in session

Normally, I try to keep philosophy, sociology, or anything else this might be considered, out of the blog. The blog is for talking football, not discussing how important, interesting, or relevant things are in life. But driving back to New Jersey after having dropped by sister off at a summer camp in some town in Up-State New York that seemed far enough away to be in Manitoba, I had this thought about Rutgers players reporting to training camp: Covering and talking about college sports is a coping mechanism for the reality that I'm entering my second school year as a former college student and a current citizen of the real world. 

Almost every sports fan I know is the same way -- if you can't be in college, you might as well re-live vicariously through athletes who still are and the students who flock the stadiums, gyms and arenas to watch them. I know people in their 80s who are the same way, and were he still with us, my grandfather -- a gangly backup center on a couple of Rutgers basketball teams in the mid-30s -- would marvel at the relevance of his alma matter. That's a feeling I'm sure countless RU grads have. It's a feeling to which alumns of schools throughout the country can relate, and -- here's the key line in my thesis -- it's one that can't be replicated by professional sports. 

That's why I'm so excited for football season, and that's why on SOME level, I feel like I'm wrapping up a long, fun, but relatively boring summer and going back to school, where things are busy and exciting. And that's why, with all due respect to the Trenton Thunder, I feel like I'm about to completely wake up from a long summer sports nap. 

Finally, school (or at least some aspect of it) is back in session. We can, barring developments that I frankly don't expect to happen, forget about contract lingo and start focusing on who's going to start at strong-side linebacker, how Rutgers matches up with Fresno State (less than a month away!) and whether or not it's possible Syracuse will actually win a game in the Big East. (Last year I made a bet with a co-worker who I thought was an insane 'Cuse grad that the Orange wouldn't, and lost the bet when Louisville laid an egg in late September.) 

We can put Manny being Manny (hope he doesn't fall asleep at the beach and miss a game in September against the D-Backs) behind us, throw some dogs and burgers on the grill and tailgate.  Because college sports junkies throughout the country are most certainly ready for some football. 

Friday, August 1, 2008

Rutgers unranked in coaches' poll

Rutgers recieved 53 votes in the preseason coaches' poll released today, placing the Scarlet Knights on the outside looking in at the top 25.

The Knights recieved the 29th-most votes. Last year, they were ranked 16th in the preseason poll and as high as 10th after starting the season 3-0, but were not included in the final rankings. They had never been ranked in a presseason poll prior to last year.

Georgia is ranked first, followed by USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Florida.

West Virginia, ranked eighth, and South Florida, ranked 21st, are the only Big East teams in the top 25. Rutgers got more votes than any other team in the conference other than the Mountaineers and Bulls.

Next in the "receiving votes" category among Big East teams is Pittsburgh with 34, followed by Cincinnati with 13, Connecticut, with nine and Louisville with two. Syracuse, a unanimous choice in the preseason Big East media poll to finish last, was the only team in the conference that did not recieve a single vote.

Rutgers, which went 8-5 last year and beat Ball State in the International Bowl, reports to training camp on Monday and practices for the first time Tuesday. The Knights open the season Sept. 1 against Fresno State. The Bulldogs, who went 9-4 last year, are ranked 25th in the coaches' poll.

Rutgers and Nelligan Sports Marketing

Today's Trentonian has a story on the relationship between Rutgers and Nelligan Sports Marketing, and more specifically, about the degree to which Rutgers had previously acknowledged payments going from Nelligan to Greg Schiano.

There's been a lot of chatter out there about a 2006 story in the Star-Ledger that mentioned a portion of Schiano's salary coming from Nelligan. Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy told me that story, and the press releases sent out after Schiano signed his current contract in 2005 and after the extension he got after the 2006 sesaon, are evidence that Rutgers hasn't been hiding the fact that Nelligan is helping it pay Schiano.

To be clear, neither the story, which mentioned Nelligan by name, nor either of the releases, which don't but which reference guaranteed money from other sources, were released after the addendum with the much-publicized extra $250,000 from Nelligan. Rutgers made no mention in any way of the addendum, and that's why Mulcahy and his department have gotten so much recent criticism.

Having said that, the folks at Rutgers think a lot of this is getting blown way out of proportion, and that if Nelligan helping pay Schiano's salary was a big deal, there would have been a big fuss about it at least two years ago. I understand where they're coming from. As I wrote on Wednesday, if Mulcahy had simply announced the extra money that was discovered in the addendum, none of this fuss would be taking place. I'm not chastising Mulcahy for trying to deceive the press, because I don't think that's what he was doing. I think for the most part, he simply didn't think the extra $250K was that big of a deal.

What do you think?