Rutgers fans have debated for months the impact of replacing Kirk Ciarrocca at offensive coordinator with a proven winner in Frank Cignetti. Sure, Ciarrocca was a fine receivers coach, but quickly proved himself over his head in all facets of coordinating a successful bowl subdivision offense. The worst offense of all? Dragging down offensive line coach Kyle Flood's previously sterling, blemish-free reputation. Surely, replacing a completely incompetent coach with another sporting a successful resume will have some discernible impact. Rutgers and Greg Schiano couldn't have suddenly turned into a pumpkin after one bad year, could they? Apparently so according to the media, despite no Big East football display team being all that successful in 2010.
Well, if today's scrimmage is any indication, Rutgers fans can rest easy. Savon ("Say-vonnnnn!") Huggins has arrived, and he is spectacular; with the Newark Star-Ledger's Tom Luicci firmly rejoining the optimism bandwagon. Maybe it really was that simple. Ciarrocca and the spread were the problem. He's gone; problem solved. Rutgers has the best receivers in the Big East, and the addition of Huggins may allow them to overtake Cincinnati for the best skill position crop in the conference. If the offensive line's struggles merely were an illusion caused by Ciarrocca being inept, then things are about to take off in a big way. After two years of morose preseason reports, Rutgers fans suddenly have to restrain themselves from salivating all over newspaper pages every morning.
Skeptics will point out that for a team's offense to look good in a scrimmage, their defense will had to struggle in turn. That's fair, but does not give much in the way of a good basis for comparison. The Rutgers offense is better than the Rutgers defense, but that doesn't tell a whole lot about how the defense will match up with the other offenses on the schedule. Historically, Greg Schiano's best defenses have struggled against, tough, power running attacks. Any program that isn't a traditional football factory has to make some sort of roster compromises, and overall the track record of Schiano's defenses look pretty good. Is it really a good idea to write him and his program off because of one bad season?
Defensive tackle Scott Vallone is the single best player on the Scarlet Knights, but he's a natural pass-rusher, not a run-stuffing nose tackle. Justin Francis next to him is very good as well, but there's little in the way of experienced depth behind them owing to Eric LeGrand's absence. More reps means Vallone and Francis will tire out faster (although, less so with a strong running attack able to control time of possession.) The Rutgers defense is predicated on generating pressure with blitzes however; not in marauding opponents into submission. Everything's based on the notion that they won't tire out because they'll get off the field quickly as a result of generating a strong pass rush.
It's a little strange jibing a lack of bandwagon interest and media dismissals with everything coming out of practice on a daily basis. Things haven't looked this good since 2008, where Rutgers admittedly stumbled out of the gate, gaining momentum as the season wore on. That being said, it's awfully hard to look at this team now and not forecast a result similar to 2008. They won't be world beaters, but they'll return to their usual perch in the top half of the Big East. That's the Rutgers football we've all come to know and anticipate. Yearly mediocrity has its drawbacks, but it's a heck of a lot better than 4-8 last season.
Managing expectations is important, which Greg Schiano knows well after Rutgers fans grew impatient with him winning nine games every year. When they bounce back to the norm in 2011, the media and outside observers will heap praise and exclaim their surprise, even though the signs are right out there in plain sight right now, available for anyone willing to take an interest. There will be little discernible difference between year's team and the fits of inconsistency that we've grown to expect over the past decade, but it will intuitively feel that much more satisfying after surviving months of self-doubt, brought on by internal causes and external naysayers.
Honestly, Rutgers football camp right now feels like anticipating the launch of any new product from the developmental end. You're really excited about what's brewing, growing giddy anticipating all of the possible positive outcomes that seem tantalizingly within reach. It becomes very difficult to restrain yourself. For the thousands of Rutgers fans who aren't RutgersAl, at the same time it's important to remain grounded. A lot of things have to go right to win a conference championship. Savon Huggins could tear his ACL tomorrow. The team can't afford to rest on their laurels after making so much progress, and the entire program has to perform the necessary due diligence in working out all of the kinks over the next month.