Not one week ago today, it seemed as if nothing at all could go wrong for the Rutgers football program. The Knights were on a roll, dominating in their bowl game against an overmatched opponent, and being on the verge of a third top recruiting class in the past four years. Rutgers football was on a hot streak, and all suddenly came crashing down with the abrupt departure of Greg Schiano last Thursday. The pundits predicted an unmitigated disaster as a result of Schiano leaving so close to Signing Day, but that analysis failed on two levels.
The compressed recruiting calendar served to screen out potential opponents, with time short for contact and visits, and most top-level programs either full up or chasing bigger names. Even a wounded Rutgers is still the most attractive program for recruits in the northeast. There was that, and Tim Pernetti's single-minded focus on preserving the class with his coaching hire. Pernetti took abuse and ridicule far and wide for generating a supposedly uninspiring list, and for supposedly going cheap. True, his options were limited on short notice, as context dictated alacrity. However, Pernetti intentionally limited his pool of candidates by solely focusing on those who could keep the class intact. At least for today, his strategy comes off as warranted and justified, with a top 25 class secured, and what could have been a devastating crisis momentarily averted.
QB: Blake Rankin is an ideal dual threat. He is not strictly an option quarterback, but rather a mobile passer who can make plays with his legs, or through the air. With only three scholarship quarterbacks on roster, Rutgers sorely needed an infusion of additional depth, and now can look to enter 2012 finally having respectable depth at the position for a change. The only downside is that RU might have lost mobile QB Devin Fuller due to Schiano's departure. Fuller was not even remotely a fit for a pro style offense (which made UCLA such an odd choice), but was so electrifying that you still had to take a chance on him. Still, Rankin is a good sign. B.
RB: Desmon Peoples is a spark plug back, with good explosion and burst. He could definitely be a collegiate version of Darren Sproles for the Knights, serving as an ideal change of pace guy off of the bench. Obviously, he does not exactly Savon Huggins when it comes to being a back straight out of central casting, and injuries were a bit of a problem for him last year. Looks like an ideal complement to Huggins and Jawan Jamison; each of them bring enough different stuff to the table that it is conceivable to imagine carved out roles for each. B.
WR: Talk about an embarrassment of riches. Receiver was already the deepest position on the team, and now they are adding a dynamic talent in Leonte Carroo, who was able to bounce back nicely from his issues with drops as a junior. Carroo has already called on Rutgers fans to modify the "Sanuuuuuuu" chant to "Carroooooooo" in 2012. What's just ridiculous though is that Carlton Agudosi and Ruhann Peele are top talents in their own rights. Both were knocked by the recruiting services for grade issues, but if one or both make it to campus, watch out. Rounding out the class is Ian Thomas, who looks like a pretty good get, but might be better off on defense if the other guys qualify if he ever wants to see the field. Even though Rutgers dropped the spread last year, they still ended up signing a lot of receivers, because NJ just plain keeps putting them out. A+.
TE: Michael Giacone, who seemed to be as solid a verbal as any prospect could be - suddenly took a visit to Boston College last weekend on the advice of his high school coach, Rich Hansen. Coaching change or not, Giacone's switch to BC is stunning. Frank Spaziani is more likely to be the defensive coordinator at Rutgers in 2013 than he is the head coach of BC. The flip is just inexplicable (reminiscent of Tom Savage's transfer) in terms of football logic. Oh well. Unfortunately, Rutgers wasn't able to find a last minute guy out of Florida or something, leaving this spot a bit thin for now. Inc.
OL: The receivers were a luxury. These were a necessity, with line recruiting taking a hit the past few years due to Kyle Flood's overreliance on sleepers, and some subpar recruiting. The time was ripe for an infusion of talent, and that likely appears on tap now. Rutgers signed the top lineman in New Jersey (Ryan Brodie), a stud center (Brandon Arcidiacono), two gigantic Pennsylvania tackles (Chris Muller and J.J. Denman), and a solid, relatively unheralded guard out of Washington D.C. (Derrick Nelson.) Sure, one of two of these players will inevitably bust - it's the law of averages. However, Rutgers signed enough blue chippers that at least two or three of them will turn into good contributors. R.J. Dill should be an immediate starter as essentially a one-year JUCO. As if that wasn't enough, even the walk-ons are hyped this year. A+.
DL: This depends quite a bit on whether the defense will stay as it was under Schiano, relying more on speed or aggression, or switches to a more traditional look. Assuming the former, Julian Pinnix-Odrick will probably grow into a consistent run-stuffing tackle. Heralded star Darius Hamilton is tailor made for the pass-rushing, under tackle position in the Rutgers defense. Losing Justin Francis won't be easy, but between Ken Kirksey and Hammer, Rutgers has more than enough talent to make up for that loss. Probably the only downside was that RU did not at least sign one end, although Quanzell Lambert could grow into one too. Wouldn't be the first time that a Rutgers LB bulked up... A-, as Hammer is great, but they needed one more end. A+ with Lambert.
LB: Steve Longa is pretty much your prototypical Rutgers/Greg Schiano linebacker, with speed and athleticism to burn. Lambert, well, he's sort of like an Eric LeGrand coming out of high school. Those big LBs usually grow into defensive linemen at Rutgers, although odds are that Lambert won't go quite that far given the depth chart at DT. RU didn't sign any DEs this year though. B+, if Lambert sticks, B- if he doesn't. They really could have used one more.
DB: Rutgers bungled Kye Morgan's recruitment due to a lack of scholarships, and Yuri Wright, well, I'll leave that to BK. Wright didn't have a very good senior year though. There is no question that Jevon Tyree is a better player now, and has a far, far higher floor. It's not quite clear whether Tyree and/or Davon Jacobs will play corner or safety. You have to think that burner Delon Stephenson will be a corner though, if only to stop the inevitable comparisons to Khalif Herbin and Eli Hughes over the next few years. Stephenson had a very good year on the offensive side of the ball, but he does not project to RB in college, and there is no room at receiver with Rutgers continually flush with elite talent there. Thus, CB. B.
S/T: Kyle Federico is a kicker. Kickers are impossible to project, as there aren't very many good ones. Your guess is as good as mine here. Inc.
Again, it's not perfect due to a few holes. Both relatively and objectively however, this is a very good, top-25 caliber class that the program can hang its hat on. Rutgers, clearly has as much if not more talent than any other program on the Big East on paper. New coach or not, there isn't really any room for excuses any longer. Kyle Flood passed his first test with the difficult mission of staving off catastrophe. He will have the talent to coach, and now it's up to him to actually do something (re: get past the underachieving of the past few years) and accomplish significant achievements on the field with these players.