Much has been made about the rise of some tiny little program in Piscataway N.J. that you may or may not have heard of. Now, we're not all penciling in the Knights in the MNC game like RutgersAl and TSopranoRU do on Rivals.com. We do commonly believe something that outsiders tend to take issue with. Not only was the "Shea Error" of 1996-2000 a historical anomaly, but there's a fair case to make that the perennial mediocrity from inventing football in 1869 to the early 90s can be mostly attributed to a bizarre series of soul-crushing accidents.
I'm saving the details for another post, but the general sentiment is that always should have been a team hovering around the top 25. Some years in, some years out, making the occasional run. Basically, Rutgers should have been the Purdue of the East. But for a variety of factors, they did not fall into that position into fairly recently. That raises another interesting point that I'm going to sidestep for now - is Rutgers's success sustainable? Short answer: the schedule needs to be beefed up, but if the past failures really were an accident, there's no reason the program should not maintain some level of success.
Who has benefitted from our misfortune? You immediately think of Penn State and Notre Dame, strip-mining New Jersey clean for years while Syracuse grabbed the table scraps, leaving nothing for poor old Rutgers just struggling to get by. Recent years have seen Syracuse become a virtual non-entity in New Jersey and the greater NYC area. That's largely a combination of their post-McNabb decline. However, it's also a function of firing former OC George DeLeone, one of the legendary New Jersey recruiters who was as responsible as anyone for our continuing struggles attracting good players.
Notre Dame, coached by New Jersey-native Charlie Weis, has seen their Eastern recruiting MO change dramatically. Charlie Weis still goes after the top prospects with as much gusto as anyone. However, he's content to not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs. A strong Rutgers is important for New Jersey High School football, and Charlie has largely been content to ignore the mid-level prospects that are Rutgers's bread and butter. This is in total contrast to his predecessors Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham, who constantly struck out with the top talent and compensated by seemingly going after every mid-level player available to compensate.
Penn State still remains a formidable force in South Jersey. They still have a presence in North Jersey and NY, but it's started to fade a little bit. They've struck out on a number of kids recently that would have been Penn State locks back in Paterno's heyday. The Nittany Lions will likely continue to pluck the odd kid here and there, but they've clearly lost a lot of their juice in the area.
The final piece of this puzzle are a few personnel losses on various coaching staffs. I've already covered DeLeone at Syracuse. Here's a few more:
1. Mark D'Onofrio, Virginia (now at Temple). Schiano's former friend-turned-backstabber. Rutgers fans may have been disappointed at their 2004 season, but nothing redeemed it like watching the Virginia Cavalier House of Cards crumble. Struggles continued in 2005, and Scarlet Nation faithful was rewarded with the additions of RB Kordell Young and DE George Johnson, both of whom are now on the two-deep as sophomores. D'Onofrio fled with his tail between his legs to be Al Golden's DC at Temple, and has done an admirable job upgrading their poor talent base there. He could still be a thorn in our side in the future.
2. Kevin Rogers, Virginia Tech (now with Vikings). The Jason Adjepong recruitment is still a very sore spot for RU fans. He was this close to pulling the trigger, but ultimately did not have the undying faith in Schiano that others have shown. It worked out for us in the end (see: George Johnson from UVA), but this was still hard to take at the time with lingering anger over the ACC raid and Marcus Vick's infamous stomp of Elvis Dumervil. Rogers was a long-time top NJ recruiter at Syracuse, ND, and VT. We are very fortunate he spurned Miami earlier in the year.
3. Glen Mason, Minnesota. It fills me with shame that a native New Jerseyian from my neck of the woods could take such utter delight in tormenting Rutgers. Mason first spurned Rutgers in the 1960s to attend Ohio State. Legend has it that he took such great insult at being interviewed for the HC job in 1995 by former AD Fred Gruninger in a diner that he instantly turned the screws on two Doug Graber commits, turning them to Minnesota. To add insult to injury, last December the Bergen Record reported that members of the Gopher staff phoned **** Rutgers commit Mason Robinson, imploring that he would "regret it for the rest of his life" if he went to Rutgers. Glen Mason was fired a month later. He was replaced by NJ-native Tim Brewster, a situation that bears watching. There have been rumors that Mason could surface at Penn State next year to replace former Rutgers HC Dick Anderson as OL Coach.
4. John Palermo and Bernie Wyatt, Wisconsin. It helped that Wisconsin pissed off a lot of NJ coaches by turning away Nate Nurse in the summer. They can be a vindictive bunch. Ask Bob Davie after what happened to Matt LoVecchio.
5. Darrell Wilson, Iowa. Mostly due to Iowa's downturn.
6. Lou Anarumo, Purdue. Eh, never really was that good. Mostly due to their downturn.
7. Jeff Stoutland, Michigan State (now Miami). Lost credibility near the end. Now seems to be recruiting Florida for Miami according to Rivals, so he's basically an afterthought.
I would also classify the firings of John Gutekunst, Greg Mark, and Dave Brock as victories.
Some continuing thorns in our side - Dave Sollazzo (Maryland), Darrell Hazell (Ohio State), Bill McGovern (BC), Steve Szabo (Michigan), Steve Addazio (Florida).