Ok, stream-of-consciousness time.
First, a quick note about Louisville's game with Kentucky today. Both teams were rebuilding, but I was hopeful that a home field advantage would give the Cardinals the edge in OOC play. The offense - Cantwell, a young WR corps, and an offensive line that was supposed to be a team strength - have all looked suspect. The defense hasn't been terrible, but it's hard to tell how much credit goes to an inexperienced Kentucky offense. No one envies Steve Kragthorpe at this moment It's another bad sign for the Big East after the Pittsburgh loss yesterday, one that puts even more pressure on Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights can't afford to worry about anything other than Fresno State though.
It's a cliche, but I think tomorrow's game will be won or lost in the trenches. The defensive line should be able to rush the passer, but the starting DTs weigh 270 and 250 lbs respectively, even if they're good at getting after the quarterback. I'm very, very worried about stopping Ryan Matthews and the Fresno State rushing attack. The one optimistic sign there is that improved LB play, led by Ryan D'Imperio, can maybe make a difference.
Most fans and media types expect Rutgers to be fine on the left side of its offensive line. It's the right side - with a redshirt freshman and fifth-year senior (who's never started but has been a top reserve the past few years) starting, backed up by a former walkon redshirt sophomore and a true freshman. That's not necessarily an indictment of their talent, but they did struggle to open up holes in the running game vs. the first team defense in fall camp. The team is very young on the unit, and I would feel a lot more comfortable with another returning starter. The "good" news is that it looks like Anthony Davis and and Kevin Haslam are ready to go after battling minor injuries during the past few weeks. If any position coach on the team has earned our trust recently, it's Kyle Flood. I think highly enough of him that I think he's a future head coach on the DI-A level.
After the debacle in Pittsburgh last weekend, it would be a mistake to assume that the team's LB and special teams units will improve by default tomorrow, even if they look much better on paper, and could not possibly be worse than 2007. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll be up to par for a team that has aspirations on winning a lot of games this year.
The past few days of college football have been exciting. They have made me, and I'm sure the rest of you, very anxious. We have reason to be. Fresno State is arguably a BCS-caliber team this year, and they're not going to be forgiving if our team is as flawed as it was in 2007.
Is this the year that Rutgers football takes the next step? Or will the team rocket off to an early lead and fade late, as it has far too often during the past few seasons? With so much at stake, i don't even want to think right now about what failure is going to feel like in 24 hours. Fresno State wants respect, and they deserve it. I don't see how any one can question the belief that Rutgers needs the validation that would come from a 'W' in the loss column far more. Let's hope we fare better than Pitt and Louisville in that department.
I will be liveblogging the game, and I encourage readers to participate in the comments section. Currently my tentative plan is to analyze the game in the middle of the week. I also plan to finish my conference preview soon, desperately hope that I didn't screw up my blogpoll ballot, and hopefully will post other features soon, including a Q&A with Tar Heel Fan. I may or may not post a recruiting update this week, as news has been rather sparse over the weekend.