This was a very important season for Kyle Flood. After a very good rookie season as head coach in 2012, then a disappointing sophomore campaign in 2013, the inaugural B1G slate gave the former assistant to Greg Schiano a chance at cementing his status as the future leader of the football program. Flood had a senior quarterback, a much better offensive coordinator, and drastically low expectations for his team entering 2014.
He received a contract extension through January 2019 prior to the Penn State loss, and through six games after October 5, Rutgers had five wins and was the biggest surprise of the Big Ten season. One month later, the Scarlet Knights are stuck with the same number of wins and were victimized in three brutal blowouts to the conference's best teams.
This isn't really a surprise since many of us were confident that Rutgers would fit into the B1G as a middle-tier team; they can win and compete with the likes of a struggling Michigan program or an Illinois and Purdue, but they'll struggle against the B1G boys like Ohio State and Nebraska. When the 2014 schedule was revealed, most fans looked at the murderer's row stretch as a likely 0-3 run, with the slight possibility of an upset somewhere.
So, the Knights are at 5-4 with a 1-4 conference record after the schedule-makers decided to give RU the "welcome to the B1G" lineup of games. Fortunately, Indiana travels to Piscataway without any realistic option at quarterback, so that game could serve as the likely sixth win to send the Knights bowling for the holidays.
The question is this: can things get any better with Kyle Flood as head coach? To answer, let's take a look at what he's accomplished. He has two wins against FBS competition with winning records (Syracuse and Cincinnati in 2012), and could possibly have two more this season depending on how Navy and Michigan finish off the year. He signed a landmark 2012 recruiting class that is credited more to Greg Schiano than him, and is known more for the de-commitment spree of the 2014 class.
Now, it's not fair to bring up the negatives without giving him credit for what he has done. Flood maintained the culture of winning the right way at Rutgers, and it is a big positive to say that we'll never have to worry about a serious scandal with Kyle as head coach. He makes sure his players go to class and excel in the classroom, and he makes sure that his players are prepared for life, whether it involves football or something else entirely. The players have nothing but amazing things to say about him (compared to what others have to say about Mr. Gap Tooth). He's simply a class act, and that seems to be rarity these days in the cutthroat world of big-time collegiate athletics. The Dave Cohen bullying-situation was handled about as best as it could have been, and the program hasn't suffered as a result of the former defensive assistant's transgressions despite the entire athletic department still recovering from the Mike Rice scandal.
Still, are we content with six to eight wins every year? Because that's the ceiling with Flood as head coach. Sure, you can say that this season was especially tough with Wisconsin and Nebraska on the schedule, but Ohio State and Michigan State will be there waiting every year. Will Michigan be down forever? Will Penn State always have a bad offensive line (and we didn't even win that game)? The reality is this: Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio will be in Columbus and East Lansing, respectively, for the foreseeable future. Michigan will rise again as an elite team at some point, and you can't hope for Purdue and Illinois from the West all the time. Unless Kareem Walker, Rashan Gary, Jarrett Guarantano, and other blue-chips commit anytime soon, there is no evidence at all that Flood can elevate this program from Big Ten member to Big Ten contender.
But...maybe that's okay. This isn't meant to be a call for action; rather it's a self-assessment. Rutgers is a solid program on stable footing forever. Scarlet Knights can go on to the NFL and find success, and there will certainly be seasons where the team can surpass expectations with a 10, maybe even 11-win season if things break the right way. I've seen a lot of Rutgers fans scoff at certain teams (mostly SEC) that sacrifice integrity for winning. With Flood, that won't happen. And maybe that's exactly where this program should be.