The American Frontier: Rutgers

USA TODAY Sports

Today we continue our series with a look at an old nemesis, who will be hitting and quitting the AAC in 2013—Rutgers.

Rutgers sucks. Rutgers sucks. Rutgers sucks.

Sorry, had to get that out of the way.

Now, onto the closest school UConn can call a rival for football. There’s by no means a long-standing history here to constitute a true rivalry, but I like to think it counts because of:

1.) The mutual hate

2.) Historic competitive balance

3.) Similar styles of play

4.) RU is the closest of all football schools to Storrs geographically- the biggest reason team rivalries on any level begin at all.

So, at least they’re sticking around in the AAC.

Oh, Rutgers is heading to the Big Ten after this season, you say?

Well, Rutgers $%@&ing sucks.

How they’ve fared

The Scarlet Knights broke into the polls early last year following a hot 7-0 start built upon wins over Arkansas, Syracuse and unfortunately, UConn. However, RU stumbled late and dropped their season finale against Louisville, which could have sent them to a BCS bowl had they held onto a 10-3 halftime lead. Their consolation prize was a 9-3 season’s finish and spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl, which became another game they let slip late, this time to Virginia Tech.

Backed by one of the best defenses the Big East has ever seen, Rutgers can look back fondly on 2012, though not without the sting of recalling they scored just 30 total points in their last three games. Finally, the team waved good-bye to seven upperclassmen in the NFL Draft, as most just took a four-hour ride north to 1 Patriot Place Foxboro, MA 02035.

How they look

Frankly, different. Two new coordinators, seven different starters on defense, almost a whole new batch of pass catchers and a change at starting running back. But, of course, they still have that familiar Jersey stench.

Junior quarterback Gary Nova returns after re-dedicating himself to his craft this off-season because of costly struggles down the stretch a year ago. He loses top runner Jawan Jamison, but gains former no. 1 New Jersey high school recruit Savon Huggins, who has battled injuries most of his brief collegiate career. The offensive line has been restored everywhere except at a right guard, where they team has seen healthy competition in camp. On the outside, Brandon Coleman leads a green group of wideouts. The 6’ 4", tremendously athletic receiver could very well be a first-round pick in next year’s pro draft.

On the defensive side, the unit gets worse from front to back, though it has the potential to be special in the trenches. Former five-star recruit Darius Hamilton steps in at tackle next to the talented Isaac Holmes, who’s recovered from a wrist injury. The brothers Merrell will lead the entire unit, with Jamil at defensive end (10.5 tackles for loss in 2012) and Jamal at linebacker (83 stops last season). The Scarlet Knights lost two-time Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene, who leaves behind a void as large as the other you’ll find in the secondary.

All but one of the defensive back starters are gone, leaving junior safety Lorenzo Waters by his lonesome. Western Michigan transfer Lew Toler will join Waters as he steps in immediately with at right corner. Meanwhile, the other safety spot could very well belong to a converted wide receiver in Jeremy Deering. Attention all AAC pass catchers: time to go deep.

How they match up

While the scarlet and white have gotten a makeover, the way these two old Big East foes compare does not. Each strives to be a tough, physical club that boasts excellence on both defense and special teams. Rutgers will showcase a better offense than a year ago, but inevitably take a step back defensively. UConn appears ready to do the same thing.

What’s going to happen

Well, the same thing that always does. We’re going to see a close, physical game. The key here will be to get Nova to turn the ball over and blanket Coleman in coverage. I think the Huskies give up a close one at home on Nov. 30th, simply because their depth in the secondary scares me and injuries will have piled up at this point in the year. Also, I don’t think we can count on them just yet not to turn the football over themselves, which will kill UConn in this kind of game.

Regular season prediction: 6-6 (4-4)

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