For the second time in as many games, the Buckeyes will play a new member of the B1G. After a bye week after their trip to Maryland, the Bucks return back home to play Rutgers. Rutgers will be coming off a bye week themselves and will already have two B1G games (Penn State/Michigan) under their belts when they play their first B1G road game. Rutgers will also be playing in their third conference in as many years (Big East, AAC, B1G) and are coming off of a 6-7 season that saw them lost to Notre Dame in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Getting nine starters back on offense is a big positive and there are a lot of developing names on defense, but this team will have to improve significantly across the board if it wants to return to the postseason as a B1G representative. Head coach Kyle Flood is hoping that a reworked coaching staff will provide the spark needed to compete at a higher level in ’14.
Kyle Flood totally overhauled his coaching staff this offseason, bringing in offensive guru Ralph Friedgen to run the offense. His first order of business is to find a stabilizing force under center for the Knights after a season in which Rutgers quarterbacks threw 22 interceptions and just 22 touchdowns. This is why Flood has opened up the position battle this spring despite Gary Nova (2,159 yds, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) returning after starting most of last year (until the final three games).
He will have to battle redshirt junior Mike Bimonte, redshirt sophomore Blake Rankin, and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano. Rankin is the most dynamic athlete of the bunch but Laviano might be the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound pocket passer has impressed during his short time in Piscataway and could press Nova for starting duties should he develop quickly and take to the new offense this spring. Nova has a major experience edge but has been entirely too inconsistent. This position must improve if the Knights want to compete in the B1G.
The entire defense needs to continue to develop after a host of talented recruits got their feet wet a year ago. But this team was still 120th nationally in pass defense and 100th in pass efficiency defense last fall and something has to change in that department (especially, with Christian Hackenberg, Braxton Miller, and Connor Cook on the schedule).
Lorenzo Waters is the lone returning starter at strong safety and the rest of the starting spots will be up for grabs this spring. Gareef Glashen, Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi may be the leaders heading into spring at cornerback while new defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will need to find some complementary pieces at safety. This unit was filled with inexperience last year and ideally that youth will develop during the offseason. At least, that is what Rossi and Flood are hoping anyway.
On paper this has all the makings of one of those complete drubbings the Bucks should put on an opponent. But, so was Cal and UAB in 2012 and Buffalo last season. The Buckeyes can’t take this home game lightly and look ahead to the following week and a trip to Happy Valley. I think Urban and the boys will take care of business on homecoming and move to 6-0 with a 48-3 win over the Scarlet Knights.
Stop back next week as we preview the big game against Penn State!