Rutgers (0-0) at Fresno State (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, August 29, 10:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bulldog Stadium (41,031) -- Fresno, California. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: RU 0-0, FSU 0-0. Away Record: RU 0-0, FSU 0-0. Neutral Record: RU 0-0, FSU 0-0. Conference Record: RU 0-0, FSU 0-0. Series Record: Fresno State leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Two schools entering the second year of their current head coach's tenures will collide when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights visit the Fresno State Bulldogs to kick off the 2013 regular season.
Kyle Flood and Tim DeRuyter are both coming off of their inaugural seasons as a head coach at the FBS level. Both had their first years end with a loss in a bowl game.
Flood became the first Rutgers assistant to be promoted to head coach since 1973 last offseason when Greg Schiano left for a job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Scarlet Knights got off to an incredible start under Flood, winning their first seven games to climb into the Top 25. They lost steam and went 2-4 over their final six games, including a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Fresno State decided to make a coaching change following a 4-9 campaign in 2011. DeRuyter, who was previously the defensive coordinator for Texas A&M, triggered a quick turnaround as he guided the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record before they were routed, 43-10, by SMU in the Hawaii Bowl.
This will be just the second meeting in history between these schools. FSU coasted to a 24-7 win at Rutgers in the 2008 season opener.
Offensively, Flood has his starting quarterback Gary Nova back, but the team was one of the weakest in terms of gaining yards (329.9 per game) and scoring points (21.5 per game) in the nation. Nova did a solid job of managing the team early on and even amassed 397 yards and five touchdowns in a win over Arkansas. However, he threw 14 of his 16 interceptions over the final seven games, including a disastrous showing versus Kent State in which he was picked off six times.
Nova has an all-conference caliber wideout in Brandon Coleman, who hauled in 43 passes for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. The 6-6 pass catcher is the team's only proven target in the pass attack, as Quron Pratt is the only receiver back that made more than 20 catches in 2012.
Rutgers no longer has 1,000-yard rusher Jawon Jamison because he left school early to test his talents in the NFL. Savon Huggins and Paul James are going to assume the rushing responsibilities this year and it might not be impossible for them to replace Jamison's production behind a sturdy offensive line.
The Scarlet Knights rose in the rankings last year primarily due to their stifling performance on the defensive side of the ball. Rutgers ranked 10th in the country in total defense (311.6 ypg) and fourth in scoring (14.2 ppg). it was especially strong against the run, ranking sixth nationally in that category (97.2 ypg).
Only four starters from that unit return with notable stars like Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais and Logan Ryan all gone. The most likely candidate to replace Greene as the heart of the defense and the linebacking corps is senior Jamal Merrell. Last season Merrell was third on the team with 83 total tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss.
Safety Lorenzo Water (68 tackles) is the only returning starter to a defensive backfield that will give sophomore Tejay Johnson and freshman Ian Thomas a chance to see action early on their careers.
The Scarlet Knights will have trouble matching FSU's production if the Mountain West Conference Preseason Player of the Year Derek Carr lives up to expectations yet again. Carr, who is the younger brother of former No. 1 pick David Carr, was selected as the MWC Offensive Player of the Year in 2012 after he set a new conference record with 4,104 yards. He is on every national award watch list that a QB can be on.
Carr's job is much easier due to redshirt sophomore Davante Adams, who ranked third nationally in TD catches (14), eighth in total receptions (102) and ninth in receiving yards (1,312) as a rookie. He set conference records in all three categories for a freshman in the process. Isaiah Burse is a more than adequate second option as he reeled in 57 passes for 851 yards in 2012.
FSU lost an even more accomplished running back in the offseason when Robbie Rouse graduated. Marteze Waller and Josh Quezada will share the tailback duties until one emerges as the new go-to-guy.
The Bulldogs also have the Preseason MWC Defensive Player of the Year on their squad in Derron Smith, who registered 79 total stops and intercepted six passes as a sophomore. Smith, Sean Alston and L.J. Jones all return to the defensive backfield that will still be a little less effective without unanimous-All American Phillip Thomas.
Although not quite as impressive as the visitors last year, FSU was solid defensively as it ranked 22nd in yards allowed per game (338.9) and 37th in points allowed per game (23.9) among FBS schools.
Rutgers lost a great deal of what made it special last season and is now in a rebuilding mode. The Scarlet Knights do not have the offensive firepower to keep up with Carr and the Bulldogs, which means they will need a great showing out of Nova to leave the Golden State with a win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Fresno State 34, Rutgers 21
08/28 10:42:16 ET