Schiano, Scarlet Knights set to start over

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) - It’s almost like starting over for coach Greg Schiano, isn’t it? After all, Rutgers is coming off a losing season, and is picked to finish last in the Big East.

Sound familiar? Well, it’s been a few years, but clearly it’s not uncharted waters for Schiano and the Scarlet Knights.

In fact, that’s just how it always was in the early portion of his tenure … until the Scarlet Knights produced five consecutive bowl appearances, four of which they won.

But the streak ended with last year’s 4-8 campaign, a season which was marred by a horrific injury, a declining defense and a porous offensive line.

But there’s nowhere to go but up, and Schiano, who begins his 11th season in sixth place among active Division I coaches in uninterrupted tenure at one school, hopes losing provides a renewed hunger.

“I would be lying if I said what happened last year doesn’t affect each and every one of us,” he said. “We fully expect to be back to, and beyond, where we have been in this program. Do I think (last year) adds an extra little bit of juice to things? Sure it does.”

The Big East media doesn’t see improvement coming quickly, though. After an unexpected last-place finish last season, well, the reporters seem to think Rutgers should expect to finish there this year.

“That’s a lot of motivation,” said sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd, whose surprise emergence last season eventually forced 2009 starter Tom Savage to transfer. “As soon as I saw that, I was just really motivated from it. The guys were, too.”

Junior tackle Scott Vallone, one of five defensive returnees, felt Rutgers suffered some bad breaks last year. But there is no sympathy internally.

“We don’t make any excuses. We didn’t play well enough to win games,” he said. “Coming into camp, we all had a sour taste in our mouth and we’re anxious to get out there for the first game.”

The Scarlet Knights lost their final six games after defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a serious spinal injury making a special teams tackle against Army Oct. 16.

“It was an emotional roller coaster,” senior fullback Joe Martinek said. “We had a lot of things happen, team-wise, personally. It was a really hard season, it tested our family, how close we were.”

Either way, Rutgers must upgrade an offense that finished 114th overall nationally, and 110th in rushing.

Dodd replaced Savage as the starter four games into the season, but could not offset an offensive line that allowed an NCAA-record 61 sacks. Jordan Thomas was the team’s leading rusher with just 417 yards and Dodd was up and down in completing 55.2 percent of his passes for 1,637 yards.

He had 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

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