Hard as it may seem, Mohamed Sanu went into the season a little bit overshadowed.
Sanu? Just a part of a talented receiving corps.
Then the games kicked off. Now we know Sanu is not just a part of the group -- he is the best player in the group. And it's not even close.
Sanu goes into Saturday's conference opener against Syracuse off the most productive game in league history. Sanu caught a league-record 16 passes against Ohio last week, following up on his 13-reception game at North Carolina.
He has 36 receptions for 363 yards on the season -- nearly half of Rutgers' team total of 62. He leads the nation in receptions per game and is No. 8 in receiving yards per game (121). And he has four of Rutgers' seven receiving touchdowns.
Two major factors have contributed to his early success: He is completely healthy and completely focused on receiver.
"Everybody has a guy that has special talents. That's Mohamed," coach Greg Schiano said. "Because of that, we needed to use him in the Wildcat because we felt that was the only way to run the football effectively. This year, he's back at his natural position and he's doing a fine job."
Sanu said he has focused on his technique and trusted his training so far this year. But he did not really set any goals for himself for this season.
"I just came into the season open minded," Sanu said. "I wasn’t sure what I was going to do or how I was going to do it. I'm just trying to play well each and every game."
Asked for his thoughts on leading the NCAA in receptions, Sanu said, "I don’t really pay attention to any of that stuff. I'm just trying to help my team win. If that’s how we’ve got to do it, I’m just going to embrace my role and continue to play at a high level."
Certainly Schiano would like some of his other receivers to step up. Fullback Joe Martinek is the next closest to Sanu with five receptions. Harrison and Coleman have three each. Wright has four.
They could get an opportunity against the Orange, who have had their share of struggles against the pass. Syracuse has given up 10 passing touchdowns -- second worst in the nation. The Orange rank No. 91 in pass efficiency defense and No. 106 in passing defense.
Both Wake Forest and USC threw for over 300 yards against Syracuse. Two receivers -- Chris Givens of Wake Forest (seven catches, 170 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Eric Page of Toledo (13 catches, 148 yards) -- notched 100-yard games this season as well. Syracuse also had to defend USC receiver Robert Woods.
But Syracuse has been dealing with injuries to several of its top players in the secondary. Keon Lyn, Ri'Shard Anderson, Olando Fisher and Shamarko Thomas all have been hobbled. Coach Doug Marrone closed practice this week, and it is unknown who will be able to go on defense.
You can bet whoever is out there will be focused on Sanu.
"He's one of the better athletes -- if not the best athlete on the field," Marrone said. "He can make every catch, he can run all the different routes -- short game, intermediate, down the field. The line does a great job of protecting. This has been a recurring theme for us. We had Woods, we had Page. Now we have Sanu."