Rutgers season preview

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Coach: Kyle Flood (9-4 career, 9-4 at Rutgers)

2012 record: 9-4

Key losses: RB Jawan Jamison, CB Logan Ryan, LB Khaseem Greene

Key returnees: QB Gary Nova, WR Brandon Coleman, OL Kaleb Johnson

Newcomer to watch: DL Darius Hamilton

Biggest games in 2013: Arkansas (Sept. 21), Louisville (Oct. 10)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Rutgers earned a share of the Big East title in Flood’s first year, but is looking to replace 11 players either drafted or signed by NFL teams at the end of the year. This season will be Flood’s first real test as a head coach. He leaned on the talent Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano recruited while he was at Rutgers, but with his first full recruiting season as a head coach under his belt, Flood will have to replace last season’s veteran team with players he’s brought in and developed.

Forecast: Offensively, Rutgers has an identity and experience with Nova, Coleman and an offensive line that returns two all-conference selections. The Scarlet Knights’ defense is a different story. Leading the Big East in scoring defense and holding nine opponents to 15 points or fewer last season, the defense returns just four starters, especially missing the presence of Greene (136 tackles) and Ryan (94 tackles and four interceptions). Linebacker Jamal Merrell and defensive end Jamil Merrell will be called on to lead the defense as they ranked third on the team in tackles and second on the team in sacks, respectively. Defensive lineman Isaac Holmes returns from a season-ending injury he suffered against Arkansas to provide even more experience up front.

Though Nova will be without last year’s 1,000-yard rusher Jawan Jamison, Flood expects him to improve on a season where he started every game, throwing 22 touchdown passes and 2,695 yards. Coleman, Nova’s top target, tied the Big East lead with 10 touchdown receptions last season.

“I think any time your quarterback starts an entire season and has an opportunity not to just go through the winter program or spring practice, or your summer program, but all of those things in a calendar year, he has a chance to come out of it a significantly higher-level player,” Flood said. “I think Gary has taken advantage of all those things. He's as anxious as we are to see him out on the field and see him perform.”

Picked to finish third in the American Athletic, the Scarlet Knights will host Arkansas, a team they upset on the road last season. But Rutgers will have to steal at least one of its conference road games against Louisville and Central Florida if it wants to finish near the top of the league again.