It doesn't seem quite right, but the Scarlet Knights have finally become a factor under Greg Schiano.
Last year, Rutgers made it to the program's first bowl game since 1978. The Knights had their first winning record in the Big East and their first seven-win season since 1992. They lost a wild one to Arizona State in the Insight Bowl, but nothing was going to dampen the spirits of what took place last season.
Or what's coming in the future.
Another sign Rutgers has arrived came when the Knights were picked to finish fourth in the eight-team Big East this season -- the first time the program has even been picked to finish in the top half of the conference.
"It's a huge shot in the arm for the program. Winning begets winning," Schiano said. "It (winning last year) helped in recruiting. The more we can win, the more we can leverage that and continue to build a program.
"All along that's been the plan. To have any success we had to build an infrastructure of a program that was missing. It took some time, but I really enjoy our football team."
Finishing tied for third place in the league last year was no fluke -- and the Knights have enough players, real quality players, to do it again. You look at the cover of their media guide and see "Heisman candidate" Brian Leonard, Big East Special Teams Player of the Year Willie Foster and All-American candidate Clark Harris (a tight end).
Safety Courtney Greene and DT Ramel Meekins are on awards watch lists. Ray Rice emerged as a great complement to Leonard in the backfield.
There's talent here -- no more jokes about Rutgers football.
But now the Knights have to take the next step. "It's easy coming from a bad team to a good team," says Leonard. "The hardest part is going from a good team to a great team."
A key to this year's success will be the play of young quarterback Mike Teel, who replaces Ryan Hart. "If you're going to have a good football team, the quarterback needs to be a leader," says Schiano. "I think leadership only works when you make plays. You can say everything and be the first guy at workouts, but it all comes down to those Saturday afternoons (when) you got to make plays."
Notes and Quotes
KEY EARLY SEASON GAME: at North Carolina, Sept. 2 -- If you're going to start off in a big non-league game on the road, it might as well be against one of the lower-echelon ACC teams. With a home game against Illinois awaiting, a win at Chapel Hill would be huge boost.
THE SCARLET KNIGHTS WILL SUCCEED IF: QB Mike Teel doesn't take it upon himself to be the savior of the offense -- doesn't try to do too much. He has the weapons to help him take over the position. His ability to perform and the team's building on last year's winning are major factors.
THE SCARLET KNIGHTS WILL FAIL IF: They don't take the mindset out onto the field that they're actually good -- that last year was no fluke. If Mike Teel fails to get the job done, things could get dicey, but he has a lot of help.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's starting to lead already. He likes to throw more on his own. He gets the receivers up on his own. We go out a lot (and socialize). He stands out as our leader. All the things he's doing now are building up to my expectations." -- Rutgers WR Willie Foster on new starting quarterback Mike Teel.
Strategy and Personnel
HEAD COACH: Greg Schiano, sixth year at Rutgers, 19-39 with the Scarlet Knights.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Mike Teel -- It's usually said about a football team that the most important player is the quarterback. But when the QB is a new starter, it's especially true. Teel takes over for Ryan Hart, and his success will have a lot to do with what happens to this team.
BREAKOUT STAR: TE Clark Harris -- He's on All-American lists, watch lists, all kinds of lists. The 6-6, 260-pound senior caught 38 passes, four for touchdowns, a year ago and should do even more on his way out the Rutgers door.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: S Robert Baham -- Sidelined by an injury in preseason camp, he missed all of last season and now returns as a member of the two-deep. He was all-state in Florida in high school.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: Offense -- QB Mike Teel, RB Ray Rice, RB Brian Leonard, WR Willie Foster, WR Shawn Tucker, TE Clark Harris, LT Pedro Sosa, RT Mike Fladell, C Darnell Stapleton, OLT Jeremy Zuttah, OLG Cameron Stephenson.
Defense -- DE Jamaal Westerman, DT Eric Foster, DT Ramel Meekins, DE William Beckford, OLB Brandon Renkart, MLB Devraun Thompson, OLB Quintero Frierson, CB Derrick Roberson, CB Joe Porter or Manny Collins, S Ron Girault, S Courtney Greene.
--S Courtney Greene is on the Bronco Nagurski Trophy watch list. The Nagurski Trophy honors the top defensive player in the country.
--DT Ramel Meekins is on the Outland Trophy watch list for the best lineman in the country.
--The Scarlet Knights had a key late addition -- signing 6-4, 230-pound LB/DE George Johnson from Glassboro High School in New Jersey. "George is an outstanding football player and a fine young man," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.
--TE Clark Harris, a preseason All-American in some circles, is on the John Mackey Award watch list for the nation's top tight end.
--DB Anthony Miller has been dismissed from the team.
--Three freshmen -- LB Antonio Lowery (personal issues), DE Markus White (attending prep school) and DE Matthew Hardison (enrolling in January after a knee injury) -- are not with the team.