The Rutgers University football program will look to put the past behind them Thursday night as the Scarlet Knights open their 2011-'2 season against visiting North Carolina Central University at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. RU will be trying to win its second straight season-opening contest, while N.C. Central, which begins its first FCS season, will be trying to pull off an unbelievable upset.
Head coach Greg Schiano, who enters his 11th year at Rutgers, leads a Scarlet Knights squad that is trying to move on from last season, which featured a 4-8 overall record and missed out on the postseason for the first time in five seasons. To try to improve, Schiano hired new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti in the offseason. Cignetti, who last year was the offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh University, is implementing a new pro-style offense that focuses on quick reads from the quarterback and a power-running game.
Sophomore Chas Dodd enters the season as RU's starting quarterback. As a true freshman last season, Dodd began the year on the bench. However, starting quarterback Tom Savage struggled and was replaced by Dodd four games into the season. From there, Dodd had his moments -- in his first start the true freshman tossed for 322 yards with two touchdowns in a 27-24 victory over UConn -- but, struggled behind a terrible offensive line, which gave up a NCAA-record 61 sacks.
This year, Dodd has one of the most dynamic wide receiving corps in the Big East Conference, and an "embarrassment of riches" at running back. However, the question remains: Will Dodd have enough time to run the offense with a line that basically has the same personnel as last year?
On defense, junior Scott Vallone leads the interior line at defensive tackle. Vallone hasn't missed a game in his two season at RU and is expected to be an All-Big East candidate by the end of the season. At linebacker, junior Steve Beauharnais moves from the middle to the outside, a position he played as a freshman. The unit as a whole won't raise havoc with opponents, but should be steady enough to keep the Scarlet Knights in games.
Meanwhile, N.C. Central is hoping to not get embarrassed in its first official game at the FCS level. The Eagles are from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and are 43-point underdogs.