1. It's been four months now since Rutgers joined the B1G, along with Maryland. What do Rutgers fans think about the conference transition so far?
Kevin: Pretty much as expected. Most fans thought Rutgers would fit into the middle tier of the conference, and that's basically where the Scarlet Knights rank through nine games. They were able to beat a team that was down, but weren't very competitive against the best teams in the conference. No one realistically expected RU to compete for a division title or anything like that, but most expect Rutgers to make a bowl game in the first season as a member of the B1G.
Off the field, everyone has enjoyed the increased coverage from Big Ten Network and the national broadcasts on ESPN. The exposure has definitely been better, and it's nice to see the Knights included in the Power 5 discussion, albeit as a middling bowl team. Rutgers fans are definitely excited to see this coverage continue for basketball and other sports such as wrestling, soccer, and baseball.
2. Rutgers QB Gary Nova has had an inconsistent season at the helm of the Rutgers offense. What can explain this inconsistency, and how has new OC Ralph Friedgen helped Nova out?
Kevin: One of the biggest factors is the revolving door at offensive coordinator. Ralph Friedgen is the fifth coordinator in as many seasons for Rutgers, and there's no doubt that has had a detrimental effect on Nova's development as a quarterback. There's also Nova himself, who can just be careless with his throws at times, plain and simple. That's a good trait to have when you need a big play, and when it can all come together during a game (such as the Michigan win), Nova can look really great. Of course, we've all seen the opposite, and that can get pretty ugly at times.
The one thing Ralph brings is credibility. He is by far the most seasoned and respected coordinator to call plays for Rutgers maybe ever, and his acumen on offense has been a boon for the Knights as they adjust to a new conference schedule. Furthermore, the Fridge brings balance to the offense. He knows when to ride the running game or put the rock in the quarterback's hands. For a player like Gary Nova, that's an important quality to have.
3. Kyle Flood was on the hot seat when the season began, started out the season 5-1 and got a contract extension, then suffered three tough losses to the blue bloods of the conference. I saw your blog's post on Flood recently - what do fans think about Flood's future in Piscataway?
Kevin: It's fairly evenly split - hard to tell what the majority thinks. On the one hand our completely unscientific poll regarding Flood favored those who believe he isn't a good coach. Most of the comments, however, suggested that there isn't sufficient evidence to make any long term projections on his career. I'd wager that most people believe that Flood isn't the answer. He hasn't done much to instill a ton of confidence, and his recruiting efforts don't help all that much either.
Realistically, he's pretty much off the hot seat. He was given an extension early in the season prior to the Penn State game in an effort to give him stability in the eyes of recruits. Both Julie Hermann and President Robert Barchi have publicly given votes of confidence, so he's a lock to be head coach until the end of the 2015 season.
4. Over the past few weeks, Indiana has run into some very good defenses. How has the Scarlet Knights' defense done this season, and which defensive players should IU look out for?
Kevin: The defense has played very well against mediocre teams and has been completely neutralized in the three game stretch of Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Through the Michigan win, Rutgers was a top five team nationally in sacks and redshirt freshman Kemoko Turay was leading the B1G in the same category. The secondary was still a sore spot, but the pass rush was a fearsome unit that gave opposing quarterbacks fits.
The defense has struggled against some of the better lines in the conference, as the line hasn't been able to get to the quarterback consistently in the past three games. DT Darius Hamilton has been the best player so far, but double-teams have successfully limited his pass rush ability. Another player to watch out for is WLB Steve Longa. Longa has speed to get to the edge on off-tackle runs, and can drop in coverage as an extra defender. He still needs work on his coverage skills, but he has enough talent to make a difference.
5. Back in the summer, I had you and another OTB writer (along with two Testudo Times writers) take a B1G trivia challenge. Now that you've been in the conference for a few months, would you fare better on these questions?
Kevin: Unfortunately, Wisconsin traveled to Piscataway this season, so I did not have a reason to visit Madison, WI or a Culver's. Next year, the Knights make the trip to Wisconsin, so hopefully I can experience the glory that is the cheese curd.
6. A common misconception of Jim Delany and others in the B1G is that Rutgers is not actually located in New York City, but instead in New Jersey. As someone who's lived in the Garden State for part of his life, I know it's not as bad as its reputation (but we still can joke about it anyway). If you had 24 hours to spend around the area of the RU campus in New Brunswick, what would you do?
Kevin: Definitely stop by Stuff Yer Face on Easton Ave. Their 'bolis are an institution on campus, and a visit wouldn't be complete without trying one. The beer selection there is decent as well, but if you're looking for more of a craft brew menu, you can make the short walk to Harvest Moon Brewery and Cafe. They have plenty of seasonal and standard beers for any craft brew aficionado who's looking for something other than Bud Light. Finally, if you have time, I suggest checking out the Rutgers Gardens. It's a very nice setting for just a stroll through the park or even a wedding venue, and it gives people an opportunity to see why New Jersey is called the "Garden State."
7. Basketball talk: Eddie Jordan faces an uphill climb in his second season as the head coach of Rutgers basketball. How do you see him acclimating to the B1G? Also, is the RAC as tough of a place to play as advertised? I keep warning people that the Scarlet Knights could get a few upsets at home this year.
Kevin: It'll be interesting to see the transition. Unlike the football team, the basketball team isn't making a drastic leap in competition. The old Big East was a very physical conference with national title contenders every year, so I don't see the team having starry eyes like when Kyle Flood's group was sent to places like Ohio Stadium. Of course, recent history for Rutgers men's basketball isn't the greatest, so I don't see them setting the world on fire either. Having Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack will be very important in the transition, as they are seasoned vets and former top recruits.
The RAC is definitely a tough place to play, on one condition: it has to be packed. The way the building was constructed has an effect on focusing the crowd noise towards the court, so a packed student section and crowd can make the place a rocking environment. However, results on the court have prevented attendance from reaching capacity, which really takes the life out of the home-court advantage. Since we have a brand-spanking new conference schedule, I expect attendance to increase a bit, especially for the first few conference games. But if the Knights aren't competitive early on, some of the fans might decide to stay home.
8. Prediction time, who wins on Saturday, and by how much?
Kevin: I think Rutgers wins their sixth game to get them bowl-eligible. RU over Indiana, 28-20.
Thanks again, Kevin! The Hoosiers and Scarlet Knights face off from High Point Solutions Stadium at 3:30pm Saturday on BTN.