RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
Record: 8-4, 4-3 Big East
You already know that Rutgers was the preseason pick to finish last in the Big East. Coach Greg Schiano did not quibble much with that when the season started, saying his team had to prove it was better. The Scarlet Knights did that in a big way, doubling their win total from a season ago and coming up one win short of clinching a share of their first Big East championship. They had their shot in the season finale at UConn and lost 40-22, a defeat that will sting for a while because of how close they came to the title.
Still, plenty went right for Rutgers this season. Receiver Mohamed Sanu had a standout season. The revamped defense was faster, and much better with Schiano back in charge, leading the league in total defense. There still are some kinks that have to be worked out on offense -- there has to be more consistency in the run game and quarterback questions continue to dog this team. But given that, Rutgers was able to overcome plenty of adversity to make a bowl game for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Offensive MVP: Mohamed Sanu, WR. Sanu set the school and Big East single-season record with 109 receptions for 1,144 yards and seven touchdowns. The next-closest receiver -- Quron Pratt -- had 31 receptions. Sanu was clutch, and could always be counted on for the tough grab and a first down.
Defensive MVP: Khaseem Greene, LB. After moving from safety, Greene put together one of the best seasons in the Big East, leading the league with 127 tackles. He was the heart of the improved defense, and had seven games with double-digit tackle totals.
Turning point: A 20-17 overtime victory over USF. Rutgers trailed 17-3 with a little over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and appeared headed to its third consecutive loss, which would have knocked it out of the conference title race. But Jeremy Deering started to change that. His kickoff return for a touchdown inched Rutgers closer. Then Chas Dodd, who came in for Gary Nova in the fourth quarter, threw a touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman to tie the game. Maikon Bonani missed a 27-yard field-goal attempt that would have won it in regulation for USF, and Rutgers won in overtime to keep its championship hopes alive.
What's next: A bowl appearance against Iowa State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, and then some tough decisions. Do Sanu and Greene leave for the NFL draft? Will Dodd hang around for another season if Nova is the starter? This team is going to be one of the most experienced in the Big East coming back for 2012, so preparation has to begin today for another run at a title.