PISCATAWAY - Rutgers has one more chance to get to the Bowl Championship Series and win a conference title before the former becomes impossible and the latter much more difficult.
Coming off a share of the Big East championship, this is a transition season for coach Kyle Flood and his Scarlet Knights (9-4). It's their last season in the newly renamed American Athletic Conference before moving to the Big Ten next season, when the Bowl Championship Series is replaced by the College Football Playoff. On the schedule, Connecticut, South Florida and Cincinnati will be replaced by the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
"I don't think this is a transition year," said sophomore defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, the son of former Giants defensive lineman Keith Hamilton. "I think we are going to come out with the same mentality. We play to win. We play to win, nothing less."
Flood has to find a way to replace seven starters on a defense that was top 10 nationally to challenge pre-season favorite Louisville and Cincinnati in the conference. The second-year coach also might have more work with newcomers SMU, Houston, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State and Central Florida on the schedule, and Temple, Cincinnati, South Florida and nonconference opponent Arkansas all with new coaches.
Once the laughing stock of college football, the Scarlet Knights will be trying to earn their eighth bowl bid in nine seasons.
Five things to watch about the team that boasts being the birthplace of college football:
1. Nova - not the PBS show: Gary Nova had an inconsistent sophomore year in his first full season as quarterback. His dismal play at the end of the year was one of the main reasons the Scarlet Knights stumbled and didn't get that first BCS bowl bid, and he knows it. He's rededicated himself, lost 20 pounds and revamped his throwing motion, resulting in a 15 of 17 performance for 275 yards and two touchdowns in a scrimmage on Aug. 10. Look for a lot more big plays to junior WR Brandon Coleman, a certain high-round NFL draft pick who might be playing his final season in college.
2. Back seven on defense: Five of the seven starters on the back seven are gone, including Khaseem Greene, the two-time Big East defensive player of the year and three players drafted by the New England Patriots, CB Logan Ryan, S Duron Harmon and MLB Steve Beauharnais. Both cornerbacks are new but graduate transfer Lew Toler started 36 of the last 37 games at Western Michigan. Jeremy Deering is playing strong safety after spending his first two seasons on offense as a receiver.
3. Replacing Jamison: Savon Huggins came to Rutgers as one of the most highly touted- local high school players. With Jawan Jamison's decision to go to the NFL (Redskins) Huggins is going to get his shot this season. He wants to average 100 yards a game. What may give him a chance to get that is having St. Peter's Prep teammate Keith Lumpkin, the 6-foot-8, 315 pounds sophomore, starting at left tackle. The line also projects another newcomer in redshirt freshman Chris Muller (6-6, 300) at right guard.
4. Best offseason pickup: Punter-placekicker Nick Marsh, another graduate transfer. He played at Utah and is immediately eligible to play. He averaged 40.5 yards punting in 2011 and had 25 touchbacks on 60 kickoff attempts last season. A definite one-year fix.
5. New coordinators: Flood has two new coordinators. Former Kansas State coach Ron Prince has taken over on offense for Stan Brock, who became the coach at Delaware. Prince coached Josh Freeman with the Wildcats and hopes to be a little more wide-open. Former linebackers coach Dave Cohen is running the defense. He replaced Robb Smith, who left to become Greg Schiano's linebacker coach with the Bucs. No major changes there as speed remains the key for this group which has carried Rutgers in recent years.
Predicted finish in American Athletic Conference: Third.