When and Where: Sept. 25, at Piscataway, New Jersey
Ah, Rutgers, the place where it all began...
September 11, 2008. Thursday night ESPN game. UNC hadn't won a game outside the state in six years. The dark blue pants. Carolina lays a 30-point whipping on Rutgers and announces the Butch Davis rebuilding project in Chapel Hill is ahead of schedule as the first of back-to-back 8-win seasons takes flight that Thursday night in Piscataway.
The Heels return to New Jersey in their 3rd game to face a Rutgers team that went 9-4 in 2009 with a freshman quarterback in Tom Savage and a freshman wideout in Mohamed Sanu. Savage threw for over 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, while Sanu had nearly 650 yards receiving and 350 yards rushing from the Wildcat set. But injuries have beset the Knights receivers in the preseason, as starter Tim Wright was lost for the year with a knee injury, and a number of others have been banged up as one of the team's deepest positions has quickly become its thinnest. Former wide receiver Mason Robinson, who had been moved to running back, has returned to receiver to bolster this group. A re-tooled offensive line will work in front of Savage and will attempt to open things up for returning leading rusher Joe Martinek, who is a possession back and not a speedster.
The defense will be a veteran group for the Knights, despite losing key players along the line, linebackers, and secondary. Rutgers returns six starters from a defensive unit that ranked in the top 20 nationally in seven categories, including tackles for loss and turnovers. The defense has unprecedented depth and the players who are stepping into starting roles saw time last year. The Knights boast three returning starters up front, including All-Big East selection Scott Vallone, and a strong defensive end in Alex Silvestro, who recovered four fumbles and had an interception last season.
In what is becoming a common theme among UNC and its opponents, the Knights' defense may have to carry an underperforming offense. But head coach Greg Schiano, who is thought by many to be biding his time in the Garden State until his former boss Joe Paterno finally retires at Penn State, is considered one of the game's best coaches. Schiano was Butch Davis' defensive coordinator at Miami before heading to Rutgers to revive a moribund program, and Schiano has led the Knights to five straight winning seasons, averaging over 8 wins per year during that time.
With all the offensive questions, Rutgers has been picked a distant fifth in the Big East preseason poll and received no votes in either of the preseason national polls. Still, a road game in New Jersey against a well-coached Schiano team will certainly not be an easy out.
(H/T to ScarletKnights.com and NJ.com)