As Gary Nova sees it, Rutgers is the new kid at school.
“We don’t expect to have too much respect,” the quarterback said as the Scarlet Knights players reported for training camp.
And they don’t have any.
Rutgers jumps to the Big Ten this season and was picked to finish last in the conference in most polls. The players see that as a source of motivation.
“You can definitely sense that no one is really giving us a chance,” defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said. “They feel like we’re really a doormat just to be stepped on, so we’re taking that as a challenge and we’re going to be ready.”
Rutgers has all five starters back on the offensive line, a pass-catching threat at tight end in Tyler Kroft, a slew of good receivers and talented running backs in Paul James and Justin Goodwin.
The main question is whether Nova can regain his starting spot. He was benched in favor of senior Chas Dodd last season because of erratic play and spent spring ball competing with fourth-year junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano.
Nova had a solid spring, and with 28 career starts, the job appears to be his to lose under new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen.
Defensively, Rutgers has a strong front seven with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder at linebacker and Hamilton anchoring the defensive line. Coaches are looking to shore up a secondary that gave up a school-record 4,580 yards through the air last season.
“Everyone in the media telling us how (physical the Big Ten is), we’ve heard it enough,” Snyder said. “And we know how to play physical football. That’s nothing we don’t do.”
And lining up weekly against the upper-echelon teams of college football is something the players are ready for.
“I know that we can hang with all these teams. I tell them that we can hang with anyone, it doesn’t matter where,” Snyder said. “And don’t be surprised when we beat people. That’s all I say. No guarantees or anything like that, but don’t be surprised.”
Although the players might be pinning those preseason rankings to the bulletin board, coach Kyle Flood has other concerns.
“I don’t really worry about where we were picked,” he said. “I don’t need any more motivation when I wake up in the morning other than to be the Big Ten Eastern Division champion and have the opportunity to play in the Big Ten championship game.
“And I know our players have said a few things about having a chip on their shoulder. And if that’s how they feel, they have a right to feel that way. But, for me, being the Big Ten Eastern Division champion is the only motivation I need.”
• Wake Forest running back Dominique Gibson has been suspended for violating undisclosed team rules. Gibson is the team’s leading returning rusher, having gained 138 yards on 53 carries with a touchdown last season.
• Johnny Lujack, the quarterback who led Notre Dame to three national championships and won the Heisman Trophy in 1947, is recovering after spinal surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He is 89.