Rutgers, Fresno to rock the cradle of football

By Darrell Laurant  |   Friday, August 29, 2008  |  Comments( 1 )

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
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In 1869, Rutgers became the first college in America to host a college football season opener. The opponent was Princeton, and Rutgers won, 6-4, before a crowd of around 100.

Chances are a few more points will be scored before a few more people Monday afternoon when No. 25 Fresno State comes to town. Rutgers was 8-5 last season, Fresno State 9-5. Both teams went to bowls, and both won. Together, the Knights and Bulldogs topped 40 points nine times.

On the Rutgers side, quarterback Mike Teel threw for over 3,000 yards last season, and returning wide receivers Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt each caught more than 1,000 yards worth of passes. Star running back Ray Rice is gone, but a trio of promising newcomers are competing to be the one to fill his cleats.

The most obvious matchup this Labor Day (a game to be broadcast nationwide on ESPN) will be Teel and his wide receivers (plus tight end Kevin Brock) against a tough Bulldog secondary with three starters (cornerback Damion Owens and safeties Moses Harris and Marvin Haynes) returning.

Rutgers will have to establish the running game early with either Kordell Young, Mason Robinson or Jourdan Brooks in order for Teel to keep the visitors off balance. The Scarlet Knights have a couple of solid offensive linemen -- most notably Anthony Davis -- but were forced to replace both 2007 tackles.

One advantage for Greg Schiano's team will be a rowdy fan base that has spoken for every seat in Rutgers Stadium for the rest of the season and can make things difficult for opposing quarterbacks (in this case, Tom Brandstater) by cranking up the decibels at key moments.

The Knights face a defensive challenge from sophomore Fresno running back Ryan Mathews, who led all Division 1 freshmen with 14 touchdowns in his rookie year. So enamored were the Bulldog coaches of Mathews that they talked former Fresno star Dale Messer into putting his retired number (21) back into circulation so Mathews could wear it.

Does that mean Mathews was a Messer fan? Not really. He likes the fact that 21 was Deion Sanders' number.

Schiano says his team is savoring the challenge. As a coach, though, he probably would have preferred Princeton.
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