The quality of Rutgers Football has risen dramatically in the last decade. Greg Schiano was a big part of that, and his successor Kyle Flood led the Scarlet Knights into their inaugural season in the Big Ten.
Heading into its third season in arguably the nation's most competitive conference, people are still trying to figure out the identity of this Rutgers team and what it needs to do to make a run for its first conference title in program history.
Offense has never really been an issue for this team, especially the last few seasons. Four-year starter and recent graduated quarterback Gary Nova leads the school in virtually every offensive category; he just struggled with turning the ball over. When Nova was on fire, it was usually because he was finding wide receiver Janarion Grant in stride.
Since Grant's true freshman season in 2013, he has made his mark in Piscataway. It all started with him as a seldom-used slot receiver and kick returner. In his first-ever collegiate touch, an opening kick-off to start the season against Fresno State, Grant ran 100 yards to the house without even being touched.
Two weeks later, in a huge comeback win against Arkansas, Grant ran back a punt for a 70-yard TD and nearly scored another later in the game. His incredible play earned the respect of Rutgers fans, who would literally be on the edge of their seats every time the ball was sent in his direction. I would know, since I've been going to Rutgers games for Grant's whole career.
In Rutgers' first year in the Big Ten in 2014, opposing coaches learned their lessons. The ball was rarely kicked directly to Grant, and if it was, he was either swarmed right away or was forced to fair catch. In 2015, he notably returned a kick-off 98 yards for a touchdown against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan at the Big House. The return prompted the Big Ten Network broadcasters to say: "this isn't the first time he's done this, and it won't be the last." To get an idea of his skill, here's a video of that return.
However, in his senior season, with new head coach Chris Ash in charge of the unit, Grant will have a much more significant role. In a recent team scrimmage, he had several carries on offense as well as passes thrown his way. With his speed and keen ability to make people miss, Grant could have a great season for RU in 2016. In year three in the conference, it's not about holding their own anymore for the Scarlet Knights.
They want to be productive now and have a chance to play for a Big Ten championship. In its season opener on the road against No. 18 Washington, Rutgers will look to Grant.