PISCATAWAY, NJ -- Broadway shows often have out-of-town tryouts before opening night in New York. Pro sports teams always play exhibition games before their real seasons begin.
College football is different.
Last week’s 48-0 thumping of little North Carolina Central University did, in fact, really and truly count as an official Week 1 victory for Rutgers, but now it’s on to prime time.
Saturday afternoon, the Scarlet Knights travel to Chapel Hill to take on a worthy competitor that’s regarded as a bowl contender with a sprinkling of future NFL players on both sides of the line.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano doesn’t want to call this trip to the University of North Carolina any kind of make or break situation for the season, but he knows it will show much more about his team than last week’s frolic showed.
“I don't know if I would call it a barometer game,” Schiano said. “They are a good team. They are definitely -- they are a very good team. We are taking a huge step up in competition this week.”
And that’s putting it mildly.
Despite a year-long NCAA investigation that led to turmoil, suspensions and the eventual dismissal of coach Butch Davis, last year’s Tar Heels still managed to go 8-5, including an overtime victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
This year, national publications say Carolina is a better team than the 2010 version, and that spells a major challenge for the untested Knights -- albeit an early-season, non-conference challenge.
“Yeah, we are playing a good team, so let’s find out how we stack up against them,” Schiano said. “This is a team that’s, talent-wise, one of the better teams in America as far as talent goes when you look across the board.”
For Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd, things will look a lot different from last week’s workout. For starters, he’ll be facing an experienced defense anchored by defensive end Quinton Coples, a consensus All-America prospect.
“He is as good a player as there is in America,” Schiano said. “He’ll be a second or third pick in the draft I think. You are looking at guys that are NFL players.”
And, things don’t get any rosier for RU when Carolina goes on offense, led by a front line that averages 320 pounds apiece to protect quarterback Bryn Renner, who merely completed 22 of 23 passes for 277 yards in the Tar Heels’ season-opening 42-10 thrashing of outmatched James Madison.
“They are calling him -- I read somewhere they call him “Baby Brett Favre” and I can see why,” Schiano said. “He’s mobile and he can make every play. Not a ball hit the ground (last) Saturday. I don't know if I’ve ever seen that in a college football game.”
As for that super-sized offensive line:
“This O-line, I don’t want to, you know, overdo it, but this O-line is as good as we’ll face,” Schiano said. “They are huge, they are athletic, they are experienced. I don’t know what they are not.”
Rutgers (1-0) will look to fluster Renner, who is making just his second collegiate start. With Schiano back to calling defensive signals, the Knights might send linebackers, corners, safeties or even water boys on blitzes of every kind to try to crack through that monstrous Tar Heels line.
Carolina (1-0) will no doubt try to show early dominance in the trenches, and if the home team can stop Rutgers’ rushing game, then RU might look to get its offense going with some quick hit passes to the flat that won’t require a lot of time for Dodd to set up in the pocket -- if there is a pocket.
-- After last week’s low-key debut on ESPN3, Saturday afternoon’s game can be seen live on SNY. Kickoff is 12:30. Radio coverage, as always, comes from WOR-AM 710 or flagship WCTC-AM 1450.
-- Carolina’s interim head coach, Everett Withers, was a standout defensive back at West Virginia in his playing days. He was the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator before taking over for Davis, who was dismissed in July after NCAA investigations into “improper benefits” and “academic misconduct.”
-- Rutgers holds a 3-2 all-time series advantage over Carolina, including a season-opening 21-16 victory in 2006, when sophomore running back Ray Rice gained 201 yards while quarterback Mike Teel was going 14-for-20 for 145 yards in the air… Rutgers is 21-57-1 all-time against the ACC.
-- Kicker San San Te is sixth among active NCAA booters with 46 career field goals. He’s tied for 10th all-time in the Big East… RU’s Jeremy Ito (2004-07) is No. 1 all-time Big East with 80 field goals.
-- After this one, Rutgers has a bye week before resuming business at home against Ohio on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Carl Barbati has covered Rutgers football on and off at New Jersey daily newspapers for over 20 years. His previews, game stories and columns can now be read exclusively at The Alternative Press.