The Big East: “Flood”-ed with winners-2012 Belk Bowl Blitz: Edition 2
By Helen Sowell
There are 124 FBS competitors, and after Week 7 only twelve remain undefeated. Would you believe that six of those programs hail from just two conferences? It’s probably not too surprising that the SEC is one of those groups, but would anyone have predicted that the other conference would be the Big East. Rutgers and Cincinnati are 6-0 while Louisville sits on a 5-0 record. Not too shabby for a conference fighting for respect beyond the basketball courts. These three teams are ranked in the BCS Top 25 (Rutgers #15, Louisville #16, Cincinnati #21) as well as the AP Top 25 (L-#16, R-#19, C-#21) and USA Today (L-#14, R-#17, C-#18). Says Commissioner Mike Aresco, “Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers are some of our core programs, and they have strong football traditions.” This is significant because all three are staying put after realignment, which helped to bolster the much-maligned conference. In fact, since 2006 the Big East is 215-89 (70.7 winning percentage) in nonconference play, behind only the SEC and the Big 12. And since 1998, the Big East has the best postseason record (43-27) of any FBS conference during the Bowl Championship Series era.
Congratulations to all three teams, but especially to Rutgers first year Head Coach Kyle Flood for the tremendous job he has done in upholding the high standards and winning tradition long established under former head coach Greg Schiano, who left for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Flood, the 29th Head Coach at the Birthplace of College Football, is the first Scarlet Knights coach to win his first six games, as Rutgers is bowl-eligible for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Flood, 41, believes that the continuity and seamless transition of moving from an assistant to the top spot has enabled the Knights to hold on to current players as well as keep almost all of their recruits. He came to Piscataway in 2005 (coinciding with the team’s first winning season since 1992) as an offensive line coach and was quickly recognized for his strong recruiting ties and his tactical skills. He had been a math teacher at St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, New York and a part-time offensive line coach at C.W. Post, Long Island in the afternoons. In 1997, the Iona College grad became running backs coach at Hofstra, then assistant head coach/OL coach at Delaware. Fifteen years after entering college coaching, as the Rutgers’ assistant head coach, Flood was hired to replace Schiano even though he had no head coaching experience, leaving doubters to question the hire. But he has approached the challenge like he would a math problem. He studied his former boss and they way he meticulously orchestrated every detail in the program making mental checklists of who he needs to speak to and each task he needs to accomplish.
“When he talks to you he gives you his undivided attention, like you’re the most important person in the world to him,” said Piscataway High coach Dan Higgins. These interpersonal skills have made him a favorite with local high school coaches who appreciate his integrity and honesty. And his love of teaching enhances his team-building skills and problem-solving acumen, leading the Scarlet Knights with a calm yet confident demeanor.
This season, the wins are rarely pretty but his solid, “old-school” defensive approach has produced. Although Rutgers ranks 82nd nationally at 25.0 points per game they are third in the country in points allowed (11.5) per contest and second in the nation against the run (60.83 yards per game).
“I have no interest in losing a 50-40 game,” Flood explains. “Our only goal once the game starts is to win it, and style points are a non-issue.” His Knights have held all six foes to less than 100 yards rushing in addition to leading the country with a 17-4 turnover margin. Criticized sometimes as too conservative Flood responds, “I think we’ve shown that we can win games different ways. We can win them on offense as we did in the Arkansas game, we can win them on defense as we have maybe in the UConn game and we can win them with defensive special teams as we did last weekend against Syracuse.” Incidentally, senior LB Khaseem Greene had a monster game versus The Orangemen with 14 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, one interception and 1 ∏ sacks earning him the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week.
So can it continue? Coach Flood certainly expects it to as he hopes for a Big East Championship (a feat even Schiano couldn’t achieve) and a BCS bowl game. This Saturday’s slate includes Rutgers visiting Temple, Louisville hosting USF and Cincinnati traveling out-of-conference to face Toledo. Inter-league play is always unpredictable but who knows, all three may come-out unscathed for another week and earn the respect each so rightfully deserves.
Answer for Belk Bowl Blitz Trivia: