This time, the expectations are high on both sides of the ball as nine starters return on defense and Bryan Fortay gets ready to appear for the offense.
As fall workouts began, everyone but Graber was conceding that Fortay, the highly touted junior transfer from Miami, would be at quarterback. Graber said there would still be a competition.
But the coach would probably be the most shocked of all if Fortay, a former high school all-American from East Brunswick, N.J., didn't start in Saturday's important season opener at Boston College.
Well actually, Fortay would be the most shocked of all.
He came to Rutgers after Gino Torretta won a QB duel at Miami that Fortay was convinced he had won.
"I've never been afraid of competition," Fortay said.
Since leaving the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he was defensive coordinator, Graber has guided Rutgers to 3-8 and 6-5 records. This past season was the first winning year for the school since 1987.
"I certainly don't think we've arrived yet," Graber said. "If you ever think you've arrived, you have major problems."
But Graber also said: "For the first time, realistically, it's not a pipe
dream to think about winning enough games to go to a bowl game."
Fortay's top target this season should be senior wide receiver James Guarantano, who ran under a school-record 62 passes for a total of 740 yards last year.
Guarantano and Fortay spent a lot of time working on their timing together during the spring and summer.
"Jimmy is not the flashiest guy in the world," said Fortay, straightforward. "But I tell you what, it's like he's got two goose down pillows at the end of his wrists. It's like throwing into a big cloud."
Another receiver who should contribute is sophomore Mario Henry, from Medford, who transfered from South Carolina.
One of the biggest things he learned at Miami, Fortay said, was the importance of finding backside receivers. He thought that was a Rutgers weakness last season.
This should also help the running game, which has to improve. Rutgers averaged only 2.9 yards per carry last season. But the top four rushers are back, led by senior tailback Antoine Moore, who had 627 yards on 145 carries.
The offensive line figures to be a little bigger and a little better, led by 6-foot-2, 280-pound senior center Travis Broadbent. Next to him at guard is another returning starter, junior Joe Ciaffoni, a convert from the defensive line. Offensive tackle Scott Vaughn, a 6-6, 295-pound sophomore from Phillipsburg, N.J., transferred from Clemson.
The kicking game is in solid shape, led by junior John Benestad, who hit a 55-yard field goal - a school record - against West Virginia last season.
And the defense looks formidable, returning almost everyone from a unit that gave up just 320.6 yards a game last season. The big loss was linebacker Elnardo Webster, the leading tackler the past two seasons.
Graber clearly doesn't want this unit to get too cocky. He said he wasn't happy with its performance in spring practice. "They didn't have the edge I would have liked to have seen," he said.
Senior linebacker Shawn Williams, from Burlington Township, doesn't argue the point.
"I think we were a little too cocky," Williams said. "Just a little bit lackadaisical."
But Williams, who had 79 tackles and 13 sacks last season, added: "I expect us to be very physical. It seems everything is in place."
Two more starters back are Jamil and Malik, the Jackson brothers, both juniors from Elizabeth, N.J. Jamil, the older brother, will start at inside linebacker. Malik, a first-team all-Big East selection in 1991, is at free safety.
The strength of the team may be the secondary.
Jay Bellamy, a junior who was second-team all-conference last season, is moving from free safety to cornerback. The other cornerback is senior Marshall Roberts, an Abington High graduate who was 10th in the nation in punt returns last year.
The defensive line is experienced. Returning are senior defensive end Andrew Beckett, from Haddon Heights (N.J.) High, junior defensive tackle Mike Spitzer and senior defensive tackle Kory Kozak. Another transfer from South Carolina who returned home to New Jersey is sophomore defensive tackle Roger Jeffries, from Shawnee High. Graber has done a fairly good job of keeping New Jersey players home. And the Scarlet Knights hope that having a marquee player like Fortay could help them turn a corner by persuading the best kids to play for their state university.
What probably won't hurt is that Penn State will not be playing games all over the East Coast once the Nittany Lions are full-time members of the Big Ten next season.
"Their shadow was pretty big for many, many years," Graber said. "Now the shadow has moved to the West."