Rutgers football: Best-case, worst-case scenarios for 2021
Rutgers struggled in the first season of Greg Schiano’s second stint as head coach.
The Scarlet Knights went 3-6 in the abbreviated 2020 season. With a full schedule kicking off in a few weeks — and all but 2 starters returning — Rutgers is an intriguing program this year.
What exactly should our expectations be? We’ve come up with some best-case and worst-case scenarios.
Best-case scenario #1: The offense takes a big leap forward
All 11 starters return to the Rutgers offense in 2021.
These same players scored 26.7 points per game, which ranked 8th out of the 14 teams in the Big Ten. This offseason was a great opportunity for development.
In this scenario, the Scarlet Knights average 29 points per game — and the offense runs like a well-oiled machine. That, obviously, leads to more wins.
But more on that later.
Best-case scenario #2: Valentino Ambrosio becomes the kicker Rutgers needs
Halfway through last year, Valentino Ambrosio made the move from Rutgers men’s soccer to football as the kicker. It worked — he made 9 of his 11 field goal attempts.
This year, Ambrosio is the starting kicker. It’s also the first time he’s gone through Rutgers football training camp. That sets him up for a big year in East Rutherford.
Having a reliable kicker is important, especially in close games. In the best-case scenario, Ambrosio is automatic and can be counted on in any big-time situation.
Best-case scenario #3: 7 wins, Quick Lane Bowl
Rutgers starts with non-conference games against Temple, Syracuse and Delaware. In a perfect world, the Scarlet Knights start 3-0.
Then, things get dicey.
To open Big Ten play, Rutgers goes to Michigan before a home matchup against Ohio State. Even in the best-case scenario, those are losses. But the third game — a home matchup with Michigan State — would be a much-needed victory to improve to 4-2.
A Week 7 game against defending Big Ten West champion Northwestern looks like another loss, but Illinois is a great opportunity for a win in Week 9 out of the bye. But Wisconsin and Indiana loom back-to-back, which both look like losses.
To close out the year in this best-case scenario, Rutgers beats Penn State on the road and upsets Maryland on home turf to close out the year. That counts for 7 wins, which puts the Scarlet Knights in the Quick Lane Bowl against a MAC opponent — their first bowl appearance since the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl.
Worst-case scenario #1: The offensive line doesn’t improve — and Vedral gets hurt
The offensive line is one of the biggest areas of concern for Rutgers in 2021. Last year, the Scarlet Knights allowed 21 sacks — second-worst in the Big Ten.
Vedral recently said he’s 100%. But if the offensive line isn’t better this year, he might not be that way for long. And the worst-case scenario is Vedral gets hurt as a result, especially considering Schiano hasn’t named a backup quarterback.
The two candidates for No. 2 on the depth chart — Cole Snyder and Evan Simon — have almost no FBS experience. Snyder saw 3 snaps at the end of his freshman season and Simon hasn’t played a down at Rutgers.
The offensive line will have to be strong to not only protect Vedral, but also give one of the backups the best chance to win if they have to step in.
Worst-case scenario #2: The defense takes a step back (or two)
Rutgers’ defense was fourth-worst in the Big Ten last year, to the tune of 32.1 points allowed per game. The Scarlet Knights lost 2 key starters — lineman Michael Dwumfour and safety Brendon White — but have the pieces for a small step forward this season.
But in the worst case scenario, the defense takes two steps back. Instead of allowing less points per game, Rutgers allows 34-35 points per contest.
The voids left by Dwumfour and White are tough to fill, which would cause some issues because the Scarlet Knights simply won’t have the depth to contain other Big Ten offenses in this scenario.
Worst-case scenario #3: 10 losses
We now enter the opposite of the best-case win/loss scenario: a 10-loss season.
Opening the year with a loss to Temple at home — in primetime on a Thursday night, no less — is where this rough ride begins. Follow it up with a loss to Syracuse and it’s almost off the rails.
A victory over Delaware gets the Scarlet Knights back on track, but Big Ten play goes as bad as one can imagine. The only win comes over Illinois in Week 9 out of the bye week, resulting in an eventual 2-10 season as Rutgers doesn’t improve at all after last season.
In a few weeks, we’ll see which of these Rutgers teams we get.