Tradition Crystal Ball: Predicting every game for Rutgers football in 2020
Editor’s note: Our annual Crystal Ball series concludes its Big Ten East segment with Rutgers. Coming Monday: Wisconsin.
Greg Schiano is returning to a different world from the last time he was at Rutgers.
When Schiano departed in January of 2012, the Scarlet Knights were a competitive team in a Big East that included the likes of Louisville, Cincinnati and Pitt. Nine years later, Schiano is starting in the basement of a challenging Big Ten East Division that includes Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Schiano can’t have success once again at Rutgers. But in order to make the next 11 years as good as his first 11-year stint there, it’s going to take quite a bit of time, resources and recruiting. In his first 4 years at Rutgers, he went 12-34. In the next 7 years at Rutgers, he went 56-33.
Since joining the B1G in 2014, Rutgers has 1 season of 8 wins, and that was in 2014. In the 5 years since, the Scarlet Knights are 13-47. And with a conference-only slate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rutgers is going to be up against it each and every week.
Not that Schiano doesn’t already know that. As the defensive coordinator at Ohio State from 2016-18, he’s well aware of the challenges of the Big Ten and should be able to exercise some patience as he attempts to build this program back up.
2019 record: 2-10 (0-9)
The quarterback battle
The competition is on between Artur Sitkowski, who started as a true freshman and part of last season, and Noah Vedral, who is a graduate transfer from Nebraska.
I’m not sure what to make of Sitkowski. He opted out of last season to preserve a season of eligibility, and he seemed to be following the path of D’Eriq King, who redshirted at Houston after playing 4 games before transferring to Miami. But Sitkowski pulled his name from the transfer portal after Schiano was hired. While some may think Sitkowski is using his newfound power to maximize his opportunity, some may also view him as quitting on his team. I can see it both ways.
Vedral filled in admirably for Adrian Martinez last season, starting twice. He is a decent-enough passer and can run a little, too. He is probably the favorite to start.
Whoever wins will have 3 years of eligibility remaining.
Rutgers needs to turn back the clock in recruiting
When Schiano was at his peak, he was churning out top-30 recruiting classes. His last class, in 2012, was 23rd nationally. The last 3 years, Rutgers has finished 56th, 65th and 61st in recruiting. That’s just not going to cut it in the Big Ten.
In Schiano’s final 2 seasons, Rutgers had 13 signees each season from New Jersey. And that is still where the majority of Rutgers’ class comes from, though it had only 8 homegrown players in the 2019 class.
The biggest difference is the caliber of player. In 2012, Rutgers had the No. 1 player from the state (Darius Hamilton), as well as 7 of the top 15. In 2019 and 2020, it had none of the top 15 players in the state. Instead, those players went to programs like Alabama, Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
There is a ton of talent in New Jersey, and that’s why so many passionately rooted for Schiano to return. He has shown that he can keep that talent at home and not let the bluebloods raid the state.
Schiano’s first class in 2021 is looking good. He has the No. 4, 8 and 11 players in New Jersey, with 4 of the top 10 players in the state still not committed. That’s a great sign moving forward.
So, how long will it take to turn this around?
This is a team that has won 9 games (4 FBS) in 4 years. Schiano is starting at the bottom, but he’s used to that. Before arriving for his first stint, Rutgers had won 9 games in the previous 4 seasons. Schiano didn’t make a bowl game until his 5th season, but once he got it going, he made a bowl in 6 of his last 7 years.
As mentioned before, it’s going to come down to recruiting, which is something Schiano has shown he can do. How many good classes does he need? Probably at least three.
Rutgers’ ceiling is probably where Indiana is right now, but it would love to start winning 6 games again and making bowl games. That’s a least a few year away, though.
Week 1: at Michigan State (L)
In a battle of 1st-year head coaches, Rutgers should have a chance at a win, which will be a rarity over the following 6 weeks. Michigan State just has more talent right now, though, plain and simple.
Week 2: vs. Indiana (L)
Schiano should take note about how Tom Allen built up his program. Schiano has access to better recruits than Allen, too.
Week 3: at Ohio State (L)
This will likely be one of, if not the most, lopsided games in the Big Ten. Ohio State’s 3rd and 4th stringers could win by 28.
Week 4: vs. Illinois (L)
This is the 5th straight year that Rutgers will play Illinois as one of its cross-division games. In 3 of those meetings, Illinois won by 17 or more. That’s not exactly taking advantage of an easy schedule.
Week 5: vs. Michigan (L)
If Rutgers is still starting the same QB in Week 5 as it did Week 1, I will be a little surprised. This will be a game where Rutgers will probably wind up playing several QBs.
Week 6: at Purdue (L)
With no Rondale Moore, maybe Rutgers could compete with Purdue. With Moore back in the fold, probably not.
Week 7: vs. Penn State (L)
This could be an unfortunate situation for Rutgers as Penn State very well could be 6-1 and looking for style points in a push for a College Football Playoff bid.
Week 8: at Maryland (L)
The last team that Rutgers beat is an opportunity for another one, but Maryland has so much more talent than Rutgers right now that I’d be surprised if the Scarlet Knights pull it off.
2020 projection: 0-8 (0-8, 7th in B1G East)
A successful first season for Rutgers would mean winning a game. Yup, just 1. Considering Rutgers is on a 21-game losing streak in the Big Ten and this is a conference-only schedule, just experiencing a victory would do wonders in building some momentum. That may sound like a low bar, but ask Arkansas how it is feeling after beating Mississippi State. There is hope yet for Rutgers.