Saturday Tradition’s annual Crystal Ball series continues today with Rutgers. We’ll finish the B1G East tomorrow. Next week, we’ll predict every game for every B1G West team. Previously: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland

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Like a public service message, last season Rutgers showed us why you should never be too cool for school.

The Scarlet Knights expected to be home for the holidays when a COVID outbreak at Texas A&M prevented the Aggies from playing in the Gator Bowl. But thanks to the program’s Academic Progress Rate, Rutgers was eligible to fill in as a late substitute despite its 5-7 record.

Sure, the Scarlet Knights got in through the back door. Or perhaps more accurately, through a window. But they still went bowling in Greg Schiano’s second season back in Piscataway. And that counts as major progress for a program that’s been punching above its weight class since receiving a Big Ten invitation in 2014.

This season, Rutgers will try to earn a bowl invite with its work on the field in Year 3 of the Schianossaince.

What Rutgers does well

Nobody can punt better than the Scarlet Knights.

That might come across as dismissive or a cheap one-liner, but it’s actually true. No team in the Big Ten, and perhaps in the country, is better at punting than Rutgers.

With vaunted San Diego State “Punt God” Matt Araiza now in the NFL, the door is open for Rutgers punter Adam Korsak to win this year’s Ray Guy Award. The native Aussie, whom Schiano describes as “the most interesting man in the world,” ranked near the top of the B1G with a 45.9-yard average and 45.3-yard net last season.

Clearly, no team wants its punter to be its most celebrated player. But Rutgers will need to win most of its games by attrition, and gaining the field-position edge is the best way of doing that. Korsak is actually a weapon for the Scarlet Knights.

But punting isn’t Rutgers’ only special teams strength. Did you know Rutgers leads the nation with 55 blocked kicks since 2009? Well, now you do.

Aron Cruickshank is also the B1G’s best punt returner behind Michigan State star Jayden Reed. Cruickshank averaged 20.5 yards per return last season with a touchdown before missing the second half of the year with an injury. (Also, Cruickshank is a far better last name for a punt returner than a punter, as far as omens go.)

What Rutgers must learn how to do well

This team will only have a shot at bowl eligibility if it has a viable passing game. And that’s far from guaranteed. In fact, it’s trending toward “quite unlikely.”

Noah Vedral was the worst passer in the Big Ten with at least 200 attempts last season with a 112.7 passer rating. He had 7 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and an average of just 139.5 yards per game. That’s a stat line straight out of 1972.

Given that Vedral had a 9-TD, 8-INT season in 2020, it’s likely he’s near his ceiling. Which means the Scarlet Knights need redshirt freshman Gavin Wimsatt to make up ground and pass him on the depth chart by the end of the season.

The good news for the passing game is that Schiano has addressed the receiving portion of the equation in the transfer portal. Syracuse transfer Taj Harris and West Virginia transfer Sean Ryan will likely start on the outside, with Cruickshank playing in the slot. So guys should be able to get open. But they may have to get open quickly.

Center Ireland Brown, who played left guard last season, is the only returning starter on the offensive line. Schiano has transfers from Minnesota, Colorado State and Sacred Heart filling other spots on the line, so the group is more veteran than it appears. They just haven’t played as a unit.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: at Boston College (L)

The Eagles have won 11 straight against their former Big East foes, and here’s betting the streak moves up to 12. Phil Jurkovec was the program’s most hyped quarterback since Matt Ryan before breaking his wrist early last season, and he’ll be ready to hit the ground throwing.

Week 2: vs. Wagner (W)

New Jersey vs. Staten Island. What a showdown. Loser has to claim citizenship of the Jersey Shore cast.

Week 3: at Temple (W)

The Owls are the rare team against which Rutgers is on a lengthy winning streak. The Scarlet Knights have taken 5 straight against Temple. That streak will run to 6 with Temple expected to be the worst team in the American.

Week 4: vs. Iowa (L)

In 2004, Iowa beat Penn State 6-4. A repeat of that generational performance is unlikely to ever happen again — but these feel like the right combatants to potentially recreate the magic. Both teams are offensively challenged. Iowa has a considerable defensive edge, but the Scarlet Knights are the only Big Ten team better than the Hawkeyes on special teams.

Whatever the final score may be, it will feel like Iowa won a baseball game.

Week 5: at Ohio State (L)

In 8 meetings against the Scarlet Knights, Ohio State is undefeated with an average winning margin of 42.5 points. This won’t be the year Rutgers decreases the average. Okay, maybe the Knights can chop it down to 42.

Week 6: vs. Nebraska (L)

Anything could happen on a Friday night. Vedral might even have the game of his life against his former team. And Rutgers’ edge over Nebraska on special teams could spell doom for the Cornhuskers. The Crystal Ball sees irony and Nebraska winning on a walk-off field goal. But maybe that kick is actually veering to the left …

Week 7: Bye

Week 8: vs. Indiana (W)

The Scarlet Knights haven’t won a Big Ten home game in 5 years. That depressing detail becomes a thing of the past against the Hoosiers, whom the Scarlet Knights flattened last season.

Week 9: at Minnesota (L)

Minnesota feels like a good model for what Schiano can turn this program into. Trouble is the Gophers are several steps ahead in that process. It’ll show in this game.

Week 10: vs. Michigan (W)

In the most monumental Jersey sports moment since the Devils last raised the Cup, Rutgers pulls off the stunner of the year and hands Michigan its first loss.

For whatever reason, Schiano’s team has been a headache for Michigan to deal with since his return to Rutgers. In 2020, the Wolverines needed 3 overtimes to survive the Scarlet Knights. Last year, Rutgers held Michigan to an even lower offensive output (275 yards) than Georgia did in the Orange Bowl (328).

This year, Schiano’s boys chop the door in.

Week 11: at Michigan State (L)

Coming off the high of the big Michigan win … things don’t go so well in East Lansing. Michigan State will hit its season high for sacks.

Week 12: vs. Penn State (L)

Penn State won’t be at its sharpest for what will probably be a cold and miserable road game. This one figures to be sloppy. The type of game that’s never watched again after film study. But the Nittany Lions will prevail.

Week 13: at Maryland (L)

The Terps have the Big Ten’s most explosive offense outside of Ohio State, and they’ll be ready to exploit the Scarlet Knights.

2022 Projection: 4-8 (2-7), 6th in B1G East


At Big Ten Media Days, Schiano said this Rutgers team feels like a combination of his 2004 and 2005 squads.

2004 was the year before the Scarlet Knights broke through. Rutgers went 4-7, but scored upset wins over Michigan State and Vanderbilt and played West Virginia tough.

2005 was the program’s first bout with respectability, with a 7-4 regular season resulting in a bowl appearance for the first time in 27 years.

The Crystal Ball sees the same thing. This program certainly isn’t there yet, and on paper it’s a baby-step back from last year. But a couple of long-awaited Big Ten home wins, including a signature victory over Michigan, would show Schiano has things moving in the right direction from a long-term perspective.