When Greg Schiano stood at the podium during his introductory press conference as the newly-appointed head coach at Rutgers, he wasted little time re-introducing his goals for the program. They were the same as they had been nearly 20 years ago when Schiano was selected to lead the Scarlet Knights the first time: win the national championship and be ranked No. 1 in the country.
Schiano set expectations that most college football programs would label as “lofty.” At Rutgers, a program that hasn’t won a conference game since 2017, and totaled just seven league victories since joining the B1G in 2014, achieving those goals seem about as likely as snowfall hitting South Miami.
Bypassed in Schiano’s presser were the baby steps that must be taken before the thought of national championship can even enter the picture. Developing a competitive product, playing in a bowl game, winning a division title and claiming a conference championship are all obstacles for Rutgers. And, since the thought of winning the B1G East is a pretty foggy image in the crystal ball, let’s talk about how quickly the Scarlet Knights can leap the first two hurdles: competitiveness and a postseason berth.
Looking at the way Schiano has approached this offseason since being hired, it may come quicker than you anticipate.
Over the last two months, Schiano plunged into the NCAA transfer portal, wading through the waters in an attempt to bring skill and experience to Piscataway. With so little time left before the 2020 recruiting class signs on the dotted line, it was his best option to try and quickly re-establish Rutgers as a somewhat formidable opponent, rather than the laughingstock of the B1G.
His plan has worked pretty well considering the circumstances.
Six players who entered the NCAA transfer portal have already committed to Rutgers, including four with previous B1G experience. Most surprising were Wisconsin wide receiver Aron Cruickshank and Michigan defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, both significant contributors with their previous programs.
Ohio State athlete Brendon White and ex-Buckeye defensive tackle Malik Barrow also committed to Rutgers. Barrow spent one season with UCF after his time in Columbus. Through the portal, Schiano was also able to secure pledges from Ireland Burke, a defensive tackle from Boston College, and Peyton Powell, a dual-threat quarterback out of Baylor.
With another swarm of transfer portal entries likely to come after spring practice ends across college football, there’s a good chance Schiano convinces a few more to give Rutgers a chance. And with a healthy influx of players with college experience coming into the program, it sets the Scarlet Knights up to enjoy some quick success on the field.
To be clear, Schiano is still working largely with a group that has won just three times in 24 games over the last two seasons, and a recruiting class that ranks 13th in the B1G and 61st nationally. Landing a few players from the transfer portal doesn’t automatically put Rutgers in the postseason conversation, especially with no guarantees for immediate eligibility for some of the newcomers.
We’re not dealing with instant grits.
But adding depth and experience through transfer has worked in the B1G before. Jeff Brohm inherited a Purdue team that had finished with a 3-9 record in 2016 before being named the head coach in 2017. The Boilermakers had been in the B1G basement for four seasons under Darrell Hazell.
Due to the limited time on the recruiting trail, Brohm landed a half-dozen junior college transfers and brought a few players from Western Kentucky with him to West Lafayette. By the end of the year, Purdue was 6-6, defeated Arizona in the Foster Farms bowl and pieced together back-to-back top 30 recruiting classes in 2019 and 2020.
If it could happen at Purdue, it could happen at Rutgers.
The 2020 schedule sets up perfectly for the Scarlet Knights to make a decent improvement to its record from this past season. When you look past the traditional powers of the B1G East — Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan — it’s actually not that frightening.
Rutgers opens the year with FCS opponent Monmouth, followed by another home game against Syracuse, who finished the 2019 season with a 5-7 record. The three B1G West opponents the Scarlet Knights will face — Illinois, Nebraska and Purdue — all ended last year with losing records. Of those three, only the Illini appeared in a bowl game.
Maryland finished the season 3-9. Indiana won eight games, but failed to beat a team with a winning record. Michigan State dropped five-straight games in the middle of the season to finish 7-6.
The B1G might as well have wrapped this schedule as a “welcome home” gift to Schiano.
Regardless of whether or not Rutgers has a legitimate shot to reach that all-important six-win mark in Schiano’s first season back on the sidelines, it’s not much of a reach to believe the Scarlet Knights can have a more competitive product instantly. And, when a program has been trapped in the bottom of a well for as long as Rutgers has, isn’t that all you can really ask for?
Schiano understands that other B1G teams aren’t going to sit around and wait for Rutgers to catch up — he said as much during his introductory press conference. He’s also not interested in wasting time, waiting for a few recruiting classes to come in before he starts rebuilding a program he once led into the national spotlight.
By diving headfirst into the transfer portal, Schiano is sending the message that he wants to start winning — and fast.