Big Ten Team Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

WNUR’s Jesse Kirsch (@JesseRKirsch) previews his hometown Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and why New Jersyans will have to wait to see Big Ten success. WNUR’s staff poll seemed to agree with Jesse; Rutgers’ introduction to the Big Ten will be turbulent at first.

WNUR’s Prediction: Rutgers will finish last in the Big Ten East, with a 4-8 record, 1-7 in conference. 

6-7: a record that reeks of mediocrity.  But color the picture with blowout losses to Cincinnati and Houston, and the image suddenly seems even grimmer.

This characterized the 2013 Rutgers Football season; and it is not going to get any easier this year—Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State are all on the schedule.

Flying past billboards on the New Jersey Turnpike, I just barely have enough time to read the proclamation, “Big Time Academics. Big Ten Athletics.”  This first B1G season will certainly be academic for Rutgers, as the European football commentators like to say.

I am a Jersey Boy, born and bred.  And still, I am going on the record to say that I think Rutgers will be lucky to win three or four conference games.  Adjusting to the pace of Big Ten Football will certainly be challenging.  But to begin with, the Scarlet Knights are not a fundamentally sound team.

On average, opponents outscored Rutgers by more than three points.  Adding to the offense qualms is the fact that the Scarlet Knights rely more on the run than the pass.  Every team mentioned above ranked in the top 10 for rush defense in the conference last year.

Gary Nova hopes to lead Rutgers as they start their first year in the Big Ten

Gary Nova hopes to lead Rutgers as they start their first year in the Big Ten

A bright spot, perhaps, Gary Nova passed for 18 touchdowns last year and he will be returning for his senior season.  Having started 28 games over the last 3 years, Nova ranks 5th all-time on Rutgers’ list with 6407 yards.  He also has the three-spot on the TD list with 51.  On the downside, Nova has thrown 30 interceptions between the last two seasons.  A strong secondary, like Michigan State’s will certainly make the Scarlet Knights pay for an errant pass.

Defensively, Rutgers has much less experience.  Many of the older DBs have seen few games and have weak numbers.  Lorenzo Waters, a 5th-year senior, stands out for the Scarlet Knights.  Waters recorded nine tackles for a loss last year with one interception as well.

The field goal unit has held its own.  But this year’s punter, Joe Roth, has ZERO experience.  The special teams’ game is as important as anything and the wind of Big Ten stadiums is unforgiving.  Special teams could be a weak point for an already vulnerable Scarlet Knights team.

Rutgers football drew the short straw this year.  They face OSU, MSU, and Nebraska—all on the road.  The heartland can be anything but friendly for the opposing squad.

Ultimately, Rutgers will begin its Big Ten tenure with low expectation.  But if there’s one thing you can bet on happening with a group of Jersey Boys (pun completely intended!), it’s them bouncing back after a tough bout—“stronger than the storm” ring a bell?

It won’t be pretty, and it will take some time, but Rutgers could flourish in the Big Ten… just not right now.

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