Our Big Ten preview series is back. Over the next few weeks, we’ll make our way through the Big Ten East and West from the bottom to the top. Day two of the countdown profiles the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, analyzed by our Jesse Kirsch.
2014 Record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 B1G
2015 WNUR Projected Record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 B1G
Key Returners: Desmond Peoples (RB), Robert Martin (RB), Leonte Carroo (WR)
Key Departures: Gary Nova (QB), Lorenzo Waters (CB)
When your quarterback graduates and the next best option saw just five games’ worth of action, there’s reason to worry about your offense’s prospects. Yes, Peoples and Martin stand as glimmers of hope in an otherwise seemingly dark 2015 campaign. But you can’t rely exclusively on the run game, especially in a power conference. Carroo could prove to be an effective weapon downfield, but until the new QB shows his mettle, wide receivers are worthless. Don’t expect any Rutgers standouts to headline the NFL draft. This is a low end team in a B1G field of competition.
Defense is a similar story. They will be solid, especially in the box. The Scarlet Knights effectively pressure opponents’ quarterbacks and earn the TFLs to show it. But in the secondary, Rutgers cannot always go toe to toe; opponents compiled nearly twice as many interceptions over the course of the 2014 season. All the more concerning is the graduation of Gareef Glashen, the top pass defender in New Brunswick last year. With a particularly vulnerable secondary, the Scarlet Knight defense will have some fine-tuning to focus on over the summer.
Special Teams Preview:
Good news! The kicker, Kyle Federico, can knock them through–his 76.2 make percentage in 2014 was third in school history. Oh yeah, and he’s heading into his senior year. Experience, power, consistency. Take a breath. Punter Tim Gleeson also enters his final season. With an average of 40.3 yards per punt, he’ll come in handy when the midwest winds try to fight him late in the season.
Things will never be easy for the Knights. By week two they are up against a Pac-12, albeit a weak Pac-12, team. Rutgers needs to start out 2-0 to have any kind of momentum as they take the road week three and head for Happy “Death” Valley. Playing host to champion Ohio State will help with the energy, but the B1G will always be a gladiator match to the death. Coming off a winning season and 3 conference victories, Coach Flood shouldn’t sweat it. But he needs to find a way to get creative and break even this season, or else he could be on his way out.
Best case, Rutgers goes 5-3 in conference with losses to OSU, Nebraska and Wisconsin. Worst case, the Scarlet Knights come off with just one B1G win: against Indiana. Toppling the Hoosiers ain’t nothing to hoot about, so I suggest the gents in Jersey start running drills on the parkway… NOW.