It's time for some actual football talk. The first two years of the Big Ten schedule with Rutgers and Maryland added to the conference slate have been released, and it's a dream lineup, at least from a pure scheduling standpoint. RU trades in games against USF, Houston, and Memphis for games against Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, and Penn State. A year ago, just getting one of those teams as a non-conference opponent would have been great. Now, three of those teams will be an annual matchup for the Scarlet Knights.
In my opinion, Maryland gets a bit of an easier schedule since the Terps drew Iowa instead of Nebraska as the crossover matchup, but both newcomers will have a meatgrinder schedule courtesy of being in the eastern time zone. Urban Meyer already has Ohio State back to elite status, Brady Hoke is about to reel in the #1 recruiting class in the country, and Penn State and Michigan State are always tough teams. What should we expect from year one in the Big Ten? Let's take a look at the conference schedule.
Bold = home games
- Penn State
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
I like that the schedule makers put the two schools who have the biggest chance of becoming a rival at the beginning and end of conference play. Once the 9-game schedule starts, it would be nice to keep that structure. By 2014, it's entirely possible that the scholarship reductions could really be affecting PSU. Starting off with a win against the Lions is doable. I do see getting beat by Michigan. Mid October looks like a brutal stretch of three very tough games, with two on the road: @OSU, @Nebraska, and home against Wisconsin. Stealing a win out of that three week stretch would be great and within the realm of possibility.
The final three conference games feature two very winnable games against Indiana and Maryland. Kevin Wilson is building something good at IU, so I don't expect that to be a cakewalk at all. Randy Edsall may not even be employed by UMd in 2014, and I don't believe a new coach or Edsall will be able to win against RU in the inaugural season. Michigan State always has an elite defense, and I just don't think Rutgers can win at Spartan Stadium in year one.
So where does that leave us? With an upset against Nebraska/Wisconsin (Wisconsin is a home game, and Gary Andersen might not turn out to be a good fit) and wins against PSU, IU, and UMd, going 4-4 in the first year of B1G play looks possible. 3-5 might be more likely, which should still get RU to a bowl game (hooray Pinstripe). Of course, I'm also assuming Rutgers goes undefeated in non-conference play. Howard, Tulane, and Navy don't look to be too much of a threat, and the addition of Wazzu to the schedule isn't all that daunting (although it will be in Pullman or Seattle, and I've always thought highly of Mike Leach).
Personnel is key in determining the success/failure of RU in 2014. Best case scenario, the trio of Gary Nova, Savon Huggins, and Brandon Coleman return (Coleman is the biggest if). The offensive line is set for years, with Kaleb Johnson and Keith Lumpkin becoming real stars, and the rest of the 2012 class stepping in to starting roles (I see big things for Chris Muller and J.J. Denman). The defense should have plenty of experience by then, with Darius Hamilton anchoring the D-line and senior Kevin Snyder leading the LB unit. SCAR transfer Sheldon Royster will be eligible by then as well, and if his 4-star talent comes through, the secondary will hold its own. If two or three draft-eligible players bail, the season becomes a lot tougher. Also, Nova's progression as a serviceable QB is necessary, unless Blake Rankin or Chris Laviano turn out to be Johnny Manziel-like (success-wise).
What do you think? Think it can be even better? Do you see this as completely biased and overly optimistic (go back to Off-Tackle Empire if you do)? Post your predictions below.