Yesterday, Josh Moyer of the ESPN Big Ten blog detailed the common characteristics of past B1G champions within the past decade. He wanted to find out what makes a Big Ten champion; specifically, what were the shared traits that each champion had? The results were not quite surprising, considering the reputation of the midwest conference. What might surprise fans not wearing Scarlet (at least New Jersey scarlet) is that Rutgers hit on every category. Let's take a look at the criteria used in the article:
Run, run, run the ball - and forget about the pass
"No passing offense from the last 15 Big Ten champions ranked nationally within the top 35, but 11 of the champs' rushing offenses ranked within the top 30."
Rutgers may not be near the top of this category statistically, but the mentality is there. Running the football is always the priority for the Scarlet Knights, and that goes further back than Coach Flood. Since 2007, Rutgers has always attempted more rushes than passes except for the 2011 season. Last year, Rutgers' rushing numbers would have been much better if Paul James stayed healthy. Many analysts are high on RU's chances in the Big Ten if James can stay healthy for 2014, so much so that the very same ESPN blog deemed PJ a possible 1,000-yard rusher next season.
Things shouldn't change anytime soon, as new OC Ralph Friedgen is known for adapting his play-calling to the talent on the roster. With QB Gary Nova as the most likely starter, the Fridge will need to utilize the rushing game as much as possible to take pressure off the embattled quarterback.
Defense > Offense
"One-third of champions' defenses were ranked within the top five and 13 of 15 were ranked within the top 20. No team that won an outright championship finished worse than No. 15 in total defense or No. 17 in scoring defense."
No doubt about this one: when you think of the Scarlet Knights, you think of aggressive defense. Even with a record-setting offense in 2007 (2,000 yard rusher, two 1,000 yard receivers), and aside from the struggles in the secondary last season, the foundation of the program was built on defense. Take a look at some recent rankings:
|Year||Scoring Defense Rank||Total Defense Rank|
*stats from cfbstats.com
Barring the 4-8 debacle from 2010, the rest of the numbers are quite impressive, especially the #18 scoring defense in 2008, a season that saw the Knights start 1-5. Rutgers might be coming off a down year, especially on defense, but it's more likely that Rutgers will return to the norm of solid defensive units, especially considering the team is as talented as ever.
Control the turnover battle - and the clock
"Only two champs - Ohio State in 2005 and 2007 - were able to win a title without a positive turnover margin. More than half of the champs (8 of 15) ranked nationally within the top 15 of turnover differential. In time of possession, every Big Ten title winner has controlled the clock since 2006."
Strip for the fumble. Force interceptions. Block kicks. Any of these sound familiar? They're all fundamentals of the swarm mentality for Rutgers defense and special teams. From 2008-2012, the Scarlet Knights finished with a positive turnover margin for the season, including top-30 rankings from 2010-2012 and a #2 national ranking in 2009. Without a doubt, forcing turnovers is a big part of Rutgers football.
In time of possession, RU has controlled the clock in every season from 2007-2012, good for an average ranking of 34th in the nation during that same time. That's including years in which Rutgers has struggled with consistent rushing production in the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Run defense > pass defense
"[I]n the Big Ten, a strong front seven seems to trump a strong secondary any day. Eight Big Ten champs had rushing defenses that rank within the top 10 nationally, while half that number could say the same about their pass defense."
Even the 2013 Scarlet Knights can fit into this category. While Rutgers is slowly building a reputation as "defensive back U", the Kyle Flood era is marked by stellar run defenses. This may not have fit well in the American Athletic Conference, but it works perfectly for our new workplace. The Big Ten is home to some great rushing offenses coinciding with the first point of running the ball, so having a good run D will come in handy. The 2012 and 2013 defensive units finished #6 and #4 in the nation, respectively. If RU can continue that trend, they'll be in good shape entering conference play.
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Does this mean Rutgers is the next Big Ten champion? Simply put, no. Odds are that the next conference champ will come from somewhere other than Piscataway once the 2014 season is over. However, Rutgers shouldn't be a doormat either. The fact is, the Knights are a good fit for what the Big Ten wants in a football program: hard-nosed, blue-collar, pound the rock-type of football. Where they go from the inaugural season is the real question.
These next couple of years will be formative and will most likely guide RU to the top of the division or down to the bottom. A couple of big wins in-conference will build momentum on the recruiting trail. Blowouts will set the program back when it has an amazing opportunity to grow into a premier destination.
No matter what happens, the framework is in place for Rutgers to be extremely successful in the new workplace.