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The baseline

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What should be an average season for Rutgers football? Let's look at the top 10 states at producing NFL players (this does not perfectly correlate to college success, but it's as useful a heuristic as any).

States sending most players to NFL
from high schools
North Carolina

Of course, this kind of approach is not perfect. Many states have multiple BCS conference teams competing for local talent. Many in New England and the West don't have any. The point is clear though: while New Jersey has produced some very good talent over the years, it, by itself, can not solely sustain a perennial national championship contender.

Another point that Rutgers fans need to be cognizant of is that, while Rutgers is doing a better job of keeping elite talents like Kenny Britt and Anthony Davis at home, it cannot win every battle. Even an Ohio State or LSU, programs that have near-monopolies in terms of local football support, does not keep every local player home. What's important here is to set realistic expectations. Greg Schiano cannot possibly keep every good local player home. Rather, what we should strive for is relative improvement: keeping more of the best home every year (which Rutgers has done), and trying to crack the top 25 (which they may do this year). A top 25 class is a disappointment if you think you're USC. If expectations are realistic, it should be a cause for celebration.

One potential X-factor is the lure of New York City (and to a lesser extent, Philadelphia) - both in its tremendous media presence and affluence. Being located over 30 miles away, New Brunswick and Piscataway will never be able to fully utilize the city or be fully embraced by it. Having their own base of support is still better than nothing; and a portion of NYC is still worth more than a majority elsewhere if Rutgers plays its cards right, which is always far from a given.

Seven or eight wins is not a disappointment. New Jersey does not produce the talent of an Ohio or a Louisiana, and it has not built up the level of fan support that those areas enjoy. That doesn't mean it can't improve in such areas in the future. If an Ohio/Louisiana with OSU/LSU-level support leads to a top 5 or top 10 program, then, in time, New Jersey with that level of support could mean a top 20 program that will have very good years when things go its way.

At this point in the football program's trajectory, seven or eight wins are what should be expected, all other factors being equal, in an average year. This is a rough estimation - I think that the most similar program to Rutgers is Maryland, as their state shares similar demographics to New Jersey, is geographically close, and the Terps are the only BCS conference program in their state. The Terrapins had some good teams early in Ralph Friedgan's tenure, but have been bleeding local talent during the past few season.

I think that Maryland's recent blah performance is the downside of where Rutgers football can go over the next few years. The upside is knocking in on a nine, ten-win range and breaking through into the next tier of programs. That's roughly in the Wisconsin range. Purely in terms of hypotheticals, our ceiling is higher than theirs. Don't forget, their football program was in a very dark place before they hired Barry Alvarez. Rutgers football; badgering our way to the top.