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Rutgers football after the bye: previewing the heart of the B1G lineup

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The Scarlet Knights have already played two conference games, but the next three should tell us more about this team.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

All Kyle Flood needs is one more win, and his Knights are headed to the postseason. Entering the bye, Rutgers looks good with five wins and one loss, but they have yet to play the most difficult portion of the B1G schedule. Outside of a trip to East Lansing for a date with the Michigan State Spartans, the next three games before the second and final bye week will show us exactly how competitive the Scarlet Knights can be with the Big Ten's best.

October 18 - @ Ohio State Buckeyes

Michigan State might be the reigning Rose Bowl champs, but the Buckeyes are the class of the Big Ten. They own the last national championship by the conference, went to two straight national title games during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, and basically carried the conference banner from the Jim Tressel era into the Urban Meyer era. I remember during the Big East days when West Virginia caused fits for Rutgers, and even in years when the Scarlet Knights had a chance, they came up just short. Sadly, I could see the same thing happening with Ohio State. They are loaded at every position, have an elite head coach, and unlike the other three teams in this stretch, have a quarterback who can run and pass. I want to believe RU can win this one, but it would take a serious upset, and playing in front 100,000 OSU fans doesn't necessarily make the task any easier.

Buckeye QB J.T. Barrett has settled nicely into his role as leader of the offense, as he has thrown for 909 yards, 14 TDs, and 1 INT since the loss to Virginia Tech. The defensive line is starting to live up to their hype as well, with DE Joey Bosa leading the team with 7 tackles for loss (3.5 sacks). Urban Meyer's team started off slow, but they're beginning to look like a serious challenger to Michigan State.

October 25 - @ Nebraska Cornhuskers

After a visit to the legendary Horseshoe, the Scarlet Knights travel 1,289 miles across the country to another tough venue: Nebraska's Memorial Stadium. A blueblood of college football, Nebraska owns a 337-game streak of consecutive sellouts dating back to 1962, so Rutgers is in for quite the two game stretch as the newest member of the Big Ten. The aura of the Cornhuskers and the Blackshirts might have lost some luster since the mid-1990s, but Nebraska is still impressive at home, going 28-5 at Memorial Stadium since the 2010 season.

The key cog for Nebraska's offense is, without a doubt, Ameer Abdullah. The senior RB was an early Heisman favorite but hit a setback in a loss to Michigan State this past Saturday. Still, Abdullah is a beast of a runner and has accumulated 878 yards through six games, as well as a 6.36 yard/carry average. Defensively, the Cornhuskers have one of the best defensive players in the conference not on Rutgers' roster. Randy Gregory is another star B1G name who's living up to the hype, and could make life difficult for Gary Nova and the offensive line. Good news for Scarlet Knight fans? Bo Pelini has only lost one game so far, and his contract requires him to lose four per year. With six games left, Rutgers has a good chance of being one of them!

November 1 - Wisconsin Badgers

Ah, Rutgers homecoming. It hasn't always quite gone the Knights' way, so why not schedule it against a good team? After two straight tough road games, RU returns to the friendly confines of #TheBirthplace to host Wisconsin. The Badgers have enjoyed one of the most successful runs in program history from 2010-2012, although they were gifted that last Rose Bowl trip by Ohio State's being on probation. It's still too early to tell whether Gary Andersen can continue Bert's success in Madison, but by most accounts the Badgers are still a contender in the West division.

This game looked more difficult before the season started, but then we learned that Tanner McEvoy is not a Power Five-caliber quarterback (Joel Stave isn't any better). They're not a sure win either, despite Northwestern holding on for a victory (it's starting to look like a blessing not having Northwestern on the schedule this year). Melvin Gordon is arguably the best running back in the conference, and as long as he gets his touches he'll give Wisconsin a good chance to win any game. The Badgers are solid defensively, too, giving up a mere 15.6 points per game in 2014.

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If you want to see how well Rutgers can compete in the Big Ten, these are the games to watch. Each of these three programs have been to the B1G Championship Game in its short history and are always in the running for the Rose Bowl. Winning just one out of three in this stretch would be considered very good, and just staying competitive would be a good sign for Rutgers as well.