After last weekend’s 58-0 blowout loss to #2 Ohio State, Rutgers now faces another tall task in Saturday’s “Stripeout” game versus #4 Michigan. The line opened in Vegas with Jim Harbaugh and company being favored by 26.5 points, but it’s likely to increase throughout the week. The game will be shown on ESPN2 and kickoff is set for 7pm on Saturday night.
I understand it’s not easy to be enthusiastic about the Michigan game after one of the worst losses in school history this past weekend. However, it’s important to keep perspective. We knew going into this season that the first six games included four teams ranked in the preseason polls. It’s completely fair to be frustrated that the Iowa game was one that slipped away, as they ended up losing at home to Northwestern on Saturday. The offense is a major concern with Janarion Grant out for the season and the defense took a step back against Ohio State.
I’m continuing to take the long view with this season, because the schedule always indicated that was the right approach. After Washington’s rout of #7 Stanford, the Huskies are ranked #5 in this week’s AP Poll. This means three of Rutgers first six opponents are ranked in the top 5 in the polls. That’s an incredibly difficult schedule for any team and is particularly rough for a program in major rebuilding mode. The good news is the schedule is about to get much more manageable after the Michigan game.
This team needs to build some type of confidence heading into the three game stretch that follows. First, Illinois travels to Rutgers for Homecoming on October 15th. That is a must win for sure and a game that will tell us a lot about the rest of the season for Rutgers. If they can win that game, two challenging but winnable games follow with their first ever trip to Minnesota, followed by a much needed bye week, before old friend Indiana comes to Piscataway.
Don’t misunderstand my point, all three of these games will be difficult. However, if the defense can get back on track, as well as running back Robert Martin, Rutgers will have a fighting chance. In fact, now that Michigan State lost their second conference game in a row, Rutgers does not face a ranked team as of now in the back half of their schedule. Don’t give up on this season, as the foundation for the future is still being set.
When times get tough, we need to stick together. Saturday is a big game, regardless of whether you think Rutgers has any shot of being competitive, let alone win. As our Griffin Whitmer stated yesterday, there are a lot of positives to focus on regarding the future of this program. But guess what, going through this painful journey of rebuilding is a duty of being a true fan. These players deserve our support Saturday and the rest of the season. A big turnout and excited crowd can certainly help this team start out better against Michigan than they did against Ohio State.
Although some of the scores might not feel like it, this season is far better than last. The program isn’t stuck in a failed coaching regime with little support from their athletic director. We have Pat Hobbs in charge now and while Chris Ash is still learning on the job, his experience in the Big Ten and his vision for Rutgers is exciting. If you forgot about the 2015 season Rutgers had, then turn to 2016 Purdue. They lost 50-7 to Maryland on Saturday. While Maryland is certainly improving, they are not anywhere near among the conference elite. Darrell Hazell is in his 4th year at Purdue and it’s looking more and more like they will need to start over after this season. That is something to be depressed about, not what is going on at Rutgers.
The rebuilding process is already underway, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be some difficult times. This past Saturday wasn’t fun and this coming weekend against Michigan could be ugly as well. However, our school is older than America and was started in honor of a Revolutionary War hero. A rough patch in October against two of the best teams in the country is no reason to give up on this program. Keep perspective on this season and believe this team can prove it’s making progress by winning a few games down the stretch. I wrote back in July that patience should be the only mantra this season. Show up Saturday, let’s make this stripeout happen, and let’s support our football program. Because when Ash does turn the corner and make Rutgers a good football team, it will be much sweeter if we went through this rebuild together!