The college football season begins in less than four months and ESPN released their Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings. Spoiler alert, Alabama was named the preseason #1 team, the least shocking result of these rankings. Moving on, we know every season Rutgers will have a challenging schedule playing in arguably the toughest division in college football, the Big Ten East. Four months ago, we took our own way too early look at the Rutgers 2016 football schedule here. We know Rutgers faces nine teams that played in a bowl game last season. Now we know heading into the season we are likely to play a minimum of five ranked teams. Let's look at those five games in order of the schedule, including arguably the toughest three game stretch that any Big Ten team will face all season.
September 3rd AT #17 Washington
The oddsmaker's released opening week lines for college football this week and they list Rutgers as MAJOR underdogs in head coach Chris Ash's debut. Try almost three touchdowns at +20.5 points, as Rutgers will travel for the second time in three years across the country to open up their season, this time against PAC-12 opponent Washington. The Huskies are led by head coach Chris Petersen, the former Boise State coach who is in his third season in the pacific northwest. After finishing 7-6 the past two seasons, the Huskies are primed to make a big jump this season. With 15 starters returning, they have a big advantage playing a Rutgers team in their first game with a new coaching staff and new offensive system. How Rutgers plays in this game is a complete unknown, but we know the odds are against them.
September 24th HOME #23 Iowa
The first Big Ten game of the season is also the first meeting against Iowa in program history. The fighting Ferentz's return starting quarterback C.J. Beathard and 13 starters overall. They do have to replace players on both sides of the line, but they should still be one of the better teams in the Big Ten. Iowa is probably the best chance Rutgers will have to knock off a ranked opponent next season. The Hawkeyes open with three straight home games against Miami (OH), Iowa State, and North Dakota State. Not the easiest start, but one in which the defending Big Ten West champs should handle. The atmosphere at High Point Solutions Stadium for Ash's first Big Ten game should be electric, so this will be an intriguing game.
October 1st AT #10 Ohio State
The Urban Meyer-Chris Ash-Greg Schiano Trifecta Bowl? Storyline's galore exist for what will be the first conference road game for Rutgers. Ohio State has a gigantic matchup on the road against ESPN's #5 team, Oklahoma, two weeks before this game. The Buckeyes then get a early bye week before welcoming Ash back to the Horseshoe. Meanwhile, Rutgers will be coming off the Iowa game the week before. Toughest road game of the season for sure.
October 8th HOME #3 Michigan
The animosity for this matchup has escalated quickly, and should provide plenty of excitement leading up to this matchup. Don't let Michigan fans fool you, all you have to do is look at their responses on twitter regarding Griffin's article. Hilariously, they seem to have forgotten about this. The 2016 game is going to be played in primetime on either ABC or ESPN, which potentially could be selected as the annual blackout game for Rutgers. Although I'm starting to think Ash may do away with this, which might be a bit disappointing, but I understand the thought in promoting the Rutgers brand with traditional scarlet and white on national television. Either way, Michigan returns to Piscataway with a 0-1 record at The Point and this will be their first road game of the season. I think Ash and the staff will have the boys pretty fired up for this one! However, knocking off Michigan this season will be a tall order, as they could be the #1 team in the country at the time of this game.
November 12th AT #16 Michigan State
A road contest that will likely be played in frigid conditions in East Lansing, Michigan in mid-November will be a gut check game for Rutgers. Michigan State is a great model for the Rutgers program to aspire to be, and head coach Mark D'Antonio will keep this team rolling despite the loss of several key starters, including quarterback Connor Cook. The real goal will be getting out of this game as healthy as possible, with Penn State and Maryland to follow in consecutive weeks.
It's also possible James Franklin and his band of "unrivaled" Nittany Lions could be ranked for another primetime matchup against Rutgers, which will be part of a wrestling-football doubleheader. For now, five ranked opponents is plenty to prepare for in the coming season ahead. Only 115 days until the Rutgers season kicks off in Seattle!