It is no secret that the Rutgers football team has a difficult schedule for next season, including five opponents ranked in ESPN's Way Too Early Top 25. Every season is going to result in a challenge playing in the Big Ten East, arguably the toughest division in college football. With just a little more than 100 days before the 2016 college football season begins, let's look at the strength of schedule for both Rutgers and the entire Big Ten.
Athlon Sports put out a list of the 25 toughest schedules for next season and they ranked Rutgers #8 in the country. You can read the full list and what they said about Rutgers here. There were only two Big Ten teams listed as having more difficult schedules, Ohio State at #6 and Wisconsin at #3. Also, two conference foes were ranked behind Rutgers, with Nebraska at #10 and Michigan State at #20.
It's likely that Rutgers is not ready to compete at the top of the Big Ten East against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State next season. However, Indiana, Maryland, and yes, even Penn State, are teams that Rutgers can compete with to finish in the middle of the East division. That would be a huge improvement from 2015, after a 4-8 season and 1-7 conference record.
The ESPN Big Ten Blog broke down the conference schedules and Rutgers will face the 3rd most difficult slate of games based on last season's conference records. The Big Ten opponents that Rutgers will face this season finished with a combined record of 39-33 in league play in 2015. Only Illinois (40-32) and Wisconsin (42-30) face a more difficult win total for upcoming conference opponents and their records last season. Maryland and Penn State have two of the easier conference slates, with both having opponents who combined for losing records last season. A big reason why is because both teams play the worst team in the conference, Purdue. Here are the crossover games with the West division for Rutgers, Maryland, Penn State, and Indiana, along with their opponents combined records from 2015:
Rutgers: Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois (12-12)
Penn State: Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue (11-13)
Indiana: Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue (10-14)
Maryland: Nebraska, Minnesota, Purdue (6-18)
The bad news is all three East divisional rivals play Purdue and Rutgers does not. The good news for Rutgers is the crossover games are less daunting than years past, after back to back seasons of playing Nebraska and Wisconsin. Although next season is the first playing nine conference games, thus adding one more crossover game, Rutgers is scheduled to play Illinois and Minnesota from the Big Ten West. Those are not easy games, as no Big Ten game is, but those West opponents are certainly more beatable than Rutgers is used to playing. Although the defending West champion Iowa Hawkeyes are on the schedule, the game is at home and they are unlikely to go undefeated in conference two seasons in a row. Yes, I'm telling you there is a chance Rutgers could win, but don't go make any Leicester City type bets just yet.
Of course, the Iowa game begins the most difficult period of the season for Rutgers. That late September game is followed by a visit to Ohio State, before returning home for the stripe out against Michigan in primetime. However, as ESPN points out in this article, it's probably not as daunting as last season's four game stretch against Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Nebraska. Rutgers lost those four games by a combined score of 177-47.
In terms of non-conference schedules between Indiana, Maryland, Penn State, and Rutgers, there is some discrepancy in level of difficulty. Indiana does play a power five conference team in Wake Forest, but they are not a strong team and along with Florida International and Ball State, make up a fairly easy slate. Maryland avoids the power five and takes on UCF, Florida International, and Howard. They should go 3-0. Give Penn State credit for having a solid non-conference schedule by playing Pitt, Temple, and Kent State. That isn't a glamorous schedule, but it certainly is no walk in the park either. Pitt is looking to improve on their bowl season from a year ago, Temple beat Penn State last season, and Kent State is always dangerous out of the MAC. However, Rutgers plays the most difficult opponent of the four schools by taking on Washington on the road to open the season. New Mexico also played in a bowl game last season and is no cakewalk. It's clear that Maryland has a pretty solid edge over Rutgers, Penn State, and Indiana in terms of overall schedule difficulty.
We are 10 days from Memorial Day and many of us are in football withdrawal. Why not have some fun and make a ridiculously early guess at what Rutgers record will be this upcoming season. For a detailed look at next season's schedule, click here. The combined record for their 2016 opponents was 76-65. Here is the schedule, along with dates and times confirmed as of now, listed below:
|September 3rd||AT Washington|
|September 17th||New Mexico|
|October 1st||AT Ohio State||12:00 PM|
|October 8th||Michigan||7:00/8:00 PM||ABC/ESPN/ESPN2|
|October 15th||Illinois||12:00 PM|
|October 22nd||AT Minnesota||12:00 PM|
|November 12th||AT Michigan State|
|November 19th||Penn State||8:00 PM||BTN|
|November 26th||AT Maryland||BTN|