Let's be honest; do any of us believe Rutgers will be too much better than a .500 team? At best.
Athlon Sports is on the same page, projecting the Knights to finish seventh in the East, going 3-9 overall and 1-8 in conference. Now, if only they'd tell us who that one win is.
The team-specific analysis opens with an interesting point:
Just as it did 15 years ago, Rutgers will turn to a high-energy, no-nonsense defensive coordinator from a marquee program to change its football programs.
Never heard that one before.
Key players: Athlon focuses on Darius Hamilton, Janarion Grant, and Chris Laviano. Hamilton also shows up in their "Back From Injury" section. "He will be an important part of the Rutgers defense in Chris Ash's first season." ' They look at Laviano as having the inside track if for no other reason than his experience.
Key losses: Leonte Carroo, Steve Longa, and Kyle Federico. No surprise there.
Coaching: Of the 28 new head coaches in D1, Athlon pegs Ash as the 19th best hire. Justin Fuente (Virginisa Tech) is the top hire and D.J. Durkin at Maryland comes in at No. 7. Our good friend at TSUN, Coach Nutjob, is looked on as the No. 2 coaching hire in a retrospect of 2015 hires.
They also talk about the hiring of Strength & Conditioning Coach Kenny Parker. It was, in Ash's own view, the biggest hire he made. Without Parker, Ash is still at OSU.
The Good: The running game will be important for the Knights, and it is an area of strength with juniors Robert Martin andcombining for over 1,400 yards last season. And even without Carroo, Athlon feels there is "just enough experience and returning production with Janarion Grant, Andre Patton, and Carlton Agudosi".
The Bad: Drew Mehringer is the eighth offensive coordinator in the last seven years, following McDaniels, Friedgen, Prince, Brock, Cignetti, and co-OCs Ciarocca and Flood.
Opposing Coaches Sizing Up Rutgers: "They were just not a very good football team last year, and I don't see how they're going to be good this year."
"They've got some OK guys on offense, but losing Leonte Carroo is going to hurt them. Let me tell you, that dude could flat out ball."
"Mehringer is incredibly bright, though, and he'll have creative ways to score some points, but personnel-wise, I think it's harder to get that roster right than it is anyone else in the league."
Around the Big Ten: There are two Big Ten players among the fifteen listed as "Breakout Players" on the national scene. And of course we face both of them. DE Sam Hubbard of Ohio State and Michigan State's RB L.J. Scott both make the list.
Ohio State (12-0, 9-0 B1G) earns the nod as the top team in the East and Iowa (10-3, 7-2 B1G) is No. 1 in the West. The rest of the East: 2. Michigan 3. Michigan State 4. Penn State 5. Indiana 6. Maryland 7. Rutgers
Ranking Units: Ash & Co. have been using the hashtag #10Strong; ten position units all working together. Athlon only ranks seven and Rutgers does no better than ninth in the Big Ten, at running back. By the way, on page 139 of the magazine there is a nasty cool photo of Janarion Grant. But, from there we go down hill.
QB: 13 WR/TE: 11 OL: 13 DL:10 LB: 14 DB: 12
All Big Ten: Rutgers has only Janarion Grant on Athlon's All B1G First Team, as a kick returner. After that, there are no Knights on any Big Ten pre-season team.
National Rankings and the Big Ten:
No. 3: Ohio State
No. 5: Michigan
No. 13: Michigan State
No. 20: Iowa
No. 87: Rutgers
The Schedule: Washington and Nebraska both make Athlon's "Teams on the Rise". While Nebraska couldn't get out of its own way (their words) in 2015, the Huskers return their leading passer, rusher, receiver, and 12 of last year's top 16 tacklers. Fortunately, they aren't on the schedule. So, from Huskers to Huskies, Athlon likes Washington: "From a quality perspective, Washington has already broken through. We're simply waiting on the results to follow." They liked the fact that Washington had competitive losses last season (Oregon, Boise State) and looked very good in wins against USC, Arizona, Oregon State, and Washington State. The Huskies are ranked No. 11 by Athlon.
Interesting note: In likely a regionalized production, Robert Martin and Maryland's William Likely are on the cover.
Coming up: ESPN, Lindys Sports, Sporting News