Last week, Bob Cancro (@rvc73) did a series of articles that reviewed the major pre-season predictions for Rutgers football for 2016. In those articles, it was pretty darned unanimous that this is going to be a tough year for the Scarlet Knights.
In turn, Bob showed the predictions by Athlon, ESPN, Lindy’s, and The Sporting News all felt that not only is this year going to be difficult, but the rest of the decade will not be much better. Sound familiar?
This is not the first time we’ve heard this refrain. In fact, the 2014 season predictions were almost identical. Rutgers is going to be swamped, they have no chance, blah, blah, blah. How did we do? We came one minute from a winning record in the Big Ten East, and ended with a not only a bowl bid, but a blowout win over North Carolina in that game. Had we been able to hold off Penn State in that disappointing game in September, we would have ended with a 4-3 record in the division, and would probably have given the school a much-higher seed in the bowl choices. Still, if you look at the consensus predictions that we received in 2014, they look mighty familiar!
After a disastrous 2015 campaign, it is far easier to believe Rutgers will be overwhelmed by everyone this coming year. However, compared to predictions, was it a disaster? Guess what? Last year’s predictions were the same as 2014, and this year as well. For example, Athlon and NBC Sports predicted we would again be basement dwellers, but others such as ESPN and CBS picked us to be in the middle of the pack.
Anyone who has ever had to sit with a financial planner, or seen an advertisement for one on television knows the statement, "…past performance is not an indicator of future results." Most of the services that look at college football use the past to predict the future. That is a dangerous place to go, if you want to be accurate. Last year, Michigan was predicted to not do much better than they did in 2014, and as you may have noticed, the Michigan team coached by Jim Harbaugh in 2015 was just slightly better than the one coached by Brady Hoke the year before. Coaching makes a difference.
Think of the changes that have occurred to the program since the arrival of Chris Ash in December. There is not a single area that has not been touched by Ash or the new staff. Some are pretty remarkable changes for such a short period of time. Things as basic as food, weight training, and dorm rooms have changed or are changing, and the skills being taught to our student/athletes, as mundane as tackling, and as high level as an entirely new offensive scheme changed as well. Uniforms, access to coaches and players, and utilization of social media have all been dramatically altered.
With all that in place, why expect the same result? Rutgers had a very young team in 2015, due to previous years’ graduates as well as the troubles that sent several players off the team and into the court system. As a result, only three starters on offense and four starters on defense were lost to graduation. Having that large a group of returning starters is good for the program, both in terms of depth as well as skills. Will that change the abilities for the pundits to predict the future?
While I do not expect Ash’s first squad to compete with Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State for the B1G East title, I do expect them to land just behind the above-mentioned teams. I think they have a good shot at taking out Penn State, Maryland, and Indiana, and expect them to do the same with Illinois. None of these would be considered major upsets, and if they can pull off wins against either Washington or New Mexico along with these, they will be able to be bowl-bound this December.
Earlier, I termed the 2015 season "a disaster." The good news is that we've come a long way in a fairly short time. Not that long ago, Rutgers would have considered a 4-8 season
terrific not horrible.
I know it is a stretch, but I remember hearing very clearly that Rutgers in 2014 would be lucky to get a single Big Ten win in the first season, and they nearly pulled off a winning record in the division. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that this team will surprise as much as the 2014 team surprised the pundits.