A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that Michigan and Notre Dame were resuming their football rivalry, agreeing to a home and home series for the 2018 & 2019 seasons. In order for dates to work for both schools, Michigan needed to cancel their scheduled series with Arkansas for those two seasons. However, they also needed help from Rutgers in the 2019 season, asking them to move their scheduled game on October 26th at Michigan to September 28th instead. Rutgers agreed and Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel thanked the school in this article, with the excerpt below:
"While it’s never easy to change football schedules, I appreciate Arkansas’ (athletic director) Jeff Long understanding of the need for this change, as well as Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs and Coach (Chris) Ash for agreeing to change the date of our conference game so we could bring this Notre Dame rivalry back to the field," Manuel said.
It was a classy move by Hobbs and Ash to agree to the change. It also makes their job in scheduling for the 2019 season more complicated. Here is what the schedule looks like as of today, according to fbsschedules.com:
|September 7th||At Iowa|
|September 21st||At Miami|
|September 28th||At Michigan|
|October 12th||At Indiana|
|November 2nd||At Illinois|
|November 16th||Ohio State|
|November 23rd||Michigan State|
|November 30th||At Penn State|
Some Things to Ponder:
- Road games at Iowa, Miami, and Michigan in the month of September is as challenging a start to the season that Rutgers has probably ever had. Thanks Notre Dame.
- Rutgers has two more non-conference opponents to add to the 2019 schedule. Based on the aforementioned road games already in place for September, Rutgers will likely attempt to add two low level FBS opponents. They will need to book two home games, as they only have four scheduled so far.
- There are four open slots on the 2019 schedule, so the challenge is finding non-conference opponents who can fill those dates, two of which are late in the season. Scheduling a non-conference opponent in late October or early November is difficult, as every school is deep into their conference schedules at that point.
- If Rutgers does schedule the remaining two non-conference games in September, that sets them up to play consecutive games for eight straight weeks to start the season. Considering the brutal month of September already on the books, this is less than ideal. Interestingly, Rutgers actually opens the 2016 season playing eight weeks in a row as well, so perhaps Ash and Hobbs will see how the team handles this season before making a decision on 2019.
- The positive in filling the two open September dates, is it would give Rutgers a rare two bye weeks in a three week period at the end of October, allowing them to get healthy and rested. Of course, what price will they have paid once they complete the opening eight game stretch in eight weeks is the great unknown. They finish the season with a very difficult November slate, playing home games against Ohio State and Michigan State, before finishing at Penn State.
- Arkansas is not an option. Ash worked for Bielema and both schools had a previous home and home series back in 2012 and 2013, so I understand the thought. However, Arkansas has an opening in 2018 as well because of Michigan, and a $2 million dollar payment from Michigan for cancelling, while Rutgers already filled its non-conference schedule with Buffalo, Texas State, and Kansas for that season. Maybe even a bigger reason, Rutgers would have little interest in adding Arkansas in 2019 with the September schedule they already have. Not happening.
- Rutgers has played Army late in the season before, including last season in November. It is certainly easier in finding an independent opponent to play that late in the year. However, Army actually doesn't have any open dates that match Rutgers for 2019.
- On the flip side, Navy still has openings for all four dates, so they are a viable option. However, preparing for Navy's triple option and the blocking schemes of the Midshipmen make them less than an ideal opponent with the schedule Rutgers already has.
- My guess is the preference is to schedule a low level FBS school for August 31st, which will make a more reasonable season opening game. Rutgers will open the Big Ten schedule at Iowa the following week, which would be a very difficult first game of the season.
- After that, I think the smart move would be to keep September 14th open as a bye week, giving Rutgers two weeks to prepare for consecutive road games at Miami and Michigan.
- That leaves October 26th and November 9th. It makes more sense to find an opponent to play the last weekend of October, securing the November bye before facing the trio of East heavyweights.
Many conferences, including several power five leagues, haven't finalized their 2019 conference schedules, which makes finding an opponent in late October a waiting game for now. Rutgers could try and schedule Navy now. Otherwise the 2019 schedule will likely be unresolved for some time. Of course, Rutgers could opt for filling the two open September dates and keep the two bye weeks late in the season. We will have to wait and see, but no matter what Hobbs and Ash decide, 2019 is already shaping up to be a very difficult schedule for Rutgers. Such is life in the Big Ten, even more so now that there will be nine conference games each season. The 2016 season could serve as a test case for Rutgers and could help shape their decision in finalizing their schedule three years from now.