Yesterday, our lead football writer Griffin Whitmer published his comprehensive season preview, which can be read here. Now, we have our first On The Banks round table edition of the season with our staff predictions. We start with some quick hits for offensive and defensive categories, as well as some superlative predictions. Of course, we all take a crack at our season outlook and predict the team’s final record. Here is what we are thinking heading into the beginning of the Ash Era of Rutgers Football.
Panelists include: T.J. Jurkiewicz; Griffin Whitmer; Matt Pisani; Scott Logan; Bob Cancro (rvc73); Aaron Breitman; Andy Egan; Dave White; Jim Hoffman
Most Receiving Yards
TJ: Janarion Grant - I think in this new offense Grant will be the focal point as we saw a little bit in the Spring Game. It appears as if Grant will run some Wes Welker slot routes which should get him plenty of catches and yards but may limit his TD’s.
Griffin: Janarion Grant
Matt: Andre Patton
Scott: Janarion Grant
Bob: John Tsimis
Aaron: Janarion Grant
Most Rushing Yards
TJ: Robert Martin - Despite Goodwin being listed as the starter, Martin is our most talented back and I expect him to take over the bellcow role after he gets a little healthier.
Griffin: Robert Martin
Matt: Robert Martin
Scott: Robert Martin
Bob: Possibly whoever our longest serving QB is
Aaron: Robert Martin
TJ: Andre Patton - Patton seems to be our main outside receiver and I expect us to look to him in the red zone quite frequently. The answer to this could easily be Carlton Agudosi if he lives up to his potential but I feel much safer taking Patton here.
Griffin: Robert Martin
Matt: Grant due to returns and receiving and rushing
Scott: Janarion Grant
Bob: Robert Martin, somewhere in the neighborhood of 17
Aaron: Robert Martin
Will Chris Laviano Start The Entire Season?
TJ: season No - I think with the new offense which will increase the hits the QB takes combined with our brutal schedule that we will see Allen or Rescigno get a start this season.
Matt: Laviano is only going to survive the first three conference games, get embarrassed and get taken out
Scott: No – think it’s more likely than not he stumbles during the tough Big Ten schedule, and Ash has him on a short leash. I’d be thrilled to be wrong, though.
Bob: No, but he won’t sit the bench all season once he comes out, either
Aaron: Yes, barring injury. He gives us the best chance to win and will be a good game manager this season.
TJ: Janarion Grant - As I already stated, I think Grant will be the centerpiece of this offense. I really hope he doesn’t have a case of the dropsies once the season starts because if he has Laviano’s trust, he will see an absolute bevy of targets this season.
Griffin: Janarion Grant
Matt: Robert Martin
Scott: Janarion Grant
Bob: Whoever has the most rushing yards
Aaron: Janarion Grant, who enters his senior season averaging 10.8 yards per play from scrimmage for his career.
TJ: Quanzell Lambert - This is a little bit of a shot in the dark not knowing how the DL will be rotated but I feel like Lambert is the most athletic pass rusher labeled as a starter on the depth chart.
Griffin: Myles Nash
Scott: Darius Hamilton
Bob: Julian Pinnix-Odrick. No particular reason and love his name.
Aaron: JPO, this is the year he finally fulfills his potential
TJ: Saquon Hampton - I’ve been all aboard the Hampton bandwagon since watching his performance last season and in the Spring Game. We are watching a very special player that nobody really seems to appreciate…yet. Either him or Cioffi will lead the team in INT’s.
Griffin: Saquon Hampton
Scott: Anthony Cioffi
Bob: Kiy Hester, I think he has something to prove
Aaron: Blessaun Austin
TJ: Saquon Hampton - Once again, we are watching a truly special player in the making here on the banks. Going into 2017 we will all be talking about Saquon Hampton leading our defense.
Bob: Darius Hamilton. I know, lazy pick. I think he's healthy, strong, determined to put last year in the rear-view mirror and show what he can do. Eight months til the NFL draft.
Scott: If he stays healthy, Darius Hamilton
Aaron: Deonte Roberts. Will lead the team in tackles and be the unsung hero.
TJ: Trey Sneed - I think that as the season goes on, Sneed will emerge as a nice complimentary back that will help keep opposing defenses guessing.
Griffin: Dacoven Bailey
Scott: Not sure if he counts since he technically made his debut in last year’s season finale, but I’ve been hearing good things about Greg Jones. If not, I think Dacoven Bailey could surprise some people as a strong fit for this offense.
Bob: K.J. Gray He gets more time on the field than expected and makes the most of it
Aaron: Ross Douglas
TJ: Maryland to end the season on a high note.
Griffin: Penn State
Matt: Penn State
Bob: Illinois. You read that right - Illinois. Lovie Smith came in with great fanfare. Illinois was going to make its mark. But Illinois is a middle of the pack Big Ten team, and a school that Rutgers needs to/should stay ahead of. Beat the Illini (and go 2-1 all time against them) and you make a nice, if quiet, statement.
Aaron: Penn State
How Many Kicks Will Rutgers Block?
Scott: Three. More if Turay can make it back.
Bob: One; new staff, new ideas. Is this the Schiano-block-every-kick-with-your-starters-in-a-30-point-rout or normal football?
Aaron: Three, one of which wins a game in the final seconds.
How Many Kicks Will Janarion Grant Return for TD
TJ: Since he will be focused on so heavily, I will give him 1 punt return TD and 1 kick return TD.
Scott: ALL OF THEM
Bob: Two. Hopefully, they'' be punts and not kickoffs.
Aaron: Five, two kicks and three punts. 1st team All-American returner and redemption for last season’s snub of the century.
TJ: 4-8 - I have us winning games against Howard, New Mexico, Illinois, and Maryland.
Dave: This year is tricky, because I see it being a down year, but—well—in a good way. I think Ash is going to have his system in place by October. The players will know it and will play hard for him. They will run good stuff. But, the talent that Ash needs on the field will either be redshirting or not showing up until 2017. And, man, the schedule is very tough. Of course it is. It’s the Big Ten. That said, I think fans come out of this season thinking the future is very bright for Rutgers football. The games will be closer, there will be a few moments where fans get their hearts shattered. It won’t be over by the ten minute mark of the first quarter against the blue bloods. Who knows? Maybe they even surprise someone. The record won’t look good on paper, but the team will pass the eye test this season. 4-8 record.
Scott: It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the new coaching staff, but it’s important to remember this is a whole new staff and a whole new offense. That combined with a tough schedule is tempering my expectations. Still, I think/hope this team is more competitive than last year, even in defeat. I’m expecting a 5-7 record, give or take one win.
Andy Egan: The malaise at the end of the Flood era, beginning about this time last year, has been very difficult for me to overcome -- I'm still not sure I fully understand just how woefully outgunned in the coaching department Rutgers was, or how/why I continued to cling to my illusions that Flood was about to turn it around, despite all the warnings to the contrary. That orange-juice-after-toothpaste taste in my mouth has finally faded, and I am very excited, as we all are, to see what this year's team and the future of this program look like under competent management, molded by a head coach who just finished his "coaching Ph.D." at the right hand of one of the most successful coaches of all time, while winning a natty with one of the bluest-blood programs in the nation. All of the previous regime's friends and allies seemed to come from Hofstra or Delaware -- all of Ash's friends, assistants and allies seem to come from places like Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Arkansas -- places that have been doing big time college football for decades. That is going to make an immeasurable difference, and it's going to be visible immediately this year. Listening to interviews with our more experienced players, like Chris Laviano and Quanzell Lambert, discussing how they feel for the first time that they're truly ready to compete at the highest levels, like there's a true plan for success, makes one wonder how we won any games the past few years. I think we see a much tougher, more resilient football team, even if we don't see a dramatic improvement in the win/loss record. Rutgers will likely lose more than they win this year, simply because the schedule is brutal, and because Coach Ash will still hit some growing pains and learning curve issues along the way as a first-time head coach, despite our nearly limitless optimism about the new regime. That said, I don't think there will be the 30-50 point beatdowns this year that we frequently endured during the last two seasons. And I think we surprise some teams that didn't get the memo that this isn't the same Rutgers team, with its marshmallow soft defense and 100% Carroo-dependent offense. I predict 5-7, with wins against Howard, New Mexico, Illinois, Indiana and Penn State. The difference in the on-field product, however, even in the (hopefully narrow) losses, is going to be eye-opening. If a couple of the toss-ups like Maryland, Minnesota or maybe even Washington this week (based on there being no film for them to scout on RU on either side of the ball) break the right way, maybe we're 7-5 and bowling. I can't wait to see it play out.
Matt: I see a 6 win season
Griffin: In order to get to 5, let alone 6 wins, Rutgers will have to win games that they are not projected to win. I can easily see them beating Indiana, Illinois, and Maryland. To go along with 2 non-conference wins, they will need to either win on the road against Minnesota or at home against Penn State. I picked them to beat Penn State, but I think either one is possible. That gets the team to 6-6 and since they had such a great experience the last time, Detroit will once again summon the Scarlet Knights for the Quick Lane Bowl against Wake Forest.
Season Prediction: 6-6, with a Bowl Bid
Wins: Howard, New Mexico, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Penn State (?), Minnesota (?)
Losses: Washington, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State (?), Minnesota (?)
I think that RU will win the first five listed, and pull out an upset with either Penn State at home, or Minnesota on the road. Penn State is an emotional home game, and the crowd will spur them on, just as they did in 2014. I know they lost two years ago, but that was as a result of poor preparation in my opinion. The other possible upset is Minnesota. Tracey Claeys is a first-year head coach. With a brand-new offensive coordinator, other than QB Mitch Leidner, Minnesota does not have a very experienced or overly talented team. They may surprise the Golden Gophers and pull one out.
After looking like a genius in 2014 (you can look it up right here), 2015 was a - I hate to say it, but.... - dumpster fire, including my predictions. I wrote back on 9/1/15: plan on spending the Holidays in sunny San Diego. The Michigan and/or Nebraska games could go either way, but I think we still finish at 7-5. Our record won't be much better than it was in 2014, but we should play better. Yeah, that didn't exactly go as I thought.
2016 will be different in so many ways. We are stronger, healthier, smarter, better coached, and focused. That being said, we still play in the Big Ten East. We aren't going to beat Ohio State or Michigan or Michigan State. We can beat the other three, but we won't win them all. We likely lose to U-Dub and Iowa and maybe New Mexico. But, depending on QB play, I think we're in most games, at least playing hard and tough and all 60 minutes. And I will guarantee we will not spike the ball on 4th down....ever.
So, Bob, whatcha got? I'd be ecstatic with 6-6, but I'm going to say.....wait for it....7-5. And 5-4 in the B1G. If we are playing well, and the guys have all stayed committed to the goals and the culture and the focus, the last two games against Penn State and Maryland could be epic....and could easily be wins.
That's my story and I'm stickin' with it.
Aaron: This is a veteran team with a lot to prove to themselves, the new coaching staff, and the entire fan base. This team appears to be highly driven to succeed and prove their worth to the above mentioned, as well as the national critics who unanimously picked this team for last place in the Big Ten East. The seniors on this team, led by Darius Hamilton, JPO, Janarion the Great, Anthony Cioffi, and Chris Muller, want to finish their careers on a major high note. This team is better prepared and better conditioned than ever, and they are highly motivated, both by past failures and the new culture that Chris Ash has implemented. The “buy in” has been almost universal, with only a few minor players moving on. The game planning and in-game adjustments should be significantly better than last season. “The Hunt” is the perfect mantra for this team and I really think Ash is a master of psychology. This team will be like a pack of wild dogs ready to do some serious damage and they will fear no one.
That being said, the first half of the schedule is brutal. It’s very likely they start the season at 2-4, with their only wins coming against New Mexico and Howard. However, I expect Rutgers to play the Big Ten blue blood teams much tougher and closer this season, which will build confidence and continue to motivate this team for the second half of the schedule.
The key for me is the four week stretch starting with Homecoming against Illinois in mid-October. That is followed by a difficult road game at Minnesota and then a bye, followed by Indiana at home. That three game stretch will make or break this season, and I think the timing of it coming after the gauntlet of Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan will have them ready to capitalize. Michigan State on the road follows and that will see the end of the winning streak. That sets them up at 5-5 for the stretch run against our two rivals, whether they agree or not, and potentially a tremendous end to the season. I see them riding high after finally beating Penn State at home and storming a soft 4-5 win Maryland team. This program went 7-5 during the 2014 regular season with a similar schedule, less talent and inferior coaching. I see the Ash era starting off strong with a 7-5 record, fourth place in the Big Ten East, and being rewarded with a trip to Yankee Stadium and the Pinstripe Bowl, one season ahead of taking on Maryland in the Bronx, this time against an old Big East foe. This will be a game at Yankee Stadium Rutgers fans will be happy about!
Tell us what you think in the comments below. RU rah rah!