It was announced on Monday that Rutgers will host Michigan State in the regular season finale on November 25th at 4 p.m. on FOX. That's right, 4-6 Rutgers is getting a nationally televised game on Senior Day. While this is an exciting development, a win over Indiana this weekend could make the Michigan State game even more so.
A win over Indiana would mark several milestones for the program in head coach Chris Ash's second season, one in which has produced significant progress occur already. It would give Rutgers four Big Ten wins for the first time in four seasons since joining the conference. Rutgers went 4-21 in its first three seasons in Big Ten play, so if they could be 4-4 entering the last week of the season, it would be significant. It would equal the win total this season that was achieved previously in three seasons combined. The most impressive part is that Rutgers has been underdogs in every conference victory this season. Indiana is favored by 11 points as of Tuesday morning.
A win over Indiana would also lock up a fifth place finish in the Big Ten East. For a program that has finished in last place two straight seasons and was unanimously picked to finish last again this season, it would mark legitimate progress.
A win over Indiana would also be the first time Rutgers won multiple Big Ten road games in the same season. That's another sign of progress.
A win over Indiana would also give Rutgers a 3-1 record against the Hoosiers since they've co-existed in the Big Ten East. Self loathing Indiana fans will say big whoop, but if Rutgers wants to ever climb up the ladder in the division, they need to have sustained success against Indiana and Maryland. They are 2-2 against the Terps, so having an edge against Indiana would be another step forward.
Lastly, a win over Indiana would shine a light on the program in a brighter way the following week on national television. Rutgers, the program that was mired in scandal under former coach Kyle Flood and nosedived the past two seasons, a team that produced a combined 6-18 record and was just 1-16 in Big Ten play, would be playing for a sixth win and bowl eligibility. Rutgers, the program that held a 16 game conference losing streak in mid-October, like a month ago, would be playing for bowl eligibility on national television.
Indiana's passing game and big play ability is nothing to sneeze at. Rutgers surrendered 420 yards passing to the Hoosiers in last year’s meeting. Their defense has been better statistically than Rutgers, and they’ve played a tougher Big Ten slate. The Scarlet Knights are underdogs for a reason and Football Study Hall gives Rutgers just a 32% chance to win the game. However, this program went into Indiana two seasons ago and put together one of the greatest comebacks in Rutgers history with a thrilling 55-52 victory.
Both teams are very different from that day two years ago, but the players remaining on the Rutgers roster will have confidence they can do it again. This team has been competitive in the first halves of their past two road games at Michigan and Penn State, before wearing down in the second half due to a disparity of talent and depth. Those venues held far more fans and are true hostile environments compared to what Memorial Stadium will present this weekend.
Another note, as bad as Rutgers was last season, they still only lost to Indiana by 6 points, although it was at home. The point is for all of the struggles Rutgers has gone through in recent seasons, they beat Indiana twice and in its lone loss, it was a back and forth battle that resulted in a one score defeat.
This game is a big challenge for Rutgers, no doubt, but if they can be successful, this team will have officially exceeded expectations in a major way in Ash’s second season with the program. The blueprint for success has been the run game on offense and bending, but not breaking on defense, with solid special teams play mixed in. All three units will need to come through on Saturday if this team is going to pull the upset.
Playing on national television for a chance to gain bowl eligibility would be truly something after the depths of hell this program has been through the previous two years. At four wins and three in Big Ten play, Rutgers has reasonably met expectations for this season and real progress has been made. Beat Indiana and things will be very interesting the final week of the season. At this point in the rebuilding of the program, that would mark major progress.