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OTB Round Table: Final Thoughts On 2017 Season For Rutgers Football

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Our staff share their thoughts on where the team stands heading into the spring.

Michigan State v Rutgers Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Bob Cancro: Okay, who is disappointed? Really, all of you? How many of you predicted a bowl game? Right, I thought not. At the start of the season, most of us would have signed up for 4-8 in a heartbeat. The talk of a potential bowl was just silly. We won three Big Ten games in a row to look respectable. But we beat some pretty shaky teams in the process. There was never going to be a bowl. Are we a better team than in 2016? Absolutely. Are we stronger and more prepared? Yes. Has Chris Ash made a difference? Yes. Is he as polished as he needs to be on the sidelines? Hell, no! But neither was a certain coach who appears to be heading to Knoxville; his in game coaching and halftime adjustments were often awful and nonexistent, respectively. And not just early in his career. Rutgers needs a quality quarterback; he may or may not be on the current roster. It needs bigger linemen. But we are not a laughing stock (see Maryland-Penn State). I’ll give Chris Ash another year to grow; I believe he has earned it. I also believe there is a long way to go. But I’ll save that for another post.

Cara Sanfilippo: To answer Bob’s question, there is really only one performance for which I am disappointed. That performance, or lack of one, was the Indiana game. Notice how I didn’t add EMU as they are not a conference foe, and Rutgers made some adjustments and showed significant improvement after that game. But to get shut out to Indiana, come on, Rutgers. That was just giving up. We are better than that, and I couldn’t have said that earlier on in the season. I am sad the season is over, but man did this team take me on a roller-coaster of emotions this season.

There are still some major question marks for me, including who will be the best option and quarterback next year, and do we have the personnel in place to be successful in that position? I hope so, and getting the offense up to snuff is to me most critical as we have already seen improvement on defense and special teams this year. I think Ash has proven himself this year in terms of improving our record, but for me to be fully sold, I was us to make a bowl game next year. That to me will mark continued success in the future. I also apparently said we would only win three games this season, so glad to be proven wrong. In that case, SUCCESS!

Jim Hoffman: I have only the slightest tinge of disappointment on the season. Way back in August (which seems like 10 years ago now) we did a round table in which we made our season predictions. Like everyone else, I predicted that we would win the Eastern Michigan game, and I also predicted we had a good shot to win the Indiana game. With those two exceptions, the season mapped out exactly as I imagined it would this summer. So, it is difficult to be disappointed. There is always a game or so that doesn’t map out like you expect. I honestly thought we would win five or six games

That said, if someone had asked me if I would sign up for four wins this season, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. Remember, we were coming off a two-win season last year, and we were not competitive in most of the games. So a season where we double our wins, as well as be competitive in all but two games, I would have taken that. I am actually excited about NEXT year. With only four starters leaving, I think we will make the next step, which is to make a bowl game in 2018. The extension for Chris Ash will also help keep coaches and commits in line, too.

Jayson Love: The reality is, it was never about 2017 in terms of winning. I hoped that Kyle Bolin as a grad transfer would be able to solidify the quarterback spot while a guy like Johnathan Lewis developed. Tylin Oden was dismissed from the program after a violation of team rules, TCU transfer Zach Allen’s preseason injury and apparent position switch, and Chris Laviano transferred, leaving a major hole at the sport’s most important position. However, it was apparent that Bolin was just a bad fit for the system Coach Ash is trying to run and it became a slightly better fit for Gio Recigno to run the team.

Three conference wins is encouraging, Artur Sitkowski’s commitment flip from Miami to Rutgers is encouraging as well, but the Knights still figure to be quite young in 2018. The defense appears to be headed in the right direction, and special teams in terms of kick coverage was a much improved unit in year two under Ash. When you look back, the play at quarterback was disappointing but expected, and too much weight was put on the return of Janarion Grant on a medical redshirt who is sadly, no where close to the player he once was. The kick/punt game was as good as it has been in ages however, both specialists will need to be replaced.

David Anderson: You are what your record says you are. Time and time again the final record is usually spot on, the 2017 Rutgers football season was no different. The team made great strides on defense and special teams, but as everyone is aware, the offense was anemic yet again. Agree the health of Grant was a disappointment, but even without him, this offense has to be better. So at the end of the day, I agree this season kept the needle moving, the first barometer being a 4-8 record, including three Big Ten wins resulting in a reported extension for Ash. The second indicator to me will be what happens Dec 20-22 in the early signing period as it will be key to lock up a few guys to serve as the ones to help recruit other guys for “regular” signing day in Feb.

What do I think I learned this season? For starters, Chris Ash is not someone who lets any “problem” fester. Between Ash and Niemann plus the rest of the defensive staff, the defense should remain competent as long as this regime is on the banks. There is room for improvement, but I have confidence that any game the offense actually shows up, the defense is guaranteed to be there. Offensively, changing systems each year has completely caught up to Rutgers so it is bizarre to say that the worst offense in the nation’s coordinator HAS to be back, but I do believe it to be true. We need to see significant improvement in the passing game in 2018, but Jerry Kill did move this from a zero-dimensional offense, to a one dimensional. Ash will continue to bring in as many players as he can with upside, and eventually the right quarterback will walk through that door. But until then, he has shown an incredible desire in every possible way to improve the team from recruiting high schoolers, enrolling transfers, to adding coaches, and getting current players to stay committed to elevating the program.

Namrita Singh: It was fun and at times, it was miserable and painful. This season was everything I've come to expect from Rutgers football. 4-8 is definitely a step above 2-10 but the possibility of a 5-7 record or even a 6-6 record had the team not lost to Eastern Michigan at the beginning of the season or to Indiana just last weekend still hurts a little bit. Playing a bowl game seemed like a stretch this season but they came somewhat close to at least being eligible, which is progress. After going 0-9 last season in Big Ten match-ups, Rutgers won three, three Big Ten games this year, against opponents in Illinois, Purdue, and Maryland. And finishing fifth in the Big Ten East is another mark of improvement. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do but I think Chris Ash, who just signed an extension, is still the right man for the job. There are still a ton of question marks going forward, especially at quarterback, but I’ll take 4-8 over 2-10 any day. There’s hope for a program that needs it.

Dave White: It's clear this season that Chris Ash upgraded where he needed to: the defense. There were times, particularly in the middle of the season where you started to see Chris Ash's vision--a tough, bend-don't break defense that would get interceptions when needed. KJ Gray truly stood out to me this season and he was integral in the Illinois-Purdue-Maryland run of victories. That said, I think Ash and Kill both knew their weakness: the offense. While Jonathan Lewis is still green, and Kyle Bolin wasn't what was expect, they found Gio Rescigno was able to control the ball and make good decisions. He wasn't able to throw much, but his ability to scamper was enough to distract opposing defenses and allow the running backs some room to breath. There is a ton of room to grow here and Ash needs to find some electric playmakers going forward. The injuries to Mitchell and Grant and Ahmir Mitchell's dismissal didn't help the cause this year and probably made the offense weaker than it should have been. Overall, this is a solid step forward for the Scarlet Knights of the gridiron.

Aaron Breitman: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you had realistic expectations, both of this season and the rebuilding of this program in general, you are pleased with the progress made and also know a lot more still needs to happen. If you had unrealistic expectations and thought six wins or more was possible, then you are going to be disappointed and as some seemed to be online since the season ended, even angry. I’m firmly in the first camp and honestly do not understand the second view.

Sure, it was painful, frustrating and borderline torture suffering through the losses to Eastern Michigan and Indiana. It was also a pleasure witnessing victories over Illinois, Purdue, and Maryland. The previous year was a joyless season. We experienced some joy this season, which is progress. Being disappointed that Rutgers didn’t finish the season better is a good thing, because that means they gave us some hope.

The offense was awful, but the quarterback room will have the most talent in it this spring than I can recall it having in recent memory. Statistically, the defense didn’t improve that much, but considering the players lost due to injury this season, I still think progress was made and watching them play you could see it at times too. Special Teams was much better and bodes well for the future, as many freshmen made an impact on coverage teams, giving them experience to build off of this spring.

What David Anderson said above is exactly why I do believe in Ash as the head coach of Rutgers. He has proven adaptable and is able to learn from his mistakes. Ash isn’t a coach letting his ego get in the way of things, because if it did, he never would have hired Jerry Kill, who has more experience leading a program than he does. I wish he would be less conservative at times, but hey, what fan doesn’t have some gripe about their favorite teams. There are no guarantees that Ash will turn this program around, but there is legitimate evidence that progress was made this season. Such is life. I’m hopeful that better days are ahead. In fact we experienced some already, as Rutgers exceeded every preseason poll and pundits expectations by NOT finishing in last place in the Big Ten East. Fifth place is never the goal, but in year two of what I think people need to except as a massive rebuild, it’s a positive sign that things are moving in the right direction.