Okay Rutgers fans, I know you read that header and thought, “is this guy delusional?” It’s fine, I will take it as a compliment. However, it may not be as far fetched as it may sound. Rutgers hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2014 when they defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Quick Lane Bowl Game, 40-21. Though it’s only three years ago, it seems like an eternity since the Scarlet Knights participated in a bowl game. The last two seasons have been a disaster with Coach Flood's firing, AD Julie Hermann getting the can, key players from the football roster being dismissed and only winning four games in 2015. Chris Ash was hired on December 7, 2015 and promised a positive outlook on Rutgers football. Though still in the process, the Scarlet Knights only won 2 games, with four games being shutout by opponents in 2016.
It sounds like Rutgers is going in the wrong direction, but there is hope that is floating. Rutgers recruited their best class, ranked 43rd nationally in 2017, according to 247 Sports, in a long time with incoming and standout Freshmen OT Micah Clark, WR Bo Melton, QB Johnathan Lewis, and OLB Tyshon Fogg. Furthermore, Rutgers received quality transfers such as Ahmir Mitchell, a former Michigan Wolverine and rated as a 4 star candidate in 2015 (he is injured but expected to be back mid-fall) , and his brother Damon Mitchell who is a graduate transfer from Arkansas. Also, the QB competition became more intriguing with the addition of Louisville graduate transfer Kyle Bolin who played behind Heisman winning QB Lamar Jackson. With fresh new blood entering this season, Rutgers has a chance to make some significant noise in the B1G Ten. Here are the games I am picking Rutgers to win:
AUTOMATIC VICTORIES: Eastern Michigan and Morgan State University
No disrespect to these two schools but Rutgers will use them as early scrimmage games before they play the Big Ten conference. I am expecting Janarion Grant to put up Maxwell Award numbers on these two teams.
WINNABLE GAMES: Indiana Hoosiers, Purdue Boilermakers, and Illinois Fighting Illini
Any B1G Ten conference game isn’t easy but these three teams are not powerhouse teams. Though Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State are a tough challenge, these three teams are more vulnerable to lose against the Scarlet Knights.
Indiana just fired their head coach Kevin Wilson due to mistreating his players. Tom Allen is the new head coach which means new adjustments, game plans and retooling the roster. Teams with a new head coach usually struggle, hence coach P.J. Fleck went 1-11 in his first year in 2013 with Western Michigan but turned around his program to 8-5 in 2014. Indiana havent won a bowl game since 1991. Rutgers defeated the Hoosiers two out of three games in recent history. I see the Scarlet Knights claiming victory at Bloomington where they won before and Chris Ash having a better 2nd year coaching.
The Fighting Illini are in the same boat as Rutgers. Both teams are in the process to be respectable in the Big Ten and gaining new recruits to fit the new systems for their team. In 2016, the Illini hired former NFL coach Lovie Smith to call the shots and defeated the Scarlet Knights last season. However, Rutgers didn’t have their best playmaker, Janarion Grant, playing due to season ending injury the last time they met. With an upgrade in experienced coach Jerry Kill as the offensive coordinator and new additions on offense, expect a tough battle but Rutgers finishing on top.
The Purdue Boilermakers have been struggling in recent memory. The last time the Boilermakers made a bowl game was in 2012. Purdue just hired new coach Jeff Brohm in 2016 and their recruiting class was ranked at 69th according to 247sports.com. Purdue will struggle and Rutgers SHOULD beat Purdue for homecoming.
POSSIBLE UPSET ALERTS: Maryland Terrapins and Michigan State Spartans
Have you been tallying the wins? So far, I named five teams that Rutgers has a chance to pick up some wins. Now here comes the challenge. Maryland just received a big recruiting class which is ranked 18th in the country according to 247sports.com. This may give Rutgers a challenge but it’s not impossible for an upset. Rutgers will be playing Maryland at Yankee Stadium. Maryland won the last two meetings but maybe the Yankee Stadium will give Rutgers an edge.
Michigan State was 3-9 last year. It was a bad year for the Spartans yet they still beat Rutgers 39-0 in East Lansing. Michigan State is a tough team with a good head coach in Mark Dantonio. Michigan State is retooling their roster which is a sign of vulnerability from the Spartans. With the game in Piscataway, this could be Rutgers' shot to defeat the Spartans. In 2015, Rutgers had Michigan State on the ropes 31-24 before losing on a 4th down play when Rutgers spiked the ball. Crushing defeat! Nonetheless, Rutgers can give Michigan State a run for its money in 2017.
Honestly, I don’t think Rutgers will beat both Maryland and MSU, but they can split.
If you add the five games plus one of the upset picks, that leaves Rutgers with six victories. If Rutgers doesn’t win the upset picks, they still can be bowl eligible. Due to strength of schedule, teams can be bowl eligible with only 5 wins if they can’t fill the bowl games. I think Rutgers can win 6 games this season. With Chris Ash getting a second year under his belt, this team has a realistic chance to participate in bowl games again. Did I convince you? I hope so. If not, I’ll let the season tell the story.