Let’s be honest, 2016 was a horrendous year. A 2-10 record was the worst record since 2002 when former head coach Greg Schiano was turning around a 1-11 Rutgers program. In 2016, the Scarlet Knights struggled in every phase of the game. According to CBS Sports.com, Rutgers was ranked 128th on offense and 97th on defense. However, 2017 is a new year for the Scarlet Knights and Rutgers fans should have some optimism and excitement for what’s the come in Piscataway. Here are the five things that Rutgers Fans should get excited for in 2017.
1. Janarion Grant is back and 100% Healthy
Previously, I called Janarion Grant “Batman” because he is the hero for Rutgers and their best offensive weapon on the roster. Janarion Grant is tied for the all-time record for in special teams touchdowns (5 kickoff returns and 3 Punt Returns) and could break the NCAA mark this year. Janarion Grant is an explosive and impact player for Rutgers who can score anytime when he touches the ball. Grant is nominated for the Maxwell Award and Hornung Award watch lists, which indicates how talented he can be in this season. His injury impeded his full potential in 2016 but expect a great comeback in 2017. The Dark Knight will rise.
2. QB Competition
Training camp is starting in full on Monday and there will be an intense QB competition. Chris Ash emphasized that the QB position is the area that needs improvement. The battle is between Gio Rescigno, Kyle Bolin (Louisville transfer), Zach Allen, and the true freshman Johnathan Lewis. Gio Rescigno is the only returning QB that started for the Scarlet Knights in 2016 who had some good plays and positive results. However, Kyle Bolin may have a chance to start due to his experience from Louisville and coaching from Bob Petrino. Don’t forget the true freshmen Johnathan Lewis, who’s 6’3, 225lbs and possesses a rocket arm. Johnathan Lewis was an Elite 11 finalist which means this young man can sling the pigskin. Zach Allen is recovering from an injury, but let’s hope that he’s healthy enough to compete. Competition brings the best out of players and it will be exciting to see who will lead the Scarlet Knights this year. My prediction is Kyle Bolin.
3. Jerry Kill is the New Offensive Coordinator
Rutgers does have a long history of offensive coordinators. You may have heard these names before in Frank Cignetti Jr., Dave Brock, Ron Prince, Ralph Friedgen, and Ben Daniels, to name a few. Our own Jim Hoffman covered the instability that has plagued the Rutgers offense for almost a decade here. The last OC was Drew Meringher who left for a position at Texas. The OC position at Rutgers seems to be an habitual revolving door with zero stability. However, Jerry Kill is different from the list of OC’s that I have mentioned above and should change that.
Jerry Kill was a former B1G Ten head coach with Minnesota who turned around a bad football program into a competitive force amongst the giants (Michigan, OSU). Kill was named B1G Ten coach of the year in 2014 and his coaching record is impressive which is 152–99. Jerry Kill can be a good mentor for Chris Ash, who’s in his second year of head coaching. With the offense ranked 128th, Kill has work to do, but he will bring B1G Ten quality coaching to the Rutgers Football program. Expect some improvements in 2017.
4. 2017 Recruiting Class is on the Roster
Despite a bad record in 2016, Rutgers still managed to hold most of their recruits committed. Rutgers was able to get four star recruits, such as OT Micah Clark, WR Bo Melton, and OLB Tyshon Fogg. These players will potentially be the future for the Scarlet Knights. It’s yet to be determined who will start because training camp won’t start until July 31st. However, Chris Ash will play the freshmen if needed, per his quotes to NJ Advance Media’s Ryan Dunleavy in this article:
"I'm really pleased with the freshmen class we brought in," Ash said. "I can't tell you a number of how many will make an impact this year or even play. But there will be a significant number of them in some role. How many will start or (who makes the) two-deep, I don't know.
These recruiting class was considered one of the best in Rutgers recent history. It’s going to bring more optimism and promise for the future of Rutgers football.
5. Rutgers Secondary
Rutgers’ defense overall was terrible at 97th ranked in the country, but there’s a shocking rank that’s not mentioned quite often. Did you know that Rutgers was ranked 18th in the country in pass defense? Despite the blowouts, Rutgers had a top 25 ranked secondary with returning starters CB Isaiah Wharton, CB Blessaun Austin, FS Saquan Hampton, and SS Kiy Hester. Chris Ash is an expert when it comes to the defensive side of the ball and coaches hands-on when it comes to the secondary. With another year under Chris Ash’s leadership, the secondary could have a chance to become elite.
2017 will be an interesting year.