Rutgers football head coach Chris Ash may have the toughest coaching job in the Big Ten. Of the 12 games on the schedule, Rutgers will face four teams ranked in the top ten of the recent Coaches Poll that was released last week. The season opener begins with the #7 Washington Huskies, who made an appearance in the College Football Playoff last season. Further down the schedule, Rutgers will face #2 Ohio State (another team in the College Playoff last season), #6 Penn State, and #9 Michigan. This will be an annual challenge for the Scarlet Knights with Big Ten East being one of the most rigorous and competitive divisions in all college football.
In 2016, after Ash inherited a troubled program with little talent and depth, Rutgers suffered the program’s worst season since 2002 with a 2-10 record. When Janarion Grant, who has been named to the Maxwell Award and Hornung Award watch lists this season, went down with a severe ankle injury against Iowa, Rutgers lost 9 games straight, including four shutouts and a 78 point beat down by Michigan. The big losses left many Rutgers fans in frustration, anger, and hopelessness. However, despite a poor season, Chris Ash and company managed to build a solid recruiting class by landing talented players in QB Jonathan Lewis, OLB Tyshon Fogg, WR Bo Melton, and OT Micah Clark, among others. Hope for a better future is still present for the Scarlet Knights, but it will take more than hope for Chris Ash to restore respectability back in Piscataway.
This year is very crucial for head coach Chris Ash, both on the field and when it comes to recruiting. Ash’s vision is in full motion with the brand new Marco Battaglia Practice Complex, which honors the former tight end and Rutgers great. With more future facility upgrades in the works, Rutgers Football is becoming a marketable school to lure top tier talent around the country, in hopes of being competitive against the Big Ten powerhouses in the future. However, the progression during the 2017 season will help determine if future recruits are willing to buy into Chris Ash’s vision. Though obtaining beautiful and world class facilities for football players are a plus, winning is the ultimate mark of success.
During the 2016 football season, Rutgers suffered a couple of de-commits, including Johnathan Taylor, who flipped and ended up at Wisconsin. Though de-commits are common amongst all D-1 college football teams, it’s very crucial for Rutgers to maintain their 2018 recruiting class, currently with 17 commits, in order to continue to make progress within the Big Ten . With the back-to-back losing seasons, the vision may be a tougher selling point. However, even if Rutgers can improve their record by 2-3 games this season, this could open more recruits’ eyes that the program is becoming a desirable place to play college football. That is a big “if”, though it is feasible.
Chris Ash is a hard worker and carries a “can do” attitude, which Rutgers needs in order to restore faith in all Rutgers fans’ hearts and minds. Patience is needed, as this is a project that will take time. Chris Ash knows exactly what it takes to be successful in the Big Ten. He is pushing everyone, including his coaching staff, players and the Rutgers administration to reach the high standard he has set for the program. If the vision and effort correlates into success, then Rutgers is on its way to future prosperity. Hopefully, Ash learned from his mistakes in year one and he continues to build a strong foundation for the Scarlet Knights. Expect some growing pains this season, but I believe Rutgers is heading into the right direction.