One of the easiest things a fan can look at to predict an upcoming season is the Vegas lines. The expectations for Rutgers are not very high this year; there is no need to harp on some national writers’ predictions or polls. However, we can use these as baseline expectations and see what Rutgers will need to do to demonstrate progress in Chris Ash’s second season.
Team Total: 3 Wins (-130)
Week 1: vs Washington (+30.5)
The two publicly available lines for Rutgers right now is the season win total and the Week 1 spread vs Washington. Looking at the team total, we can see that the over/under is set at 3 wins, and at -130, this means it is slightly more likely to go over rather than under. To get further into how these totals were projected, I’m going to break out the likelihood of a win in each individual game.
In projecting the rest of the season’s lines, I’m breaking down three college football analysts/handicappers who have projected out the spreads and win totals for the rest of the season.
- Bill Connelly’s Rutgers preview. Bill wrote a very informative preview of the Rutgers season earlier this summer, which included projected results for each game further down in the article. He has Rutgers at 3.76 wins this season, which is a bit more bullish on the Scarlet Knights compared to the Vegas oddsmakers. We can actually see this in his projected line against Washington (+22.9) versus what is available on most major sportsbooks (+30.5). Bill has definitely done his homework, so let’s hope he is right. Bill has provided both the point spreads and the percentage of victory:
2. CFB Handicapper: @SportsCheetah. He provides a guide where he projects the spreads for each game. He has Rutgers at 3.09 wins, which is a little more in line with the bookmaker’s projections. In his projected spreads, he lists any game where he has 21+, shown below in the chart.
3. CFB Handicapper: Collin Wilson’s Preview. He has a pessimistic view, coming in at only 2.7 wins for the season. From reading his review, I did not feel like he had truly done his homework here, as he made no mention of the Rutgers secondary at all (4 returning starters, biggest strength of the defense) or the running backs (a position that I see as a strength with Gus Edwards, Robert Martin, Josh Hicks, and Trey Sneed all contributing). He also has provided spreads for each game, but did not provide the individual win percentages in his guide.
1) The games with the closest spreads will be Eastern Michigan, Purdue, @ Illinois, and Maryland @ Yankee Stadium. These are the games that Rutgers will need to win to show progress in the win-loss column. I think many fans will be surprised to see that Rutgers is not projected as a large favorite at home vs EMU in Week 2 (the most pessimistic view even has Rutgers as a 2 point underdog). This is a game that could really dictate the rest of the season.
2) A big part of changing the narrative involves simply being competitive against top competition (Rutgers will face 4 teams ranked in the top-10). We expect that Washington, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State will be 4 touchdown favorites against Rutgers this year. While unlikely to pull off the upset, if Rutgers is able to hang around and take one (or more) of these games to the wire, it will be a strong signal for the team.
3) Bowl Eligibility: Even the most optimistic Rutgers fan realizes that this may be a stretch for 2017. In order to get to 6 wins, Rutgers is going to have to win the games they are favored to (Morgan St, EMU), both of the more evenly matched games (Purdue and Illinois), and pull off two of three upsets (Maryland, @Indiana, Michigan State).
Lastly, a look at the Week 1 lines, as of this writing, may tell us a bit more about expectations for Rutgers opponents:
Ohio State (-20.5) vs Indiana
Eastern Michigan (-14) vs Charlotte
Nebraska (-16.5) vs Arkansas State
Purdue (+25) vs Louisville
Illinois (-7.5) vs Ball State
Maryland (+17) vs Texas
Michigan (-3.5) vs Florida
Penn State (-33) vs Akron
Michigan State (-18) vs Bowling Green
I think the casual fan will be surprised that Nebraska and Michigan State are not larger favorites vs G5 teams, which speaks to where both of those teams will be this year: rebuilding.
Ultimately, I truly believe Rutgers will surpass the expectations laid out above, but they will serve as a great baseline to start the season. If Rutgers is able to hang close with Washington in week 1 and take care of Eastern Michigan in Week 2, there will be plenty of reason to feel optimistic heading into Big 10 Play.