The first game week of the season is finally here and that means it’s also time for our staff to make their predictions for the 2018 campaign for Rutgers football. Under Chris Ash, the Scarlet Knights improved to a 4-8 record in his second season after going just 2-10 in his debut in 2016. There is more talent on the roster entering year three and even the head coach has mentioned a bowl game as the goal for this season. Our contributors give their take on what we think happens this season, so let’s kick things off here.
I can’t believe football season officially starts in two weeks! Where did the summer go? I enter this season the way I have entered each season for the past few years, cautiously optimistic. I don’t know that their is any Rutgers Football fan who can go in and think automatically that we are going to have a winning season, or that any game is an automatic win. Our beloved team is too unpredictable for that. We ARE NOT Penn State. Nor would I want to be.
With that said, I am hoping for a 6-6 season, and going through the schedule believe it can happen. As our fearless EIC Aaron Breitman mentioned in his preview, Rutgers has an expected 79% chance of winning their season opener against the Texas State Bobcats. From there we visit Ohio State, which we just need to get out healthy, and then heads onto what I believe is a mostly winnable slate of games. I am extremely I do not think we are winning any of our last 4 games, but hopefully should be more competitive. If we can make it to a bowl game, I will be excited as a fan for the future of this program.
I think its fairly obvious to pick a split in the first two games for the Scarlet Knights. I expect a convincing win on opening day against Texas State and a less than stellar game at Ohio State the next week.
From there, Rutgers will have their winnable slate of games, including two must wins against Kansas and Buffalo. The Jayhawks have been pointed at as the worst FBS program and Buffalo having to travel to Piscataway should give the advantage to Rutgers. If Chris Ash expects to show more progress in year three, Rutgers must start the year 3-1. Hey, if they actually upset Ohio State and start 4-0, I certainly won’t be complaining either.
Indiana, Illinois, and Maryland. Rutgers defeated all three in the past few seasons but have also lost to all three. Indiana coming to town gives an edge to the Scarlet Knights but this game is going to be a dogfight. It’s logical to say every team improves in the offseason but I just don’t see Rutgers losing to Illinois at home, especially in a blackout setting. With all of the turmoil surrounding Maryland, I will pencil in a win over the Terps on the road, giving Ash three Big Ten wins to start conference play. You guys might know where I am going here.
Northwestern will be the biggest game of the season, especially if Rutgers has five or six wins coming into the Homecoming game. Homecoming has generally been a nightmare for the Scarlet Knights (hello Wisconsin 2014 and numerous others). Right now, I can’t pick Rutgers over Northwestern. At this point, Artur Sitkowski should be steadily improving or still struggling to find his groove as a true-freshman. I’m going with the former but the Wildcats are an excellent football program in the middle tier of the Big Ten. This will be a tight one but Northwestern comes out on top.
The final four games against Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State are all going to be losses. I can’t find an upset here. Wisconsin on the road will be a daring test for a young team and Michigan and Penn State are coming to Piscataway looking to embarrass Rutgers once again. Michigan State serves another tough road test. I would like to say the Scarlet Knights are more competitive in these games and are preparing for their early December Bowl Game, but I might have to wait until after week two against Ohio State.
In order to get to the postseason, Rutgers must capitalize on six of their first eight games, otherwise it could turn into a rough season come November.
I know many of you diehards like myself will read this and not like what I’m about to say and that’s ok. Ready? Rutgers does not have to go to a bowl game for this season to be considered a success. I know someone is going to mention it down in the comments section and I get it. I’m impatient too but just look at the schedule. They’re playing five teams within the top 25. Assuming they lose those games (which is realistic), Rutgers would need to go 6-1 in those remaining games just to get to .500. Of course it could happen, especially with two almost certain victories in the first four weeks. But if it doesn’t, I still think there’s a lot to look forward to.
Although Coach Ash has not yet officially announced a starter at quarterback, the general consensus is that the job will go to Artur Sitkowski, with Jonathan Lewis being used in select packages and Gio serving as a backup. Rutgers has been in desperate need of a quarterback like Sitkowski. He brings to the table a pro-style quarterback with an arm that should, and I believe will this year, finally make opposing defenses respect the long ball. The running back position features a nice balance of experience and youth between Jonathan Hillman and Raheem Blackshear, while tight end Jerome Washington will garner plenty of targets in the passing game. There are some new faces on the offensive line but this should be a much improved offense. On defense, durability for a full four quarters is certainly an issue but Rutgers will be able to lean on one of the best secondaries in the Big Ten for support.
Let’s get down to prediction time.
Wins: Texas State, Buffalo, Kansas, Indiana and Illinois
Notes: Rutgers should take care of both Texas State and Buffalo but they would be wise to not overlook these games (see last year’s loss to Eastern Michigan at home). Dropping either of those would be a major disappointment. Rutgers will travel to Kansas week three after what could be a tough week at Ohio State. But the experience could be beneficial (assuming Sitkowski is the quarterback) and help him prepare for a Kansas defense that will likely be a welcomed sight for him come week three. Rutgers will then host to Indiana and Illinois, back to back weeks, which with all due respect to both teams, should be victories. If Rutgers expects to start getting some Big Ten respect then these are the games they need to win on a regular basis. With both games being at home, a lively crowd (RU Brewfest and Blackout game, woo!), hopefully a settled quarterback, and what should be a 3-1 record coming into the week, I’ll give the edge to Rutgers.
Losses: Ohio St, Maryland, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State
Notes: With or without Urban Meyer, Ohio State will look to beat up on a Rutgers team that will likely be starting a true freshman at quarterback. This is life in the Big Ten and could be good experience for a young quarterback but no doubt a loss for Rutgers. Both Northwestern and Maryland are difficult match-ups for the Scarlet Knights. Northwestern returns veteran quarterback Clayton Thorson and remains one of the better Big Ten teams averaging nine wins per season the last three years. Despite the issues surrounding Maryland, I don’t expect that to have a direct impact once the whistle is blown. Rutgers was able to get the victory last year at home in what was arguably their best game of the season. This contest should be more difficult with Rutgers visiting College Park for the first time since 2016 where they dropped the season finale 31 to 13. Two tough games for Rutgers and unfortunately it only gets worse with a brutal four game stretch to end the season. Rutgers has historically struggled in these games but the hope is they can show good effort, fight hard and avoid a blowout.
I think starting Artur Sitkowski is the absolute right move. I think Ash and McNulty handing him the ball and letting him learn on the go will benefit this team immensely between now and 2021. But, I think the immediate results will be mixed. There will be moments of glory and moments where fans shake their heads. I expect Rutgers to lose at least one game because of a late interception. There is talent on this team, but there is a depth issue too, including with the defensive line. They are in the best division in college football and while I think the scores will be closer and there will be glimmers of the future... the end result won’t be there yet.
There is just as good a chance this team goes 4-8 or 5-7, as there is that it goes 6-6. But I, being an optimist, believes that after game 12, the Scarlet Knights will go bowling for the first time under Chris Ash. But I think its obvious for Rutgers fans, we could be seeing a tale of two seasons this year with the good coming in the first 8, and the bad and ugly coming in the final 4.
Wins: Texas State, Buffalo, Kansas, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana
If Rutgers is to become eligible for game 13 this year, then the 6 wins to get there very well may have to come from the first 8. While there are no guarantees when it comes to Rutgers Football, Texas State should be pretty close to a guaranteed win. No offense to Everett Withers, the bobcat program is certainly progressing, but the talent difference between Rutgers and Texas State is just too big.
I know I am not the only Rutgers fan that feels this way, but Buffalo and Kansas immediately bring up thoughts of Eastern Michigan from a year ago. While I think Rutgers comes out of this stretch 2-0, these two teams provide just as much of a threat at derailing Rutgers bowl eligibility as Maryland, Illinois, and Indiana do. Say what you want about Kansas, but this is still a Power 5 team that Rutgers has to play on the road. Its not traveling to Washington, but going halfway across the country and coming out victorious is no easy feat. Buffalo is a team that is anticipated to finish towards the top of the MAC. While Rutgers has the talent advantage, this game could very well depend on start. We have seen in the past the Scarlet Knights start off slow, and if that continues and Buffalo gets up early, momentum can carry the Bulls to a win.
When it comes to Big Ten play, facing Indiana and Illinois at home provides Rutgers with a big advantage as opposed to having to travel to Bloomington and Champaign. yes I know, Indiana dominated the Scarlet Knights last season. However, I think most of us agree the Scarlet Knights did not show up against Indiana last year, and their performance was not an accurate representation of how the team plays. While Maryland is on the road, I expect a strong Rutgers contingent to make the trip. Adding to that, with everything going on in College Park, the Terps have more on their mind than just playing football.
Losses: Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State
Yes. Upsets happen. Syracuse beat Clemson last season. Never say never. While upsets will come as this program grows under Chris Ash, I unfortunately don’t see them happening this season. Besides Northwestern, the 5 other teams all were ranked highly in the initial AP Poll. Adding to that, having to travel to some of the most vaunted destinations in the sport in Columbus, Madison, and East Lansing, does not help Rutgers in their bid to shock the world. The one possible swing game out of these 6 of course is Northwestern. If Rutgers is 5-2 going into homecoming, does the team play with a huge sense of urgency and possibly beat the Wildcats? Only time will tell.
However, as I mentioned earlier, these games will not need to be wins. Rutgers, after there first 7 will be bowl eligible and play a game 13 for the first time under Chris Ash.
Mark me as the eternal pessimist. So pessimistic in fact that last night I had a dream that the closest to a surefire win Rutgers has on the schedule (Texas State) was replaced by a game at Louisville in the former Papa John’s Stadium. Luckily when I awoke, the Cardinals still have to face #1 Alabama in Week 1.
Allowed to more consciously predict the Scarlet Knights’s fate this season, 5-7 still seems to me the most likely outcome. Rarely do teams filled with 20 year olds win every game they have a chance to and every single year we have seen Rutgers lay an egg in at least one winnable game, something not unique to the Raritan. (Pat White at Pitt, remember that one?)
Wins: Texas State, Kansas, Buffalo, Illinois, Maryland
Luckily the Texas State Bobcats are still on the schedule and despite some stops and starts, Rutgers wins that game. Kansas is a power five team, however Rutgers should win the game because they will have faced better competition in week two than the Jayhawks do. Kansas plays a perennially middle of the pack, group of five team in Central Michigan, whereas Rutgers as long as they don’t get destroyed by injuries in the defensive backfield should have already gotten their feet wet in 2018. I really hate the matchup with Buffalo, but with it being the fourth game of the season, RU is less likely to be unprepared for a wrinkle or two than in the first or second week. At 3-2, with Illinois coming to town, Rutgers should be able to impose their will. All those true freshmen who played for the Illini last year will be better, but in a home game Rutgers should be able to ride out another win over their cross-division rivals. At 4-2, Rutgers travels to Maryland and come back with a win. The Terps should be somewhat recovered from the early season turmoil, but even in defeat during the last four contests, Rutgers has been competitive. Like it was for the Fridge, John McNulty’s imprint will be seen in this unofficial rivalry game.
Losses: Ohio State, Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State
No Urban Meyer, no problem “yet” for Ohio State against the non-powerhouses. When Rutgers joined the Big Ten, I believed we could re-assess in 2025 the next time they could beat Ohio State as it would surely not happen before then. Maybe we can re-assess sooner but it won’t be in 2018. Indiana is a toss-up that I give to the away team, even though this surely could be a win, but last year Rutgers was demolished and even 2014 and 2015 required some boneheaded plays by IU for Rutgers to escape with victory. The Northwestern game is homecoming but by that point Rutgers should be a little banged up and the Wildcats have a tendency to feast in relatively even matchups like this one. So then a 5-3 Rutgers squad tries to run the gauntlet against Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn St, and Michigan State. Of the four, I think Penn State is the most winnable, but Trace McSorley is so much better than Christian Hackenberg, I think he can carry them to victory and the streak will continue. Wisconsin, Michigan, and MSU will simply pound a thin Rutgers defensive line until the final whistle.
Bottom line: Last year’s egg on both sides of the ball was at Indiana, which could make the Hoosiers overconfident. I do expect Rutgers to split Indiana and Maryland which means they NEED to beat Northwestern or pull a major upset in one of the season’s final four games. As the Power Five team with the longest drought of not beating a ranked opponent, it has to happen eventually and this is why they play the games. The upside in Piscataway is the best it has been since 2014 for sure and if an opponent loses their starting QB or a few lucky bounces happen, Rutgers could find themselves in a bowl game.
One of the advantages of being a procrastinator is you get to see what others do first, and base your opinions on that. Everyone above me here says it’ll be a 6-6 or a 5-7 season. I’m going to be the sunshine optimist and say its going to be 7-5 on the season. This is based on more than just optimism however, it is an honestly-held belief, based upon what I’ve seen from the team in the spring and this summer. My only caveat is that to be 7-5, they will have to play disciplined and hard-nosed all season, and that will be a challenge with a true freshman under center. I’m saying right here, ‘You can do it, Artur!’
Wins: Texas State, Kansas, Buffalo, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Northwestern
The only one I feel is a “gimme” is Texas State. If Rutgers doesn’t win that game, well they probably won’t win any all season. Kansas is looking for someone to be worse than them, and I sincerely doubt they will beat anyone in their conference, so their only P5 win can be over Rutgers. I still think Kansas can be beaten, even on the road. Our last out-of-conference game against Buffalo is not going to be easy, and can become the Eastern Michigan of 2018 if the team doesn’t take the Bulls seriously. They are a good team with a lot of returning starters this year.
The gift the Big Ten gave to Rutgers this season is that two of the three weaker Big Ten teams playing Rutgers this season are home games this year, and the gift from someone up above is their one away game is a program in disarray due to their problems down I-95 in College Park. With a defense that looks as strong as last season, and an improved offense (please offensive line, don’t let the fans down!), they should be able to beat a rebuilding Indiana, and still-struggling Illinois, and a dispirited Maryland.
The question mark is Northwestern. Rutgers has a good chance of coming into the game against the Wildcats 6-1 and already bowl-eligible. If that is the case, and the team doesn’t get an inflated sense of self, they would be more than ready to take on Northwestern on October 20. Sporting a 6-1 record will also help fill the stands with Rutgers supporters, which is a critical part of close home games. I think if all the dominoes fall the right way (for once) they will be able to pull a win out in Rutgers’ first-ever conference game against Northwestern. By the way, Rutgers is currently 3-0 against the Wildcats, have played them in three different venues (Newark in 1919, Evanston in 1989, and Piscataway in 1991).
Losses: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State
No matter the situation in Columbus and despite the absence of Urban Meyer, Rutgers is not strong enough to win on the road in the Horseshoe against the Buckeyes. Not gonna happen, no matter what, at least this year. The last four games is a gauntlet I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Having to finish the season against Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State with only two at home means that they will have to win early in the season to become bowl-eligible, which I feel they will be by Thanksgiving.
Bottom line, Rutgers will be bowl-eligible and they will not get the lowest-tier game, either. We may see the Scarlet Knights in their third Pinstripe Bowl this December.
I want to start off by saying how excited I am that we are going to be starting true freshman QB Artur Sitkowski in the season opener because I firmly believe he is the future of the program and we might as well start developing him as soon as possible. I hope, however, that the fan base realizes that with this decision there will come quite a few bumps and bruises that could ultimately cost Rutgers a few wins in games that seemed like sure things. It is definitely a promising sign that the coaching staff was able to watch Artur during summer camp and deduce that he is more capable of running John McNulty’s offense than a few quarterbacks that have been in the program for multiple seasons. That should speak volumes for how good this kid must look day in and day out on the field and not to mention the tremendous leadership abilities he must be displaying as well.
I think with Sitkowski at the helm, the odds for Rutgers pulling off a gigantic upset over somebody we have “no chance” against goes up but I also think that some of these “guaranteed” wins vs Texas State, Buffalo, Kansas, or Illinois have a chance to end in disaster due to some timely freshman mistakes. I think that we take 3 out of 4 against the aforementioned Bobcats, Bulls, Jayhawks, and Illini. Then we pick up two more wins elsewhere, including one against one of the big boys of the conference that gives us all a glimpse of what the future could look like on the banks. Strap in boys and girls, it’s going to be a bumpy, frustrating, yet hopeful season. I can’t wait.
Well, well, well. Here we are again. Another year. Another season. Zero expectations. Okay, maybe just a few. I wrote a piece back in December looking at the team’s 2018 schedule and whether or not I thought bowl eligibility is a possibility in 2018. Is it? Yes. Will it happen? Probably not. I am, however, sticking with my 6-6 prediction. Whether or not they win the games I think they’re going to win remains to be seen. With Artur Sitkowski officially the team’s starting quarterback, I’m excited to see what he and the rest of the team can do. The defense looks good, the offense still leaves much to be desired. I definitely don’t expect the team to win any of the last four regular season games after the bye week or the game against Ohio State even with Urban Meyer’s suspension. At this point, every other game feels like a toss up. All I’m looking for right now is improvement and winning another two games qualifies as such.
Wins: Texas State, Kansas, Buffalo, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern
The homecoming game against Northwestern in mid-October feels like the game to watch this season. After all, Rutgers is 3-0 all-time against the program... okay so they haven’t played each other since 1991 and I wasn’t even born yet but it still counts, right? My fingers are crossed for “easy” wins against Texas, Kansas, and Buffalo (two of which are home games) and I’m hoping they can squeak out wins against both Indiana and Illinois. Desperately. Hoping.
Losses: Ohio State, Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State
I don’t think any one of us expects the Scarlet Knights to beat five out of the six teams I have next to losses and if you do: why? Maryland is the only game that they have a decent chance at winning because they won last year; however, they’re playing on the road and lost to them the previous two years. I mentioned in last season’s round table that my bold prediction is that Rutgers won’t be shut out once and that didn’t work out so well last year but I’m still clinging on to that little, tiny, minuscule sliver of hope.
I am optimistic that in the third season with Chris Ash as head coach, we will see a real step forward on the field. There is more talent on the team than there has been since he took over and I’m excited to see which players have taken a step forward in their development. That really is the key to everything, because if success was determined by recruiting rankings, Rutgers would be near the bottom of the Big Ten East for sure. How the coaching staff is able to develop the roster is the key to both the short term and long term outlook for the program.
There are plenty of intriguing young players on this team. However, as I wrote in my ten thoughts article, my optimism is tempered by the fact that 78 of the 107 players on the active roster are redshirt sophomores or younger. 44% haven’t played a college snap entering this season. That’s a lot of unproven players to be rolling with and is the biggest reason I think this season will be a roller coaster of ups and downs. There will be maddening moments laced in between promising ones as well. I say with confidence I think this will be the most interesting team and season in quite some time.
Consistency is the key and will be a battle to achieve all season. I think the margin for error in the first two months is so slim that it’s asking a lot for this inexperienced team to win six of the first seven games, which is realistically what they’ll need to do to make a bowl game. If the schedule was spaced out differently with some more manageable games in November, I would think that goal was more achievable.
Overall, I think the difference in this season is that it will be clear that Rutgers is a better team in November than it was in September. The past three seasons, that wasn’t the case. The problem is, it won’t reflect in the record because of the brutal stretch of four games to end the season. However, a key way to measure progress aside from wins and losses is how competitive Rutgers is against the conference elite. Not everyone wants to hear that, but the reality is this season stands as a key one in the rebuilding phase of this program. Six wins and a bowl game would mark significant progress, but falling short by one game wouldn’t make the season a failure either.
Wins: Texas State, Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Penn State
Losses: Ohio State, Buffalo, Maryland, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State
Ultimately, I think the lack of proven depth behind a talented front line on both sides of the ball will be the biggest factor in terms of this team just falling short of a bowl game. Injuries are going to occur, hopefully just not at a high rate and to not too many key players.
I see a September loss to Buffalo, who could win the MAC, and not because Rutgers is looking past them. I just think after two straight road games and facing a legitimately good team, they’ll fall just short. However, I think redemption against Indiana will follow. Inconsistency and not being able to close the deal against Maryland and Northwestern leads to growth in November. My hope/prediction is that a proud and talented senior class end their careers on a high note by shocking a good, but not great Penn State team in the last home game of the season. Although Ash doesn’t lead this team to a bowl berth in year three, the team will show obvious progress and he’ll notch the first signature win of his Rutgers tenure. The key will be that many young players, inexperienced at the start of the season, will have taken a step forward and the future appears brighter than it has in some time at the end of the 2018 campaign.
Out of ten staff predictions, we averaged out pretty much right in the middle. One outlier pick on either end of the spectrum with 7-5 and 4-8, followed by four picks each for 6-6 and 5-7. It averages out to a prediction of 5.5 wins and 6.5 losses. So what do you think? Let us know in the comments who you agree with and who you don’t, as well as vote in our reader poll to make your own season prediction.
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