Rutgers kicks off the 2019 season with Umass at home under the lights on the 30th of August. Training camp is just a few days away and additional preseason content (like position reviews) will appear in the coming weeks. As much as I agree with the philosophy that the biggest key for the Scarlet Knights this season is improvement from within, particularly offensive competence, let’s take a moment to see who Rutgers will be lining up against during the 150th anniversary campaign.
The 2019 season may be a make or break season for the current coaching staff, here’s the breakdown:
August 30 vs. University of Massachusetts Minutemen
2018 Record: 4-8 overall
This is the first meeting between these two teams since ... ever. This came as a surprise since the Minutemen began their program in 1879. They did play in the old division 1-AA, primarily in the Yankee Conference, yet you would have thought the former Atlantic 10 basketball rivals would have seen one another on the gridiron. Umass hired Florida State offensive coordinator Walt Bell as their Head Coach last December, a man that served in the same role at division rival Maryland from 2016-17 so he has faced Chris Ash’s Rutgers defense twice before. As a result, Rutgers can’t be comfortable penciling this in as a “W” even with the current betting line sitting around -14.5 for the home team. I always get nervous in season openers (see Fresno State twice as evidence), but Rutgers has to win this game against a team that only won four games last year far from the Power Five.
September 7 @ Iowa Hawkeyes
2018 Record: 9-4 overall, 5-4 in conference
Since RU joined the Big Ten, the two teams met once. Way back in 2016 a 14-7 Hawkeye “triumph” was more remembered for the broken Janarion Grant ankle than anything else. Rutgers failed to score on four plays inside the five yard line after the tackle and one long drive from Iowa won the game. The Hawkeyes had another ho-hum season with nine wins last year, are strong on both lines (shocking), and boast experience with success at quarterback, everything Rutgers wishes they had. With it being Week 2, there’s still a lot of unknowns; but as much as Iowa plays and wins conservatively, this is probably a bad year to have them as a crossover opponent.
September 14 BYE WEEK
The bye week is super early, but may bode quite well for Rutgers to try and win an out of conference game against a Power Five opponent for the first time since Kansas in 2015 ...
September 21 vs. Boston College Eagles
2018 Record: 7-5 overall, 4-4 in conference (ACC)
Former Big East foe Boston College has seen rumors their Head Coach Steve Addazio is on the hot seat after a third straight seven win season. Wow. Rutgers surely has a chance in this game because the Eagles had four players drafted last year and another 10 sign undrafted free agent contracts. The BEST BC recruiting class of the last four was ranked 60th (2015) so it’s not like they roll into Piscataway with a significant talent edge. They do return starting quarterback Anthony Brown (20 TD, 9 INT), so it will not be easy. That said if Rutgers can simply be a competent Power Five offense, this is the type of game you win some years.
September 28 @ Michigan Wolverines
2018 Record: 10-3 overall, 8-1 in conference
Rutgers is now 1-4-0 against the Wolverines all-time (wow 2014 seems forever ago) and has lost the last four meetings by a a lot of points. Michigan hasn’t met all of the expectations placed upon them in recent seasons, they’re still a very tough and talented football team. Shea Patterson was simply too good last year and elected to return for his final season of eligibility. Mark down that you heard it here first folks, this one is a loss.
October 5 vs. Maryland Terrapins
2018 Record: 5-7 overall, 3-6 in conference
Rutgers’ third and final win of the 2017 Big Ten season came at home against the Terrapins; they haven’t won a Big Ten game since. Maryland is the team Rutgers HAS to be competitive against and this begins a stretch of “winnable” games before the typical gauntlet to close Big Ten play. The Terrapins are a team still recovering from last season’s turmoil, but Mike Locksley was killing it on the recruiting trail before a recent slide. Expect a lot of speed out of the Maryland backfield per usual, but Rutgers can’t be as bad as they were on offense against Andy Buh’s defense last year, can they?
October 12 @ Indiana Hoosiers
2018 Record: 5-7 overall, 2-7 in conference
The matchup last season was a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Scarlet Knights simply couldn’t get a stop on a third down or else they may have been able to pull off the complete second half comeback that fell short. Every game between the two teams since they became division rivals has been close other than the 2017 embarrassment, but Indiana is coming off a bye which might be enough to pull this out barring a Rutgers comeback for the ages like we saw in 2015 in Bloomington. Both Hoosier quarterbacks, Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix return so it’s not like one ferocious sack will render the opponent way worse at the position. Again, the talent gap isn’t huge so in a year where things broke right, we could see a rare conference road win.
October 19 vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
2018 Record: 7-6 overall, 3-6 in conference
The Golden Gophers under former Scarlet Knight assistant P.J. Fleck really turned it on late in 2018, winning four of their final six games after replacing Robb Smith with Joe Rossi at defensive coordinator. Fleck continues to bring his infectious energy and “Keep Chopping” rip-off “Row the Boat”, while the media loves his hype train. The Gophers did win Paul Bunyan’s axe back for the first time since 2003. They have all three quarterbacks returning including the young man who took Art Sitkowski’s job at IMG, Zack Annexstad. The Gophers surely are steps ahead of the Scarlet Knights, but this is a typical game where IF Rutgers plays well and their visiting opponent does not, it should be a win. If both teams plays well or both play poorly, it’s edge Minnesota.
October 26 vs. Liberty Flames
2018 Record: 6-6 overall
Liberty is a trap game for sure. Really nothing is a guaranteed win for Rutgers at this point, but as a rare late non-conference opponent the Flames will arrive on the banks under the radar in all likelihood. I do prefer later season non-conference games for the bigger program because in theory a Big Ten team should have way more depth than Liberty, even if the Flames have the 5th most experienced roster in all of FBS. Had Rutgers faced a weaker opponent down the stretch of 2018, maybe they would have won another game. Huge Freeze and co. enter this one after a matchup with Maine, one of the better FCS teams, so Rutgers has to win this one at home, right?
November 2 @ Illinois Fighting Illini
2018 Record: 4-8 overall, 2-7 in conference
Ah, the annual crossover matchup with Illinois, a must win for both teams. The past three seasons, it has been won by the visitors, each time with a substantial final margin considering how evenly matched the two schools were on paper. Lovie Smith is not a great college coach, but what I saw in last year’s matchup was someone who understands the current model for being a competent low tier Power Five school; make sure you can run the ball including with your QB. That will net a few wins against weaker opponents and occasionally find a major hole against a blue blood. It caps your ceiling a little more than running a pro-set does, but for now Illinois is in a much better position in their division than Rutgers. This is simple since I doubt both teams will bring their best, whichever team shows up will go home with a W.
November 9 BYE WEEK
The second bye week is not ideally located for Rutgers because their final three games are probably not winnable. Perhaps they didn’t want to lose on the weekend that coincides best with the 150th anniversary of the very first game against Princeton, November 6, 1869.
November 16 vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
2018 Record: 13-1 overall, 8-1 in conference
Rutgers is 0-5-0 against Ohio State and has been outscored by almost 250 points in that span. The Knights did break their shut out streak 58-0 in 2016 and 56-0 in 2017 by registering a field goal in a 52-3 loss last year. I’d consider this game a win if the Knights can score a touchdown and keep the Buckeyes under 50 for the first time in 4 years. Maybe Rutgers still can beat Ohio State by 2035 which I think is the running bet I have with someone, but it surely won’t be this year even if ESPN is bearish on the Buckeyes ...
ESPN gave Ohio State an 8.7% chance of winning the Big Ten, while Michigan received a 48.2% chance to win the conference. What an absolute joke— Barstool OSU (@BarstoolOSU) July 23, 2019
Michigan hasn’t won the Big Ten in 15 years and now they’re a 50/50 shot to win it? ♂️ https://t.co/98EkRBleQJ
November 23 vs. Michigan State Spartans
2018 Record: 7-6 overall, 5-4 in conference
Rutgers is 3-8-0 all-time against Michigan State. The Scarlet Knights’ last win came in 2004, before joining the Big Ten. In their most recent meeting, the Spartans edged the Scarlet Knights, 14-10 in Rutgers’s final game of the 2018 season. A dropped Trevor Morris interception would have sealed a 10-7 win OR a scoring drive by RU as time expired late in the 4th could have pulled a surprising win out also. Consider yourself warned, MSU won’t overlook RU again whether or not they have a similar chance to win the Big Ten like OSU.
November 30 @ Penn State Nittany Lions
2018 Record: 9-4 overall, 6-3 in conference
The Nittany Lions look a lot different this season, but the Scarlet Knights are 2-27 all-time against Penn State. Season finales can be weird, just look at the Michigan State game last year ... So it’s too early to speculate much on this game. Basically hope for that same finale punchers chance, but with a better outcome for the Scarlet Knights.
This schedule is a little more balanced than the one Rutgers struggled with in 2018. Drawing Iowa out of the West this year is not the best considering most sources have them finishing as two of the top three. That said, they aren’t a complete juggernaut at the outset of the year and Rutgers lost to the West champion in 2018 by just three points. A confidence boost with the game against Liberty could be huge. So if the Scarlet Knights can be just a decent college football team, they might win a couple games.
Is there a possibility that the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will play in a bowl game next season? Mathematically, yes, but probably no. That might be enough to continue this coaching staffs tenure. Or not. We shall see.
With a month to go, how many wins do you see for RU in 2019?
This poll is closed
Zero or one ... can we skip to 2020?
Two ... well at least its double ...
Three, you are what your record says you are.
Four, this is a bigger accomplishment than 2017.
Five or more. Just being able to do the basics on offense will transform this program.