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Maybe This Is Crazy: Could Rutgers Football Win Out?

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

After a 49-27 loss to a very talented Ohio State team, which looked like Rutgers could compete in the second half for the first time in forever, I’m here for a crazy hot take. Maybe you’ll wonder if I’ve lost my mind. Maybe I’ve consumed too much of the Rutgers football Kool-Aid. But from what I’ve seen so far this season, what I’m about to write is plausible – not likely, but plausible. Again, this is an attempt at wishful thinking, but what the heck.

What I’m here to say is after playing two of the top ten teams in the nation closer than most predicted, Rutgers football has a puncher’s chance of winning out the rest of the regular season. I know, you’ll have what I’m having. (It’s good, believe me.) And true, based on my favorite metric, Rutgers is the 107th best team in FBS right now, I get it. But just hear me out on this.

When you look at the following, consider that Rutgers isn’t going to leave anything on the table this year. Trick plays, laterals, fourth and seven go for its, fake whatever – you name it, they’ll run it. Opponents have to game plan for the entire playbook, which can’t be easy in a pandemic season.

Here are the games remaining on Rutgers’ schedule:

  • Illinois: This Illinois team is not very good right now (0-3). Illinois has lost badly to Wisconsin (good team), lost to Purdue (decent team, we think), and lost badly to Minnesota (don’t want to call a team of hardworking college athletes bad, but they don’t seem great right now). The Fighting Illini have some clear troubles at the QB position, and Rutgers opened as seven point favorites next week. I wouldn’t be surprised if the line ticked back a bit toward Illinois before kickoff, but nonetheless this feels like the first Big Ten conference game in a while where Rutgers is favored to win.
  • Michigan: Ask Ohio State fans if, after what they saw last week, Rutgers can beat this year’s Michigan squad. Michigan has been struggling all season, particularly on offense, and right now ESPN’s FPI has Rutgers as having about a 30 percent chance to win this game; I think it’s a gross underestimate. Rutgers can beat this year’s Michigan squad. This has vibes of 2014 Brady Hoke Michigan right now.
  • Purdue: Purdue is about seven points better than Illinois if you take head-to-head matchups literally. Rutgers won’t be favored in this game and Purdue has legitimate talent, but winnable? There’s a chance here. A 32% chance if you believe ESPN’s FPI, but a chance, and this winning percentage may tick upwards if the preceding two games are W’s.
  • Penn State: Because it’s about damn time. Rutgers will be fired up to play this game, with both teams fighting for the same recruits and with Schiano having his troops fired up to kick start a rivalry. To be clear, PSU won’t be winless when we play them, but Rutgers may legitimately have the stronger record at this point. Like Michigan with Harbaugh, I’m not sure James Franklin doesn’t see the writing on the wall about the Big Ten East becoming a challenging future place to live at this point.
  • Maryland: Believe me when I say, and this is weird to say but, of all the teams in this bullet pointed list, I’m most concerned about Maryland. This is a team which was severely underrated and which is over-performing this year (sound familiar?), which is cool and all, but as of this moment even though they are at 2-1, they are 68th in the country in S&P+. If this game were played this weekend, based on ESPN’s FPI projection, Rutgers would be a slight favorite AT Maryland. Crazy stuff.

Of course Rutgers as a football team should focus on game planning and practice, and of course they should take it one game at a time. Of course this is all kind of silly nonsense to post right now. But Rutgers fans have been through a great deal since 2014, and it’s okay for one week to dream big. Let’s forget Kyle Flood’s scandals, suspension, and firing. Let’s forget how Chris Ash, while he recruited the best he could and certainly did the best he could to bring a representative result to the fans, could never get a team to perform the way we expected as fans.

Right now, in the weirdest year ever, with fake punts, laterals, and overhand two-handed flips from offensive linemen, Rutgers is doing things we weren’t expecting the year. It’s fun to watch, so for one week, let’s dream. Then two weeks. Then three…