Rutgers football head coach Greg Schiano is known as a great motivator and he will surely need all the juice he can muster this fall. While the Big Ten returning is a positive from a financial standpoint for every conference member, it poses a significant challenge on the field for the Scarlet Knights. Winners of just three games over the past two seasons and mired in a 21 game Big Ten losing streak, they now have to prepare for an anticipated 8 game, conference only schedule with just over five weeks until it begins.
If Schiano likes to show movies to his team for inspiration, perhaps he should start with Mission: Impossible and run the entire series.
Reasonable Rutgers fans shouldn’t haven’t expected too much success in year one of Schiano’s second tenure. Now, the challenge is markedly more difficult compared to the original 2020 schedule. Non-conference games are no longer an option and with 75% of the schedule against Big Ten East opponents, it will be even tougher to end the conference losing streak this season. No word on the schedule and which crossover opponents they will face as of yet, except that each East division team will take on the school that finished in the same place in the West the same day as the Big Ten title game. You can view the 10 game Big Ten only schedule that was released in August here that will be reduced again.
Injury prevention, on the other hand, will be a challenge every Big Ten team will have, not to mention keeping players healthy in regard to Covid-19.
Schiano and his staff have done an admirable job reshuffling the roster ahead of this season. The changes are highlighted by adding eleven transfers, including ten from power five programs and six from the Big Ten. Players that Schiano has brought to the banks from within the conference include defensive lineman Mayan Ahanotu from Minnesota, former Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank, former Michigan defensive linemen Michael Dwumfour and Aaron Lewis, former Ohio State defensive back Brendon White, quarterback Noah Vedral from Nebraska. While eligibility for every player hasn’t been formally announced, nor has an official roster for Rutgers, it’s fair to expect many of them to compete for immediate playing time if the are eligible.
The transfer who could potentially make the biggest impact is Vedral. The graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining should be considered the front runner to start under center this season. His experience running a spread, no huddle offense makes him a good fit for new Rutgers offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson’s system. While both Vedral and Artur Sitkowski have experience starting games in the Big Ten, their skill sets are different. Sitkowski has the better arm, but Vedral has the edge as a rusher and short yardage passer. With the RPO (run-pass option) likely to be a facet of the offense, Vedral should need less time to adapt to the Rutgers offense, while Sitkowski will be adjusting to entirely new system. Perhaps Johnny Langan, who ended up starting most of last season after Sitkowski redshirted, could be in the mix as well.
Regardless of who does become the starting quarterback, getting the team ready for Big Ten play after missing all of Spring camp and most of the normal offseason workout schedule, there is a lot of catching up to do. Obviously, all the Big Ten programs are more or less in the same position, although some have been practicing straight through the past month plus. Rutgers has been one of a few Big Ten teams that had to pause workouts over the past few weeks, as the entire program was under quarantine in early August.
Another challenge is the new coaching staff having had little practice time with the players. The positive with this is that Schiano has added several coaches who have worked for him previously, so the staff should be in a good position to hit the ground running on the practice field with a strong understanding of how he wants things done. Schiano is a master of preparation, so you know he and his staff have taken the time over the past few months to be ready to execute a plan once the season did finally begin. Having more time to rebuild the culture and study film should be a benefit as well.
Expectations for this season should be low for Rutgers. Being more competitive both physically and on the scoreboard, better coached in the fundamentals and more strategic in game planning week to week are things that fans should hope to see improvement in. How it translates to wins or losses remains to be seen, but in a year that has been stranger than most of us have ever seen in our lifetimes, seeing the Schiano era finally kickoff for a second time is a welcomed development.
If Rutgers can be well prepared, work hard, and play together, which were staples of Schiano’s first tenure on the banks, progress will be made this season. Hopefully, that translates to a couple of wins too. Even if it doesn’t, the rebuild of Rutgers football and journey up the Big Ten ladder officially begins now.