Rutgers football kicks off the 2020 season exactly one month from the day this article has been published. It’s been a roller coaster the past two months just getting to the decision that the Big Ten will actually play football. Given the unusual timing and circumstances of everything, there are plenty of unknowns right now. Here is an attempt to specify what we know and don’t know about the first team of head coach Greg Schiano’s second tenure leading the program.
We know the schedule, which was released last Saturday and is comprised of eight conference games, followed by a ninth game featuring cross-divisional matchups based on the regular season standings. For a breakdown of the schedule for Rutgers, click here. I’m particularly excited about the season opener at Michigan State. It’s compelling for many reasons that include two first year head coaches revamping their teams, recruiting friction between the two programs, less of a talent disparity compared to other Big Ten East foes and a chance to finally see the Scarlet Knights play football.
We don’t know how many games will potentially be cancelled due to COVID-19 positive results that teams incur. The medical protocols and guidelines that the Big Ten put in place are thorough, but the 21 day sit out rule for players who test positive will certainly be another challenge for coaches to manage during this season.
We know that not having any bye weeks and packing in nine games for each team over nine weeks will make it a challenge to play every contest, based on the multiple cancellations taking place weekly across college football.
We don’t have an official roster or depth chart for this team because neither have been released. It’s likely a roster will be shared near or at the start of full practices on October 1. This date is key as daily testing begins on September 30 and teams are allowed to begin practicing in full pads the following day.
We know that this season is essentially a free year of eligibility for every player. While schools are only obligated to honor the lifetime of the scholarship, players will maintain eligibility. That will make roster decisions even more interesting during Schiano’s rebuild in the years to come and also impact the amount of open spots there are with recruiting classes moving forward.
We don’t know who will start at quarterback this season, but it seems probable it will either be Artur Sitkowski or Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral. With the NCAA’s ruling on the eligibility clause, it’s possible whoever is named starter could hold down the position for the next three seasons. How Schiano and new OC Sean Gleeson manage the quarterback position will be interesting to watch, both this season and beyond.
We know veterans returning like Bo Melton, Isaih Pacheco and Tyshon Fogg are going to be key for the new coaching staff in regard to buy-in and helping to lead the team this season, possibly beyond. Those three players in particular, all of whom have had various levels of success at Rutgers, seem poised to have strong seasons. All three deserve praise for remaining loyal by sticking it out with the program after the previous two seasons. I’m excited to see them get an opportunity to play under this coaching staff.
We don’t officially know which transfers are ruled eligible for this season, except for a player like Vedral who is a graduate transfer. Who can play and how much of an impact they make will be a key to progress made. Brendon White from Ohio State and Aron Cruickshank from Wisconsin are two that I expect to be able to play that could be big contributors this season.
We know that Adam Korsak is an preseason All-American punter set to have another strong season, but don’t sleep on kicker Justin Davidovicz. While he hasn’t had that many opportunities or big moments to shine the previous two seasons, Davidovicz has made 20 of 26 field goal attempts for a 77% conversion rate, including 2 of 2 from 50+ yards. He has also averaged a touchback on 32.4% of his kickoffs over three seasons. If the Rutgers offense is improved this season, Davidovicz could shine.
We don’t know which position group will end up being the strongest this season, but there are far more units that need vast improvement for Rutgers to be more competitive, especially against the blue bloods.
We do know that based on talent and depth, the strong units heading into the season appear to be the running back and linebacker units. Kay’Ron Adams and Aaron Young should have a chance to be capable compliments to Pacheco. At linebacker, the top six producers return, including Rashawn Battle who tied for the team lead with 3 sacks last season.
We don’t know how many injuries this team will deal with this season, but it seems likely every Big Ten program will have the challenge of keeping players healthy after not having a traditional offseason and without full practices until now. Depth is going to be even more important this season, which doesn’t particularly bode well for Rutgers.
We know the defensive play calling will be more aggressive than it was under former head coach Chris Ash. During Schiano’s first tenure at Rutgers, the program’s identity was built around his hard nosed, aggressive defenses that created turnovers and forced the action. How the current staff shift players around and game plan for Big Ten opponents week to week on the defensive side of the ball is a big key to being more competitive this season.
We don’t know what the offense is going to exactly look like under new OC Sean Gleeson, but we do know it will be a fast paced, spread offense. How Gleeson ultimately utilizes personnel will be fascinating to watch this season. It will take time to develop the offense to the level he’ll ultimately want it to be at, but Rutgers should be harder to game plan for and if they can even approach 20 points a game average this season, it will be a major improvement.
We know that Rutgers has a long way to go to climb up the Big Ten ladder, but ending the 21 game Big Ten losing streak this season would be a much needed start.
We don’t know how many wins they will ultimately produce this season, but being more competitive and showing steady improvement throughout this fall is extremely important. Building a strong culture that can breed success long term and making player development a priority are key steps for Rutgers to make in Schiano’s first season. There should be legitimate hope this will happen this fall.
We know fans won’t be able to attend games across the Big Ten this fall, but here is how you can help be part of the game day experience during Rutgers home games.