The Rutgers Scarlet Knights have reached the halfway point of the 2021 college football season. After bursting out of the gate and climbing to 3-0 against their non-conference opponents, the Knights have suffered 3 straight losses to some of the best teams in the Big Ten and the country. They now find themselves at 3-3.
If you’d asked most fans back in August whether they’d take being .500 in mid-October, with all 3 losses coming to top 10 opponents, the 2022 recruiting class holding firm with minimal defections, and incoming 4-star quarterback Gavin Wimsatt already a member of the team and suiting up on Saturdays, my guess is that the vast majority of those fans would have signed up then and there. That’s because this program is still in the early stages of a massive rebuild under head coach Greg Schiano and his confident and capable staff.
What’s most important right now is that the team continues to build its culture, continues to be competitive, develops its younger players, attracts transfers at positions of need, and holds together its promising, considerably strong incoming recruiting class.
Continuing to develop young talent, and continuing to pull in strong players by way of high school recruiting and through the transfer portal is vital to the trajectory of the program. Queasy long-time fans might remember the 2014 recruiting class, and the 2013 season. At the time, Rutgers had still been pulling in impressive classes and impressive players. That autumn started off well, with Rutgers going 4-1. The Knights had commitments from future NFL standouts Mike Gesicki, David Njoku, and Saquon Barkley (class of 2015). But the team ended the season on a slide. Losing in embarrassing fashion to Houston, finishing 6-6 in the AAC, and 6-7 overall after a loss to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl. All 3 of those recruits decommitted and starred for other schools, and, save for one solid year in 2014, the program embarked on a path downward.
But no matter what happens the rest of this season on the field, fans should rest assured that the same won’t happen in 2021-22. One reason for that is that Schiano is a much more proven and stable coach than Kyle Flood was in 2013, dealing with a myriad of unknowns as Rutgers entered the Big Ten. The second reason is that perhaps the most recognized and vital member of that class is already a student at Rutgers and a member of the football team. Highly touted Owensboro, KY quarterback Gavin Wimsatt left high school early and enrolled at Rutgers in early September. Wimsatt was one of three prospects from different states that were ranked No. 1 in their class for Kentucky, New Jersey (OT Jacob Allen), and New York (LB Moses Walker). The class is reportedly close knit, and is a showcase of talent spanning several states and positions. Like Wimsatt, many of these young players have incentive to come to Rutgers because they could see the field early in their careers. Current first year players Alijah Clark and Tyreem Powell have played meaningful snaps thus far with other classmates also having had the chance to make an impact early.
Wimsatt has become a vocal advocate for the program and the class, and has already started to step into the type of leadership role necessary to be an effective quarterback and face of a program. Wimsatt’s future teammates were encouraged and invigorated to see him enroll early at Rutgers. Many of the members of the 2022 class commented on their future quarterback being able to get a head start, and what that means for the success of the program in the near future. To be sure, seeing the young man in full uniform every week, and an active observer in offensive huddles, is encouraging to fans and commits alike. It certainly has been encouraging to one of the most successful quarterbacks in Rutgers history, as Mike Teel raved about Wimsatt’ s talent and potential on the On The Banks Podcast this week.
Having what may be the crown jewel of the newest recruiting class firmly embedded in the program, already buying in and participating fully in its tactical and cultural transformation, serves as a powerful anchor for the incoming class. Unlike past years, this group of young athletes has no reason to doubt what the future is going to look like. No matter what the final tally of wins and losses at the conclusion of the season is, the future is now, and its already in place. There should be little doubt that with their leader already through the door, the rest of the group should be quickly in behind him.