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Rutgers Football: A look at Big Ten East opponents

The Scarlet Knights finished fifth in the Big Ten East last season and could look to improve on that this year.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers finished 3-6 last season with Greg Schiano back on the sideline. With summer in full swing, fans are rightfully looking forward to the upcoming season as it is now rapidly approaching.

The Scarlet Knights picked up wins over Michigan State, Purdue, and Maryland last year. This was good enough to finish fifth in the East division of the Big Ten. Rutgers will have a chance to pile up some more victories with non-conference games being included in the schedule — not to mention many key returnees including 20 starters from last season.

Rutgers received word earlier in the year that some of its top players will be back including Olakunle Fatukasi, Tyshon Fogg, and Bo Melton. Noah Vedral will be back under center for year two on the banks.

There is excitement coming out of Piscataway this season and that will continue right into the fall, especially with SHI Stadium running at 100% capacity. Here is a quick glance at all the other teams in the Big Ten East that Rutgers will compete against this coming season.

Ohio State (2020: 5-0, 1st in Big Ten East)

Key Returners: Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Julian Fleming, Master Teague III, Haskell Garrett, Zach Harrison, Sevyn Banks

Key Losses: Justin Fields, Trey Sermon, Luke Farrell, Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers, Shaun Wade, Pete Werner, Baron Browning, Tommy Togiai

Ohio State has been the class of the Big Ten. They are a program that does not rebuild but instead they replenish year in and year out. Justin Fields is now with the Chicago Bears and the Buckeyes will look to the next man up. C.J. Stroud is the favorite to start under center but will have some competition with Jack Miller and Kyle McCord.

The starting quarterback is up in the air but whoever it is, they will have plenty of weapons. Ohio State will return its top-two pass catchers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. On the defensive side of the ball, Sevyn Banks leads a secondary that should once again be near the top of the nation.

This is a team that lost in the CFP National Championship a year ago and they will contend for that prize once again in 2021.

Indiana (2020: 6-1, 2nd in Big Ten East)

Key Returners: Michael Penix, Ty Fryfogle, Miles Marshall, Caleb Jones, Michael Ziemba, Micah McFadden, Cam Jones, Reese Taylor

Key Losses: Stevie Scott, Whop Philyor, Harry Crider, Jerome Johnson, Jovan Swann, Jamar Johnson

Will Michael Penix be good to go for the season? That is the plan. Indiana is hoping to have its star quarterback under center during the start of camp in the fall. Penix suffered a torn ACL that forced him to miss the end of the 2020 season. It was a successful season for the Hoosiers but they will have to overcome some losses.

The defense should be rock solid but Indiana will miss the likes of Stevie Scott and Whop Philyor. There will be even more attention on Ty Fryfogle, the Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year in 2020. Fryfogle finished with 37 catches for 721 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

The Hoosiers’ season depends on the health of Penix. Can they duplicate the success from a year ago? That is yet to be seen.

Penn State (2020: 4-5, 3rd in Big Ten East)

Key Returners: Sean Clifford, Jahan Dotson, Parker Washington, Mike Miranda, Rasheed Walker, Tariq Castro-Fields

Key Losses: Pat Freiermuth, Michal Menet, TJ Jones, Will Fries, Lance Dixon

Expect 2021 to be a big bounce-back year for the Nittany Lions. Penn State dug a huge hole with an 0-5 start last season but was able to win its final four games of the year. With the deep group of returners, the team should be able to ride momentum built from the end of the 2020 season.

Penn State will lose Pat Freiermuth and some talent along the offensive line but Sean Clifford will lead the returners. It is always a bonus to have an experienced quarterback under center — especially when throwing to dynamic receivers. Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington make up a strong duo and should have Penn State back in the national spotlight.

The Nittany Lions are a deep unit that has been built up overtime. After a down year, they should be ready to bounce back.

Maryland (2020: 2-3, 4th in Big Ten East)

Key Returners: Taulia Tagovailoa, Dontay Demus Jr., Rakim Jarrett, Tarheeb Still, Nick Cross

Key Losses: Jake Funk, Chance Campbell, Lance LeGendre

Maryland was forced to end their season early in 2020 because of issues with the COVID-19 pandemic. They are a rebuilding program but will return many players, led by Taulia Tagovailoa. Lance LeGendre made the move to Louisiana-Lafayette and Tagovailoa remains. He will have to take the next step if the Terrapins want to see any success in the fall.

Chance Campbell is a significant loss at the linebacker position but Tarheeb Still will have a chance to lead the defense from the secondary. The defense of the Terrapins is another unit that will have to make a move toward improvement.

The Scarlet Knights picked up a road victory over Maryland last season and this could be another win on their schedule in the fall.

Michigan (2020: 2-4, 6th in Big Ten East)

Key Returners: Cade McNamara, Hassan Haskins, Ronnie Bell, Chuck Filiaga, Andrew Stueber, Aidan Hutchinson, Taylor Upshaw

Key Losses: Kwity Paye, Jalen Mayfield, Chris Evans, Joe Milton, Zach Charbonnet, Cameron McGrone

Michigan is another program looking for a bounce-back year. The Wolverines were extremely disappointing a season ago on both sides of the ball. In 2021, Cade McNamara will lead the charge. He is going to be the starter under center and has turned into a leader in the locker room. McNamara will have Hassan Haskins in the backfield to work with.

The Wolverines will have questions around them all year long and Jim Harbaugh will have to answer them. Can Michigan be a national power once again? Can they be consistent? And most importantly, can they finally beat Ohio State? (Don’t expect that one this year).

Michigan will certainly win more than two games next season but it will be interesting to see how it makes strides as the season goes on.

Michigan State (2020: 2-5, 7th in Big Ten East)

Key Returners: Payton Thorne, Noah Harvey, Jordan Simmons, Connor Heyward, Jalen Nailor, Jaylen Reed, Drew Beesley, Jacub Panasiuk

Key Losses: Rocky Lombardi, Antjuan Simmons

The first year with Mel Tucker on the sideline was a rollercoaster. They picked up unexpected victories over Michigan and Northwestern but suffered five losses by double-digits. Now, the Spartans will look to take a step forward under a second-year head coach. With some non-conference games mixed in, Michigan State will have a chance to get its feet wet early in the season.

Payton Thorne and Temple transfer Anthony Russo will battle for the starting quarterback job heading into the season. Rocky Lombari announced that he was transferring to Northern Illinois just day after Russo committed to the Spartans. There is plenty to work on for Tucker and staff but they are hoping the future is bright.

Like Maryland, the Scarlet Knights picked up a win over Michigan State last season and that could repeat once again in 2021.