The 2020 season was a good one for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights’ three wins matched their combined total from the previous two seasons. Their three Big-Ten victories matched their total from 2017, which was the last time Rutgers won a conference game before 2020.
As good as the 2020 season was, it is almost time to put it behind us. Rutgers opens the season on Sept. 2 against Temple and fans are ready to set their sights on 2021. When looking at the 2021 schedule for the Scarlet Knights, there are many stretches where different outcomes can be expected.
It begins with the first three games of the season. Non-conference games are back and Rutgers has three winnable games on tap. It begins with a home game against Temple before the Scarlet Knights travel to take on Syracuse. The third and final non-conference game of the season comes in Piscataway comes against Delaware.
Rutgers was granted no favors beginning in Week 4. This is when Big-Ten play begins for the Scarlet Knights and they open up with back-to-back match ups against Michigan and Ohio State. The same can be said about their finish to the year with Indiana and Penn State back-to-back. Rutgers finished the year with a home game against Maryland.
Yes, the middle part of the schedule was skipped over and that is because it is the most-pivotal stretch for the Scarlet Knights.
After what will likely be a long afternoon against the Buckeyes, the Scarlet Knights begin a four-game stretch that can make or break their season. It begins with a home game against Michigan State on Oct. 9 before traveling to Evanston to take on Northwestern. Rutgers will enjoy their bye week on Oct. 23 before coming back to take on Illinois and Wisconsin.
If the goal is to make a bowl game, Rutgers will need at least two victories in this four-game stretch. That is assuming they can win the first three games of the season. This would give them five wins heading into the final stretch of the season, which means the game against Maryland could be the biggest of the year.
So, are there two wins in those four games?
The Scarlet Knights got off to a strong start in 2020 by defeating Michigan State 38-27 in East Lansing. This game will be at SHI Stadium in 2021 and Rutgers can make it two in a row against the Spartans. Michigan State turned the ball over seven times in this match up last season, which is unlikely to happen again, but this is not the Michigan State of old.
Rutgers will take on a tough Northwestern team next. It is always tough on the road in Evanston but again, this is not a typical Northwestern squad. With that being said, it will be extremely difficult to win this game. The same can be said about the Wisconsin game but anything is possible. Rutgers has a ton of production returning from last season which puts them in position to pull off an upset.
Saturday, Oct. 30. Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Illinois. This has to be a game circled on the calendar.
Rutgers entered this match up last season favored on their home field. Some costly turnovers and the inability to stop a running quarterback caused Illinois to pickup the victory. This is a revenge spot and one that can really be the deciding factor in the season.
Again, after this stretch, Rutgers has two games on the road — one against Indiana and one against Penn State. This sets up a game against Maryland at home for all of the marbles. This could give them their sixth victory of the season. Ultimately, it will not matter for bowl implications unless Rutgers can win their first three games and steal two in that all-important four-game stretch in the middle of the season.