Non-conference football is back in 2021.
Rutgers finished 3-6 in 2020 after playing nine Big-Ten games in nine consecutive weeks. The Scarlet Knights were able to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and get all of their games in. Greg Schiano returned to Piscataway and had plenty to deal with in a strange season. Now, there will be some normalcy brought back to college football.
The Scarlet Knights will be able to play in front of fans with SHI Stadium operating at 100% capacity for the fall. In addition to fans, non-conference games are back and Rutgers will have a chance to branch out.
It begins on Thursday, Sept. 2 when Temple will travel to take on Rutgers. For some of the Owls from 2020, they will be in Piscataway long before the season-opener.
The transfer portal was extremely busy this offseason. Schiano was extremely active in the portal and was able to land some potential studs, such as Patrice Rene and Joshua Youngblood. Rutgers has also added some key members from Temple.
It began with defensive lineman Ifeanyi Maijeh. As a sophomore in 2019, Maijeh was named First Team All-AAC after totaling 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for the Owls. Just six days after Maijeh made his announcement, he was joined by teammate David Nwaogwugwu. Finally, Christian Braswell became the third Temple player to transfer to Rutgers back in April. The redshirt junior has 61 tackles, 16 pass deflections, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 30 career games over three season.
Rutgers will have a chance to begin their season with a victory with the opening line having them favored by double digits over former Big East foe Temple.
In Week 2, the Scarlet Knights will travel to Syracuse potentially attempting to avoid a letdown against the Orange.
Dino Babers could be coaching for his job this season. He has led Syracuse to a winning record just one time in five years. In 2018, the Orange finished with 10 wins and a victory over West Virginia in the Camping World Bowl. Since then, Syracuse is 6-17.
The Orange finished 1-10 in 2020. It is hard to get much worse than that. Babers needs to show a ton of improvement if he wants to keep his job into 2022. This is a potential trap game for Rutgers but they must avoid that. They will have nine days to prepare against another former conference foe for this game with the season-opener being played on a Thursday. This is a matchup between two teams close to each other and there should be plenty of energy surrounding the Scarlet Knights with a chance to begin the year 2-0.
The final non-conference game before Rutgers enters the gauntlet that is the Big Ten is a home matchup against Delaware. The Blue Hens finished 7-1 in the spring and suffered a loss in the FCS semi-final matchup against top-ranked South Dakota State. This is the Scarlet Knights lone FCS team on the schedule so what exactly is the intrigue?
There are still some question marks surrounding Rutgers so do not be surprised to see Delaware being picked as a massive upset special in this game. When analysts need to decide on an FCS over FBS upset, the Blue Hens will be one of the attractive picks. This would be an absolute disaster for Rutgers as they are paying Delaware $350,000 to play this game. While this something that could happen, RU is still the more talented team heading into this matchup. The Scarlet Knights should be able to handle the Blue Hens and earn the victory.
Rutgers will welcome back non-conference opponents in 2021 and all three have intriguing storylines to keep an eye on — and that will only grow as we creep closer to the season. If Rutgers wants to get to that six-win mark and potentially clinch a spot in a bowl for the first time in seven years, they must take advantage of the schedule over the first three weeks of the season.