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OTB Round Table: Rutgers Football Season Predictions

Our contributors give their takes on how the 2021 campaign will turnout for the Scarlet Knights.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Michigan at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the 2021 season just days away from kicking off against Temple, our contributors got together to make predictions for the gauntlet ahead. Year two of Greg Schiano 2.0 at Rutgers brings high hopes for even more improvement from last year’s 3-6 campaign. While this group covered what expectations should be here, now it’s time to determine what we think will actually happen including final regular season record predictions.

Greg Patuto: There is no real right or wrong answer for how this season can go for Rutgers. What that means is that there are plenty of question marks heading into Thursday night’s opener that can make or break the 2021 campaign. It is fair to expect further improvement after a 3-6 season with Greg Schiano back on the sidelines in 2020.

One positive is that non-conference games are back. Nothing can be written in ahead of time with Rutgers but they have a chance to pickup three early victories against Temple, Syracuse, and Delaware. The Scarlet Knights will be on the road against Syracuse so that could sneak up on them but it would be a disappointing loss. Let’s say Rutgers starts off 3-0.

This is where the Big Ten schedule begins. They have a tough start with Michigan and Ohio State and another difficult back-to-back later in the year against Indiana and Penn State. That leaves five games on the schedule to get four wins if the Scarlet Knights want to qualify for a bowl game. This schedule can be broken down into two parts — winnable and probable losses. Wisconsin and Northwestern go into the probable loss category while Michigan State, Illinois, and Maryland as winnable.

If Rutgers wins its first three games of the season and duplicates the 3-6 finish from a year ago, they will reach that six win-mark. It will not be easy and I think they’ll fall just short.The Scarlet Knights can win all three non-conference games and beat Michigan State and Maryland. The Illinois game is one that will upset fans once again but it is a road game this year and the Illini could be improved with their new coaching staff.

Despite a 5-7 season, the Scarlet Knights are setup well for the future. This is to more victories than last season and will welcome an elite recruiting class. This means Schiano and Rutgers are ready for more victories in the future. 5-7

Art Stein: With continuity in the coaching staff, improved recruiting and another year of strength and conditioning, the Scarlet Knights will be improved from last year although their overall record may not reflect a quantum jump in overall wins.

The Knights bring back a senior led team but a lot will depend on the play of the QB position. Noah Vedral showed flashes in his first year on the Banks and will need to continue to improve by cutting down on turnovers. Sean Gleeson realizes that the downfield passing game needs to show marked improvement. Personally, I am not as concerned with the offensive line which has been a consistent area of concern. The running game will again be solid and more production from the tight-end position could make a big difference particularly in the red-zone. The defense is solid from front to back, but injuries are always the x-factor particularly for the Scarlet Knights who don’t have the level of depth as the top tier Big Ten teams.

I would be surprised if we don’t start the season 3-0. But as the weather turns colder, the schedule also gets much tougher. I see us winning two Big Ten games from some combination of Illinois, Michigan State and Maryland for a total of five wins. This will set us up nicely for the historic recruiting class of 2021 and future recruiting classes moving forward. Enjoy the journey everyone. 5-7

Cara Sanfilippo: I said a lot of this in the season expectations roundtable, but with the over/under at 4, I believe Rutgers can win 5 games with a stretch of 6. Some might say I am being overly optimistic, and after showing signs of life last season, the Scarlet Knights may take a backslide. Fair point, but as someone who has had season tickets for almost a decade, I have seen my share of ups and downs. I know this team has the ability to throw me up in the air and then slam me back on the ground (read: Louisville 2012, Penn State 2014, etc). However, I am in fact an optimist. And in order to continue buying season tickets, I have to believe that Rutgers will continue to progress. Notice how I didn’t say have a winning record because that to me is unrealistic with our schedule. Let’s tick through the games to understand how I got to my win count.

While I understand that none of our first three games are against cupcake teams, I do believe in order to have any chance in the B1G, they need to start on a winning streak. I believe they can and should win these games. Win/loss count: 3-0. We then enter a quite difficult stretch of the season, with a visit to Michigan on Sept. 25 and the Ohio State coming to the banks on Oct. 2. That is rounded out to me by a game we can win in Michigan State at home on Oct. 9. Win/loss count: 4-2. Next come a 50/50 toss-up, with away games at Northwestern (loss) and Illinois (I have to put this as a win because if they blow this one again, I just can't). Win/loss count: 5-3. The next three games, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Penn State, I have to put in the loss column, even though there is not a team I would like them to beat more than Penn State. Maybe if it were at home, but I think last year was an anomaly for PSU in terms of their poor start to season. Win/loss count: 5-6. Lastly, a team with perhaps worse fans than PSU, the final home game against Maryland. This is our true rivalry and one I believe we will win. Rutgers is on a current win streak after beating Maryland at home last season. I believe we will end the season with a bang. 6-6

Lawrence Krayn: I’ve said that this season may not necessarily be one for the ages, but it cannot be a step back either. I’m predicting that Rutgers remains competitive through a large portion of their contests, which is probably the most important thing we’d all like to see from a “growth-of-the-program” standpoint.

I’m predicting that the Scarlet Knights go 6-6 this year. Realistically, I could see them going anywhere from 4-8 to 7-5, but I just have confidence in the coaching staff and current composition of the team: with a multitude of hungry returning upperclassman, and an infusion of talented youngsters, I don’t see this team failing to win more than 1 or 2 games down the stretch. The schedule is not going to be easy, (is it ever?), but it does allow for a chance at a respectable record. Lets take a look:

Temple: (Win). The Owls have seen a bit of a downswing under Rod Carey. While they’ve been a respectable program in recent memory, and have given Rutgers close-calls as recently as the mid ‘10s, they are still a smaller program from a less major conference. This one will be in Piscataway under the lights, with hungry players and raucous fans. While I could see the game starting out close, with both teams working through adrenaline and jitters, I do not expect the home crowd to go home disappointed.

Syracuse (Win): This game is not a “gimme”. It’s on the road against a power 5 opponent with a history of rivalry. All of that being said, there is going to have to come a time during the continued development of this program, when beating Syracuse becomes a relatively routine endeavor. What better time than 2021? Syracuse had a disappointing season last year, going 1-10. They played some decent opponents, but they did not put up a fight against any of them. If Rutgers wants to truly turn the corner, they’ve got to win games like these, and I predict they do.

Delaware (Win): Delaware is a very good FCS team. But, they are an FCS team. If Rutgers takes this game for granted, things could get very frightening. Delaware went to the FCS semifinals last year, but they did get pummeled by South Dakota State. In the end, I just don’t believe they've got the talent to keep up with a Big Ten team. With a 3:30 kickoff that should provide for a nice day of tailgating, I think the Knights get their third win.

Michigan (Loss): Last year the game was close. Rutgers has beaten Michigan before, and despite the embarrassing beatings during the Chris Ash era, the Wolverines do not appear invincible the likes of Ohio State. Still, this is not last year. There will be no odd contextual circumstance with Covid-19 looming overhead, and the Scarlet Knights will not be at home. Michigan pulled out the W last season, and I expect them to take this one too.

Ohio State (Loss): The program just isn't there yet. Last season, Schiano’s squad turned heads by racking up points and continuing to play tough in the second half, despite the game being virtually out of reach. This year, look for them to continue that trend, playing even more competitively and beginning to put the Buckeyes on notice that the days of Rutgers playing doormat are numbered. Those days aren’t over yet though. Ohio State wins this one, and I don’t think its ever in doubt.

Michigan State (Win): It’s tempting to give this one to the Spartans, just because the two programs are on relatively equal footing and Michigan State is going to be out for revenge. Even with that being the case, Rutgers is at home, and I just can’t shake the feeling that they’ve got the superior coaching staff. In a back and forth affair, I think RU ends the day on top.

Northwestern (Loss): This one is on the road, and Northwestern had an impressive outing last year. Granted, they will be a very different team this season, having lost a number of productive starters. Still, the Wildcats are the defending BIG West champs, and that is no easy feat. If I'm being honest about my confidence level, I’d say you could flip this and the Illinois game, but for now I'm giving the cats the benefit of the doubt in ending last year with an impressive ranking and a decisive Citrus Bowl win over Auburn. This prediction might either look on-point or ludicrous by the time we reach October 16, but its August and that’s how I see it.

Illinois (Win): The Illini got the better of Rutgers last season. This was largely on the back of freshman Quarterback Isaiah Williams, who picked Robb Smith’s defense apart with his legs. Williams has since moved to wide receiver, and I expect Rutgers to be ready for the rematch. This game is a tossup, but based on the sour taste that must still be in the Knights’ mouths from last season, I’m giving them the W.

Wisconsin (Loss): One of the most unpleasant football memories I have is of November 1, 2014. On that date, in a cold constant rain, the Badgers did what they do best: they wore Rutgers down on the ground. Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement trampled the Knights Defense behind a dominant performance by the Wisconsin O-line. Rutgers has quite a few impressive o-lineman in the pipeline, but most of them are young or still in high school. The Knights do have a solid group of O-lineman currently, and their D-line looks to take a noticeable and impactful step forward this season. Still, they just are not yet to the level of Wisconsin in the trenches. I expect a repeat of that terrible 2014 memory, just perhaps a bit more competitive, and hopefully minus the rain.

Indiana (Loss): Last season’s epic final play was rendered null by what some consider a questionable call by the officials. Even if it hadn’t been, Rutgers wouldn’t have won. The Hoosiers have gone through a culture change and right now, are a good football team. This game is on the road and Rutgers has not completed their turn-around to the level Indiana has quite yet. The days of Rutgers perennially having a chance to beat Indiana are suspended for the time being. Indiana wins.

Penn State (Loss): As much as RU fans want to finally beat the Nittany Lions, it isn’t going to happen in 2021. Penn State had an off-year last season, but most expect them to rebound. James Franklin continues to recruit well, and he will have his talented team up to play in front of the home crowd. The great equalizer in this rivalry is going to be talent development and a home crowd. We will see how things look next year in Jersey.

Maryland (Win): A home game against Maryland with a bowl game on the line. I like the way that sounds. The fact is that while Maryland and Rutgers have traded blows over the years, and while Maryland has played competitively against other Big Ten squads at times, when its come down to finishing a season strong, with something actually on the line, Rutgers always seems to pull out the victory. Until Maryland can live up to its recruiting and potential, and can consistently beat Rutgers and other Big Ten teams, I’m going to give season-ending home games to the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers wins, and finishes the season at .500 with a bowl bid. 6-6

David Anderson: In the reasonable expectations roundtable recently I predicted five wins (though the Jets-Mets-RU fan in me feels this is way too optimistic), so I’ll stick with that. I see a best case scenario of seven and worst case scenario of three victories.

Losses: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, Indiana. Even if one of these teams was to lose their starting QB, I don’t think Rutgers run defense will be that much better in 2021. It would take RU playing their best game of the year and one of these teams having their dud the same weekend to pull the huge upset. Michigan won’t be in panic mode by week 4 & RU would have a better chance later in the year whereas the more time Indiana has to get Penix healthy and in rhythm, ugh.

Wins: Temple, Delaware, Illinois. Season openers always scare me, though the home crowd should be electric and if they did lose to Temple, Schiano would shock someone later in the year to make up for it. Delaware would scare me a lot more in the season opener. The Illinois game comes after an RU bye week when the Illini will be banged up after their trip to Penn State. The revenge factor (who will be overconfident) is going to be off the charts especially if former RU starting QB Art Sitkowski becomes the starter following a “vintage” 2020 performance in the Illini’s season opener, 12-15, 124 yards, 2 TD.

Toss-ups: Syracuse, Michigan State, Northwestern, Maryland. That “stacked” 2011 RU team needed 2 OT to beat ‘Cuse in the dome, MSU won’t turn it over seven times again, Northwestern is always a wildcard good or bad, and Maryland is always in this category.

Again, they could lose a game in the win list or win one in the loss area, that’s why you play the games. Admittedly, I might not be putting enough stock in the fact that Rutgers played in some tight games last year for the first time in a while. Also, I have confidence in this coaching staff more than the Ash or Flood staffs who won maybe one game each during their entire tenures that would have been marked as a loss heading into that particular season. Rutgers has more than double the drought of any other power five team in beating a ranked opponent. Hopefully RU can beat Temple to start the year, ride the momentum to keep the recruiting class intact, and maybe even sneak into a bowl game. 5-7

Dave White: Okay, I have no idea. This season is such an unknown for me, a) because I don’t follow the football offseason all that closely (forming an Alliance feels more like a Survivor strategy by the way) and b) I don’t think any of us know the way COVID played into last season for every team. Here are the positives: Rutgers won 3 Big Ten road games last season. They have a relatively easy-on-paper out of conference schedule. And the team is very, very experienced.

But there are negatives: The book is out on Rutgers and the Scarlet Knights are unlikely to catch teams off guard this year. Last season, Rutgers gave up the most points in the Big Ten and I can’t see a huge jump improvement there. They will probably be better, but by how much? COVID hasn’t slowed down other teams this year and there haven’t been many opt outs of players, as far as I’m aware. Rutgers will be going against full strength teams, which, in two of their wins last year, their opponents were missing their best players. And I am very curious about Rutgers depth.

I see this as a bridge season. I think we have to keep our expectations in check. I think this team has a floor of 4-8 and a ceiling of everything goes right 7-5. I’ll split the difference. 5-7

Chris Banker: I took a rather optimistic view on the upcoming season in a recent column, and I still tend to believe that reaching bowl eligibility is a reasonable goal for Greg Schiano and the Scarlet Knights this fall. This is college football, though, and weird things happen. I expect Rutgers to win a game they probably shouldn’t win, and staying true to form, lose a game they have no business losing. The most likely scenario for this team feels like a 5-7 record, and while it sounds disappointing, it would be a massive step forward for the program and a signal to current and future recruits that the tide is indeed turning in Piscataway. Win five games, give a Northwestern or Indiana a scare, and stay competitive against the Big Ten East elite? That’s a season fans would have signed up for in earnest just a few short years ago. 5-7

Andrew Cangiano: Last year the Scarlet Knights turned heads by winning three games in an all-Big Ten schedule and keeping the score competitive in most others. After losing all five home games last year, Rutgers will win at least three games in Piscataway this year. I expect the team to take another step forward this season and earn the six wins needed to ensure a trip to a bowl game. If things break right for Rutgers this could be a seven or eight win team. If this team struggles to win close games, four or five wins is more likely.

Let’s break the 12 game season down into quarters

1. Quarter 1: opponents (Temple, Syracuse, Delaware)

Prediction: 3-0

The Scarlet Knights should beat Temple and take care of Delaware, both at home. The biggest challenge will be on the road against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, but something in my gut says Rutgers wins all three to go undefeated in the non-conference slate

2. Quarter 2: Opponents (Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State)

Prediction 1-2

Winning on the road at the Big House against Michigan will be a challenge, and this team isn’t ready to take down the fourth ranked Buckeyes. Rutgers will knock off Michigan State and new head coach Mel Tucker.

3. Quarter 3: Opponents (Northwestern, Illinois, Wisconsin)

Prediction 1-2

The Scarlet Knights travel to the state of Illinois for consecutive road games against Northwestern and Illinois (with a bye week in between). I expect a split, with Rutgers taking down the Illini. Two wins would be icing on the cake. Expect a surprisingly competitive game against the Badgers, but Wisconsin to prevail.

Quarter 4: (Opponents: Indiana, Penn State, Maryland)

Prediction: 1-2

Competitive road games against Indiana and Penn State will result in tough losses, but the Scarlet Knights will salvage this quarter by winning their final game of the season at home against the Terps and become bowl eligible.

Biggest Win: The most significant victory of the season will come in the team’s final game against Maryland, with bowl eligibility potentially on the line, the Scarlet Knights will not lose in front of the home fans. Final score: 31-24. Final Record: 6-6

Fred Gaudios: I predict the most fun Rutgers fans will have had watching this team since (at least) 2014. I predict a spirited and joyous return to watching Rutgers football in person again; the sights, the sounds, the pomp and circumstance. The record? I don’t know. Last season, Rutgers won three games and lost three close ones, and as I’ve said here many times before with respect to men’s hoops, well-coached teams have a tendency to play ahead of schedule in terms of their development. Of course, football includes blocking and tackling, and it’s just damn challenging to do those things at a size and speed disadvantage. Those things aside, I’m not worried about execution with this particular coaching staff and this particular team. So what the heck, it’s bold prediction time. I predict Rutgers starts the season 3-0, but settles back to what we might expect once the competition ramps up. Let’s call it 5-7, with an outside chance at 6-6. Record aside, the team grows by leaps and bounds and Rutgers once again becomes a “What is going on in [insert college town]? [Insert college team] looks decent out there” media tagline by November. 5-7

Patrick Mella: Ok so how do we get to five wins? To me the key to five wins lies within the first three games. If they can come out of the non-conference schedule at 3-0 I think they’ll get their fives wins. You’d live with 2-1 but if they started the season 3-0 you can go into the Michigan game playing loose. Heck it sets the tone for the rest of the season. You’ve got three wins in your pocket no matter what happens. So that leaves us looking for two more wins. For the sake of argument, let’s remove the ranked opponents (although the Indiana matchup is an intriguing one), as well as Michigan. That leaves us with Northwestern, Michigan State, Illinois and Maryland. I’m going to remove Northwestern less because of their success last year but more because Rutgers seems to always play Illinois and Maryland tough. I believe Rutgers will split those matchups dropping to Illinois but winning the final game versus Maryland. My upset of the season will be Homecoming versus Michigan State.

And if you’re looking for some totally unsolicited gambling advice, that in no way shape or form should be followed - I’ve got Rutgers covering the points versus Temple at home in week one. And if you lose money remember that there’s still plenty to be happy about. Football is back and the Ash era is over! Season Prediction: 5-7

Aaron Breitman: There is a lot to like about this team with the experience back, the non-conference schedule, the talent at the skill positions, the special teams and most of all, the coaching staff. However, those positives are going to be hard to make up for two major concerns from my point of view.

While I think both Andrew Aurich and Jim Panagos are excellent coaches along the offensive and defensive lines, I don’t think Rutgers has the talent or depth in those position groups to allow for major progress this season.

The offensive line has been shuffled in the offseason more than an all night card game. The staff will be creative in mixing and matching the best combination they can find, but I think that reality doesn’t bode well for their ceiling as a unit. I think they could be improved but still far away from where they need to be to hold up against the top half teams in the Big Ten.

As for the defensive line, there is some legitimate talent, but going into the season with only about half the rotation proven is concerning. For a defense that was routinely gashed by the run last season in averaging 4.5 yards per carry, it’s hard to have confidence this unit won’t get worn down at the end of games if they can’t find more contributors to back the likes of Julius Turner and Mike Tverdov. Maybe they will, but it’s ideal to have a rotation of 8-10 players and I think Rutgers will need several players to make major development strides to accomplish that this season.

The other issue speaks to a broader issue outside of those two position groups and that is overall depth. The two deep is much improved from the end of the Ash era and Schiano has done a masterful job of upgrading the roster with transfers who have or should make an impact soon. However, what happens when injuries start to be a factor? While there are more talented players below the two deep than years past, they are young and inexperienced. The secondary is a huge concern depth wise and Patrice Rene is already set to miss the Temple game. I think Rutgers was fortunate last year and also deserve credit for their strength and conditioning by limiting injuries last season. With a 12 game slate this fall and a pretty difficult second half of the schedule coming right off of physical battles against Michigan and Ohio State, how RU holds up health wise is really the key to the season.

Let me be clear. The coaching staff has done a great job to get Rutgers to the point it is at entering this season. Recruiting has exceeded expectations and the future for this program is very bright. I just don’t think this team will make as much progress this season from a wins and losses perspective as fans hope they do. That doesn’t mean progress won’t occur overall and I have no doubt that it will.

The thing is that everything would have to break right with the Scarlet Knights sweeping the non-conference schedule, which is no guarantee, and winning the 50/50 games against Michigan State, Maryland and Illinois. That’s the clearest path to six wins and while this team could pull an upset in Big Ten play, my hope is that Rutgers can just get to October with a bowl game still a possibility. Anything else they do beyond that should be considered gravy. I think West crossover games against Northwestern and Wisconsin are more difficult than last season and harder than some fans seem to think. Playing Illinois away is also harder than playing them at home like last season. This schedule is a really tough road for a team to rebuild while traveling on like Rutgers. While I fully believe this team will be fun to watch and will play their guts out on a weekly basis, it is talent, depth and execution that wins in the Big Ten. 4-8

B Vincent P – This is going to be an interesting year. The out of conference games are critical to my prediction and require Rutgers taking care of business and winning all three games. I don’t see Temple putting up much of a fight and though Syracuse is down, this is an early trap game for RU (they must take care of business in the DOME). I have heard many folks say Delaware is the game to be concerned about, however, this is a Schiano 2.0 team, and I don’t see it. I had MSU, Maryland, and Illinois, as wins for Rutgers this year, but after watching Art Sitkowski beat Nebraska (a team RU has never beaten), I am little less confident with the Illinois “W”. With that said, I am sticking to RU pulling off those wins. Now here is where it gets interesting, can this RU team find a way to win a game on the road at UM, PSU, Indiana, or NW? I am going all in and saying RU will win one of those games. I won’t say which one yet, but I will the week of the game. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! This is the year RU goes bowling, once again. I am going all in on Rutgers going 7-5 (8-5 after winning their bowl game). You have all season to call me out on my prediction accuracy or ask me what Mega Millions or Power Ball numbers you should be playing. 7-5

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section and vote in our poll on what Rutgers’ final regular season record will be this fall.


What will Rutgers’ regular season record be this season?

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