The final non-conference game of the season is in the rearview and Rutgers is entering the Big Ten gauntlet beginning this week.
The Scarlet Knights rolled past Wagner 52-3 in what was expected to be a lopsided game coming in. While it might have been a blowout, there should not be much taken away from this performance. With that being said, Rutgers is now 4-1 and off to its best start since 2014.
Now, Big Ten play will begin full-time and Rutgers needs to find two wins to clinch a bowl game. The next three games makes up the most pivotal stretch for the Scarlet Knights in years.
The season has gone the way it needs to this point for Rutgers to return to a bowl game. This includes a win over Northwestern in the opener and a perfect non-conference slate. Virginia Tech was considered a swing game and Rutgers took care of business in a big way. Needing to go just 2-5 over the next seven games, the Scarlet Knights have put themselves in position.
Let’s get this out of the way first. At the end of the season, Rutgers will take on Ohio State and Penn State. Those are two losses right there. Maryland in the season-finale has not been kind to Rutgers over the last two years and seems like a long shot as well. This leaves four games to find two wins.
This week, the Scarlet Knights will travel to Madison to take on Wisconsin. Yes, there are fans that are trying to talk themselves into a win but Rutgers will likely enter as two touchdown underdogs and it will be a tough road to climb. Wisconsin has not hit its stride just yet but the Badgers looked impressive against Purdue. It is unknown if Rutgers can score enough points to keep up in this one.
The next two games after Wisconsin will be the key. Rutgers will return home to face Michigan State before hitting the road to face Indiana. These are the final two games before the bye week. On Oct. 21, there is a chance to Rutgers enters its week off at 6-2 and a bowl game appearance clinched.
Michigan State has not looked sharp since the firing of Mel Tucker. The Spartans were considered to be another swing game on the schedule and it is looking very winnable to this point. While that game might be able to go either way, Rutgers needs to beat Indiana.
The Scarlet Knights have had Indiana’s number in recent years and with this year’s Hoosier squad, this trend needs to continue.
This leaves Wisconsin and Iowa as games that fans are hoping to steal. Both are on the road, creating a bit of an issue, but the Hawkeyes seem like the option to take if it presents itself.
Wisconsin still holds a gap in talent and plays a style that will frustrate Rutgers. On the other hand, Iowa will let Rutgers hang around. The Hawkeyes still feature an elite defense but the offense refuses to score points. This is not just a bad offense, it is a putrid unit that has not shown signs of improvement in two years. It’s time for Brian Ferentz to go but it would benefit Rutgers if he is on the sideline on Nov. 11.
By the time November comes around, Rutgers is hoping for extra wins to get over six. Heading into the bye week, the Scarlet Knights have a chance to win back-to-back against Indiana and Michigan State. If one is lost, they will have to find a win where it might not be expected. This means that the next three games will be the most important for Rutgers Football in quite some time.