You know, all jokes aside, Rutgers week has been pretty entertaining. Two days and almost 1000 comments in two pieces by the legend, Ray Ransom, and we've barely even scratched the surface of total GIFs possible. I'd say that things have been going swimmingly. So, I figured I'd do my best to keep things going by giving the Jersey locals their favorite fare - the Fat Sandwich. If you're not sure what a fat sandwich is - and I'm only aware because of Man vs. Food - the fat sandwich is this ridiculously loaded sandwich that has french fries on it and that is served by the RU Hungry Grease Trucks on Rutgers' campus. Honestly, they look pretty good and they serve as a great canvas for this weeks potluck. We dive into the nuances of relative expectations for Rutgers in 2015, the defensive woes from 2014 and where that leaves them this year, the weapons on offense, Kyle Flood's (not) hot seat, claimed championships, and Graham chimes in with his own special Jersey bonus question. It's a lot of Jersey up in here this week. Let's get to it.
Oh, and one quick note. I don't really have pictures of these meals, so instead I took the liberty to find some YouTube videos of people trying to take on the Fat Sandwich challenge in which you eat five of these beasts in some allotted time. It's terrifying and impressive all at once. Enjoy this one folks!
Appetizer: The Fat Darrell - Chicken Fingers, Mozarella Sticks, Marinara Sauce, French Fries
So, Rutgers is a thing now? Alright, I guess we’re just going to have to like it. Rutgers finished 8-5 in 2015 and while that was significantly better than everyone expected, one has to at least wonder if they can keep that up. Half of the Knights’ wins were by a possession or less, and only one loss was of the same margin. Against teams who were significantly better, Rutgers more or less didn’t show up (OSU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and MSU). You could argue that well, yeah, good teams beat Rutgers and bad teams didn’t, but squeaking out your wins against like competition and getting thrashed by better doesn’t sound like a lasting recipe for success. But what do I know? So I put it to you all. Was 2014 an indicator of the potential for Rutgers or do the Knights have the potential for a freefall down the standings in 2015?
Ray Ransom: Freefall? No. But losing a Senior QB with tons of experience who played out of his mind at times, as well as numerous members of the supporting cast AND a veteran OC is not going to help. There are reinforcements on the way, but a regression is probable this year. 6 or 7 wins would be a solid output, with higher expectations on the horizon.
Candystripes for Breakfast: Could Rutgers be a middle of the pack to decent team in the B1G every year? Sure. Are they likely to? Eh, maybe. I wouldn't expect them to absolutely freefall, though. Their floor is probably now around 4-5 wins depending on how they schedule their non-con, with the potential to be 6-6 or better pretty much every year as long as they keep about the same level of talent coming in.
Thomas Speth: Do they have potential? Yes. Are they going to free fall? Well If you consider regression to the mean a freefall then yes. So both? Long term Rutgers has potential but not in 2015. Somebody has to the worst team in that division.
Andrew Kraszewski: I dunno, ask Northwestern if there are any negative consequences to riding intense good fortune in close games. But sure, getting to 8 wins in a new conference hints at some kind of potential. The problem is, if the taek artists from around the web are to be believed, it's only a matter of time before Michigan and Penn State are both back to their normal selves- and both of those programs have vastly more potential than Rutgers does. Combine that with the fact that there are already 4 other programs demonstrably standing on the opposite side of a chasm from Rutgers, and it's hard to say Rutgers' ultimate ceiling in the foreseeable future is anything higher than middle-of-the-pack. And hey, maybe that's good enough considering where they've been.
Aaron Yorke: 2014 was a sign that Rutgers isn't worse than the Big Ten doormats and that the Knights aren't going to go winless in the conference anytime soon. They could have won more games if they had a friendlier West draw (like PSU!), but RU is stuck with Nebraska and Wisconsin again. Maybe they upset Nebraska like Ray hopes, but that could easily be exchanged with a loss at Michigan. That's why my Rutgers sources are hoping for another 7-5 (3-5) season, but that could easily slip to 6-6 (2-6) if the new QB struggles. Either way, the soft non-conference schedule means a good shot at a bowl game.
MNWildcat: Rutgers is a thing. I've been told that, as a Northwestern fan, I'm a horrible person who never acknowledges the luck involved in winning one-score games, so I suppose I'll remind Rutgers of that. In all seriousness, though, I think 2014 represented the potential of Rutgers in the Big Ten. RU can put winning seasons together by grinding out close games with some timely offense (is that a thing?) and continuing to develop and keep some of these Jersey recruits in-state. If Rutgers could string a season or two more together of winning seasons with "highlights" like rushing the field against Michigan and coming back against Maryland--a win against TTFP would go a long way, here--I think we could see BTPR be a semi-real thing.
GoForThree: Rutgers is a team that exists, at least as a corporate shell in Delaware for tax purposes. Could they freefall? Absolutely. Will they? Probably more of a stumble. This could easily be a 6-6 year for RU, given an even marginally improved Michigan team. Plus, Army's gonna shock them with and add one to the RU loss column.
insertname: Since Rutgers wasn't on the Gophers schedule last year and still isn't this year, I'm gonna pretend that they never joined the B1G. Nebraska posted 4 consecutive years of 9-4 after joining the B1G so I see no reason why Rutgers can't post the same record for 4 straight years.
Salad: Veggie Fat Cat - Veggie Burger with Lettuce, Tomatoes, Onion, Mayo, Ketchup, and French Fries
Defensively, Rutgers was an absolute mess last season. Remember how we made fun of Illinois for being awful at defense? I can make a really strong argument for the Knights being worse. This team allowed a brutal 6.39 yards per play, and allowed a second-worst 51 TDs. They allowed 221 plays of 10+ yards (worst in the B1G), and 69 plays of 20+ yards (second worst). Their defensive passing YPA was 7.5, and they allowed 5.53 yards per carry rushing. The only thing you can remotely say they did well was get TFLs and that was back half at best. What I’m saying here is that this was a really bad defense last year. Lucky for Rutgers, that one strength is coming back with Kemoko Turay (7.5 sacks) and Darius Hamilton (6 sacks). Unfortunately, attrition at LB (Kevin Snyder) and DB (Gareef Glashen), one has to wonder if this defense is really going to be better? What should we expect from Rutgers’ defense in 2015? How much better do they need to be to keep the Knights where they are? Will addition by subtraction help?
RR: This could be scary. I think until we have a few years of recruiting big ass B1G sized linemen, we're going to get rolled on a weekly basis by the power teams in the conference. The exception is - like you said - playmaking. We'll get TFLs and Sacks and hopefully come up with a big play or two to win a game here or there. That said, if there's a concern on this team, it's the defense, specifically the secondary. What makes it extra super awful is that Rutgers was great on defense during the Schiano era, making the relative sting even worse.
C4B: They'll probably take a step back, but if they can put pressure on the quarterback consistently, that may not be a huge issue.
TS: My only concern with Rutgers defense is that if a bad LB corps gets worse, can it give up 80 points in Camp Randall?
AK: I don't know that the individual players matter too much because Flood's still playing with fire from a scheme standpoint. Using speed and savvy technique is fine for a service academy which literally can't field large enough players to go toe-to-toe with the OSUs and Wisconsins of the world, but deliberately eschewing guys who can simply stand their ground from time to time in the name of team speed...well, we saw last year what that gets you when your opponent's preference is to charge right at you.
AY: Even if Rutgers is better on defense in 2015, the opponents that they did slow down last year are expecting to improve on offense. Penn State is more experienced across the board, Michigan could take a leap in John Harbaugh's first year, and Indiana is getting Nate Sudfeld back (but losing Tevin Coleman). However, I don't think the RU defense needs to improve that much to outscore opponents in two or three Big Ten games, especially if the power running game can control the clock. To spring an upset over one of the "losses" on the schedule, though? That's going to require a big improvement.
GF3: Odds of better are low. Odds of as bad or worse are high. (Atlantic City odds.) Plus they're in the B1G East, not the Big East. That marginal defense is going to face at least two balls-out offenses in OSU and MSU. Plus there's that Clement kid from Wisco. Throw in a competent Nebraska team and maybe some semblance of an O-line in Ann Arbor and State College, and the Knights could revisit that 6.39 mark.
MNW: Why are they so small? I don't get it. Besides Turay, is there some height restriction on Rutgers recruits? It's like Snooki, extended to an entire defense. And they're about as easy to score on.
Side Dish: Fat Fillipino - Cheese Steak, Gyro, Chicken Fingers, Mozarella Sticks, French Fries, Lettuce, Tomato, White Sauce
From a fun point of view, Rutgers’ offense has playmakers worth watching. Paul James has the potential to be a great back - although his 2014 numbers weren’t spectacular before getting hurt, but Josh Hicks, Robert Martin, Justin Goodwin, and Desmon Peoples were able to get work done in his absence. Leonte Caroo is a legit wideout threat who joined the 1000 yard club last year, and if Chris Laviano can stretch the field, well, maybe things work out for Rutgers. The problem with all this talent? Most of it was here last year and Rutgers still finished in the middle of the B1G in almost every category. So, knowing there’s potential and knowing it is yet to be proven - plus knowing there’s a new OC again - what do we think Rutgers will look like on offense? Can this unit pull the awful defense up enough to go bowling?
RR: To be fair, I think we're all in the mindset of "Middle of the pack ain't bad." We're still new round these parts and the advantages of the conference haven't caught up with the increased competition. I think we'll have the skill players and big plays to keep games competitive, put away inferior opponents and scare a few of the big dogs. We don't need to have the number 1 offense in the conference. We just need to make enough big plays to win 6 games. Given a soft OOC and a few breaks, the run game could carry these guys to another bowl game. If Laviano emerges as a true passing threat? We could see more.
C4B: I think the loss of an experienced QB like Nova is going to hurt their offense quite a bit, and unless you believe Paul James is going to stay healthy for an entire season (spoiler: I don't), I think they'll regress quite a bit early in the season.
TS: Rutgers is breaking a new QB and their most talented player can't stay healthy. This could be a recipe for disaster. I don't think Rutgers offense will be terrible, but it could be if for no other reason than it might end up facing 4 top 15 defenses (OSU, MSU, Wisconsin, and PSU).
AK: All those nifty running backs won't mean squat if the line doesn't improve, and it's replacing 3 starters. I know Flood's an OL coach by trade, but until I see them roll new guys out there without a major step back, I'm not ready to say the offense will even be as good. Losing Friedgen is bad enough on its own, but that also means Rutgers has a new OC for something like the 5th or 6th year in a row. Collect all the talent you want; if they're spending half of each year learning a new system, they'll never hit their collective ceiling.
AY: We won't know much until we see who the quarterback is and how Paul James looks while running behind the new offensive line. The high-ceiling skill position players will raise the offense's profile, but at the same time, it's unlikely that the new signal caller will play as well as Nova did last year. I'm guessing for a lot of rushing, followed by deep tries to Caroo once the safeties creep up. Hopefully the big guy will make enough plays to outscore Indiana and Maryland once again.
GF3: Paul James is so fragile he ought to play for Purdue. /tears ACL. I'm not sure losing Gary Nova is good or bad. Sure, he could throw deep like a boss. It just wasn't to the right player as often as RU would've liked. Maybe the new guy will hit Caroo more.
MNW: I worry that the offense, losing the Fridge, will struggle to put up points or find an identity as quickly. With Laviano and Rettig both able to challenge for the QB spot, I can see controversy whipping up pretty quickly and the offense struggling to get its game on track. With that stable of running backs though, along with Caroo's ability to stretch the field, if Rutgers can settle into some better version of Indiana's offense where they just run all over the field and do crazy shit because, hey, why not, perhaps they can get involved in enough shootouts (hi, Wazzu! can't wait to watch!) to make it fun.
Main Dish: Fat Romano - Cheese Steak, Egg, Beef Salami, French Fries, Lettuce, Tomato, Mayo, and Ketchup
Kyle Flood is sort of a mixed bag, right? On one hand, he’s gone bowling three years in a row now, and considering they’ve only been to 10 bowls total, you almost have to tip your cap and let him do his thing. Conversely, he’s only 23-16, has only finished with a winning record in conference once (2012 with Greg Shiano’s roster) and has never finished a season ranked. Oh, and there’s those pesky blowout losses to higher profile teams. Rutgers is getting a little better via recruiting, and Flood is a motivator, but one has to wonder if he’s a longterm solution there. From your point of view, what do you want to see out of Flood’s team in 2015 to show he’s making progress? Do you think he’s hit his ceiling or can he get better with this squad? Is he remotely on the hot seat?
RR: It should also be noted that the guy is absolute gem. Everyone in the state loves the man and he's a class act through and through. I think we all know that we have some tough sledding ahead of us and its worthwhile to point out the character of the captain at the helm. This season, I want to see sustained success with a roster full of his guys. Gone are the late Schiano recruits. This roster is built by Flood. Now we need to see if it can compete at the same level. Flood isn't going to be on the hot seat this year unless a scandal happens, but if we don't see growth next year, the seat will warm. The big inflection point could be a few years down the line when the full Big Ten rev share kicks in. Then, middle of the pack will no longer be acceptable.
C4B: If Kyle Flood is on the hot seat, then the folks at Rutgers are expecting way too much. That said, given who I root for, just being able to go bowling consistently sounds like heaven, so I might be a little biased on this.
TS: I can't imagine he's on the hot seat, or even on a warm one. Granted that could (and I think would) change if Rutgers goes 4-8 this year. I'm not saying it will happen, but it's no less likely than Rutgers going 8-5 and blowing out a P5 team in a bowl game was last year at this time.
AK: You have to view improvement from a relative standpoint, though. Rutgers' recruiting is better compared to its historical quality, but it's not keeping pace with 5 of the 6 other teams in the division (congratulations on already eclipsing Indiana in the pecking order, though. Small victories). Who knows if Flood's hit his ceiling; maybe someday he'll manage to keep one of Jersey's best players at home and boot up his own version of Maryland's thing. Did you hear that, Rutgers fans? If you pray really hard and wish upon a star, someday Flood might become Randy Edsall!
AY: I think the recruiting will improve itself if Rutgers is able to put on a good show at home games. When Michigan State comes to town on October 10, the crowd has the bring it and the team has to be competitive. With this West schedule, I'd be impressed if Rutgers managed to turn in another 3-5 conference mark. In 2016, when Illinois debuts on the schedule, we can start talking about four or five Big Ten wins. I don't think we start talking about the hot seat unless Flood misses a bowl games this year.
MNW: Flood can do good things if he finds a new OC and DC version of the Fridge who's looking to settle down at one last stop, or the next hot young up-and-comer who wants to make a name for himself with some great recruits before taking the helm at Bowling Green or something. If Rutgers can settle down its coordinator situation for 2-3 years, I think that third year will really see dividends pay out.
GF3: I'll say the same thing about Flood I have said all off-season, because it's the most important fact about the man. In his first three years of recruiting he got one (1) of the top 10 players in New Jersey. Not one per year. One total. Over three years. One out of thirty. 1-for-30. It's has the makings of an ESPN documentary. 30-for-30: 1-for-30. "What if I told you...that New Jersey is in-state for James Franklin?" He's probably not on the hot seat simply because I don't think RU fans en masse actually care enough about football to call for his head. I think that within the B1G, he's probably peaked. Can't win if you can't recruit. Maybe Dantonio can teach him how to coach 'em up?
insertname: He probably shouldn't be on the hot seat if he goes bowling again. If it gets to year 10 and has stagnated at 6-6 and 7-5 (see: Mason, G.; Ferentz, K.) with no sign of hope then he should go. In the mean time, enjoy the extra 15 bowl practices.
Dessert: Chicken Fat Cat - Grilled Chicken, cheese, french fries, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and ketchup
Rutgers retroactively claims the 1869 Football National Championship because they - along with Princeton - were both 1-1. You know, against each other. It’s probably one of the more - and less if you think about it enough - absurd claimed award out there. If you could arbitrarily claim a championship for your school - any sport - what would it be and why?
RR: In the same way that a patent owner can charge a licensing fee to anyone who uses their patent, I think Rutgers and Princeton deserve a share of every college football national championship at every level. So, between Division 1, 2 and 3, as well as years that had multiple champions, that gives us a share of 304 championships, tied for Princeton for the most ever. Further, because we own the patent, we are revoking the 7 National Championships awarded to the team from pennsylvania, because fuck you buddy, that's why.
C4B: Obviously, I'm claiming the 2014 SEC West Championship. SUCK IT MIZZOU!
TS: This year's basketball national championship #fuckduke. Since that's kind of boring I'm going to take away the 2006 hockey national champion so 1-Mike Eaves would've been canned years ago and 2- So I can give us the 2012 national championship in football that we were Hail Mary and Bielema'd out of. Seriously go back and look at that offense. All NFL players and they somehow lost 3 games. THREE
AK: MSU would need 5 bowling nattys to become the preeminent rollers in the state of Michigan. Then maybe we'll stop getting so much shit from Saginaw Valley at the lanes. Sigh...a man can dream.
AY: Well, Penn State still hasn't lost a game in 1969... or 1968, 1994, 1973. Give me all of those.
MNW: Northwestern Basketball: 1931 Helms National Champions! Hang that banner, Jim Phillips. It's as real as anything Purdue's got.
GF3: They claim that? Hell, I thought Michigan had claimed that one, too. Or Bama, PAWWWWL. In that case, call the 9-0 Buckeyes your 1899 champs.
insertname: 2014 Men's Hockey National Championship because 25-26 year Candian Junior League has-been's shouldn't be competing in the NCAA. Those bums should be in the ECHL or done. But a more reasonable answer is every year that Goldy doesn't win the Capital One Mascot challenge. He is the best and I won't hear any arguements.
BONUS - Graham dropped by the OTE headquarters with one more important question for everyone...
Gym, Tan, or Laundry? Be honest.
RR: GTL every day bro. Look good, feel good, play good.
C4B: Full disclosure: I've never actually watched the Jersey Shore. So, laundry, I guess, given that I neither gym nor tan?
TS: I gym and I think most responsible adults do laundry. Can't say I tan, although I do get one while day drinking outside. Definitely no fake baking though. So kinda GTL?
GF3: Gym, gym, and gym. Midwesterners don't tan. I have a wife for laundry. Trick question, Graham.
LPW: Like most people, I go to a gym and do laundry. I’ve never had a need to go tanning. I hate the Jersey shore and wish it could’ve eradicated the demonspawn:
MNW: I teach tennis all summer in St. Paul, so I am tan as fuck right now.
Jesse Collins: My basement is my gym, my laundry room, and my tan... wait. Scratch that last part. I don't tan, I'm Korean. I'm pretty much the tannest guy in Nebraska right now.