Let me start off by saying I tried really hard to forget the results of last season, so everything I have written below was painfully dredged up from the deepest trenches of my subconscious. Of the aspects of last season I do remember, unsurprisingly the shock and pain of a 1-11 season does not lessen over time, and in fact it magnifies as you look back with even more clarity and are like, “what the heck were they thinking?” The only solace after a season like this is that you are hoping that the coaching staff had this same type of reflection and is preparing to not make the same mistakes in the next season. This will be a shorter recap compared to my past season recaps because there’s not much more to be said that I didn’t already say here early last season when I knew it was going to get bad.
Let’s get this over with.
Rutgers’ Worst Season in a Decade and a Half
The last time Rutgers went 1-11, was with Greg Schiano at the helm in 2002. That season was preceded by a 2-9 season and followed by a 5-7 “hey Greg Schiano just needed time” campaign. Is Chris Ash’s coaching trajectory similar? Well I don’t know. A lot of Rutgers fans who still support Ash constantly point to Schiano’s early years as a sign that Ash has the potential to do great things for Rutgers. The thing is though is that if Ash was to be considered homologous to Schiano, then last season would have been the season where he would have drastically improved. Instead, Rutgers fans were teased in 2017 with a 4-8 season which I personally attribute to Jerry Kill with hindsight, followed by last year’s completely unexpectedly awful 2018. However, I am willing to give him one more year, 1) because I have to, he’s not going anywhere, and 2) because the nature of 2019 College Football is a very different landscape than 2002. But that could also point to the fact that Ash simply won’t ever be able to keep Rutgers Football from sinking further.
The Ohio State game. Ow, the memory.
The Kansas game. Owwwwwww.
The Buffalo game. OUCH.
The Illinois game. AHHHH, the pain!
Maryland game. AHHHH GOD MAKE IT STOP.
“You know, we’ve got a real ‘young team’ here.”— Chris Ash at every press conference. PLEASE, I’LL DO ANYTHING.
The future of our QB position as reflected by the 2018 season. I am now in shock.
The failed Philly Special against Penn State. And now I’m dead.
From what I recall, the defense showed signs of life. I get the feeling that while Rutgers will likely still offensively struggle this upcoming season, the defense may actually turn up given Ash’s coaching skillset. Last season we played some pretty close games against Northwestern, Michigan State, Indiana and Penn State, all of which could have turned out very differently with a functioning offense, but perhaps the various cogs and gears of Rutgers Football will actually mesh together this coming season.
There honestly are some really solid things on the team, namely sprinklings of genuinely talented players, most of whom are actually coming back. Rutgers has been spared the great wave of graduation for this season (thank god). Young players like Isaih Pacheco (RB), Travis Vokolek (TE), Mike Tverdov (DE), and Raheem Blackshear (RB) among others who showed up last season and will be back should ideally only get better for RU (hopefully via coaching). Another positive is that the 1-11 was somehow not reflected in the recruiting and transfer trail and Rutgers actually got some good new players which I mention below.
Throwaway Season, but was it worth it?
It was clear by the amount of playtime that true freshman quarterback Art Sitkowski had, despite his clear unpreparedness, that at some point the coaching staff was treating the 2018 season as a throwaway season to likely try to develop Art for the future. The problem with this that all Rutgers fans would agree on is that senior Quarterback Gio Rescigno should have played more because, for one, Gio deserved it. That kid bleeds Rutgers and has always played his heart out for the team. He’s a tank, loves the game, and has in past seasons had creative point scoring moments. I firmly believe that Rutgers would have had a better season had Gio played more. But he didn’t, again, in favor of “developing Sitkowski.”
So the, “was it worth it?” question... If Sitkowski had improved I’d say okay, maybe it was worth it under the assumption that Rutgers would have a much improved overall 2019 season. However, I saw very little improvement from Art and even some regression between certain games. Art just didn’t have the, “we need to develop him in real game time” baseline skills to justify what the coaches decided. Art has some new competition at the position with early enrollee Cole Snyder, OC John McNulty's first QB recruit, as well as Boaton College transfer Johnny Langan, formerly of in-state high school powerhouse, Bergen Catholic. If one of these QB's beats out Art for the role of starter... I guess I'll be happy, but it would mean that 2018 really was a throwaway season. Also, here's hoping Art benefits from off-season development in general. Kid honestly looks good in practice which is weird.
Coaching changes: Jay Niemann as Defensive Coordinator is out, Andy Buh from Maryland is up. While Buh doesn’t particularly stand out to me as impressive, I’ll take any change that has the potential to undo the stagnation and regression the team had experienced last season. Offensive Line Coach AJ Blazek is also out and repalced by Peter Rossomando, former head coach at Central Connecticut State. I like this hire because he’s a Northeast guy and can recruit Jersey kids. Kolby Smith, who has been running backs coach at Louisville, his Alma Mater, for the past five seasons has been hired as Rutgers’s new running backs coach. Interesting fact is that Smith ran for 84 yards on 19 carries in the famed upset of Louisville by Rutgers. Rutgers still has to fill the role of Cornerbacks Coach after the recently re-hired Henry Baker departed less than a month after being hired for the Giants staff.
Also, here’s hoping in 2019, year two for Offensive Coordinator, John McNulty, former Schiano offensive coordinator during Rutgers’ great years and Chris Ash doppelganger, and the first offensive coordinator to stay at Rutgers for more than one season in eight years, will pay off.
New players to look out for: Transfers Matt Alaimo, TE, from UCLA, and Drew Singleton, the former No.1-ranked prospect in New Jersey, from Michigan. JUCO products Omari Cooper, OL, and Monterio Hunt, WR. True freshman LB Mohamed Toure, and DT Malachi Burby. I mentioned the new QB's above.
Must wins: UMass, Liberty (I SWEAR TO GOD IF WE LOSE TO LIBERTY), Boston College, Illinois.
What is success in 2019 for Rutgers? Honestly, a greater record than 1-11. Beating the teams we can and should beat (historically and as a Big Ten team). I’d measure this as general success for the team. However, for me to get back on the Ash train, he has to drastically improve the record. No bad season. No mediocre a season. Nope, not in year 4. He needs an objectively good season, and I’m confident most Rutgers fans feel that way as well.
Anyway... I’m going to go back and purge this season from my memory again.