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Rutgers Football 2020 and misplaced or earned optimism?

Big Ten Football is happening. Rutgers Football is happening. I think I’m actually excited for the season.

So back at the start of B1G 2020 over the summer, I said, “football isn’t happening this year,” and I do take smug joy in being half right, but am disappointed at how everything shook up in the end. The Big Ten tried to set the responsible tone with little brother Pac-12 trailing right along behind. Before caving to the bizarre combination of fan, school, and political (??) pressure, in many ways the Big Ten has been validated in their initial decision, and in some ways not, but that’s for a different write-up. In that previous piece I also wrote how not having a 2020 college football season could be good for Rutgers, from a recruiting and Schiano head start point of view, but alas, that potential benefit is no longer happening (though I’d like to think that the messy nature of this season will give every team some mercy points).

Regardless, because of all of these events, I had truly written Rutgers Football off for 2020, Greg Schiano’s first season in his return to The Banks. Usually leading up to the season opener the anticipation and excitement has just consumed me. I am making BOLD predictions, talking SMACK to fans of teams I know we'll lose to, and overall just getting HYPED. After the announcement that B1G Football was returning, well, firstly, I didn’t think we’d actually make it to this week without multiple teams having giant game cancelling COVID-19 outbreaks, and the excitement I did have was lukewarm. It was a, “this won’t feel like a real season anyway,” feeling.

However, with Rutgers vs Michigan State just three days away, I have this small amount of time to fit in several months-worth of “hype no matter what” and misplaced optimism, unique to Rutgers fans. But I actually don’t think the optimism is misplaced, and there are a few key reasons why below.

  1. Greg Schiano returns
  2. Some serious transfers
  3. Sean Gleeson

Let’s break them down.

Greg Schiano’s Return

I won’t dwell on this because it has been many times across all Rutgers sites. Yes, Greg Schiano, the coach who made Rutgers Football relevant, the coach who can arguably be attributed to why Rutgers is in the Big Ten to begin with, particularly between 2006 and 2011, made a dramatic return to Rutgers Football as head coach, and 2020 will be his 2nd debut season On The Banks. After the absolute tire fire that was the Chris Ash era, Rutgers could really use a steady, seasoned hand. He may not inspire much in other teams’ fans for us, but for Rutgers fans he is a Jersey guy who represents days of success, a longing for familiarity, and competence.

I think that while Rutgers’ record may not be too hot this year (I’m confidently thinking 2-6, 3-5 if I’m in an unusually good mood). During Schiano’s last stint at Rutgers he had a 68-67 record. That sounds mediocre, but right now as a Rutgers fan I would take mediocrity. Emotionally I’d love a 4-4 or 6-6 season.

Transfers to watch out for

Rutgers recently released its 2020 roster and a mostly two-deep depth chart and Big Ten fans may recognize a few names in the chart. Namely Aron Cruickshank (Wisconsin) at WR, Noah Vedral (Nebraska) at QB, and Brendon White (Ohio State) at S. I am most excited to see what Cruickshank can do as am explosive playmaker under a proven offensive coordinator, and it seems that most Rutgers fans are after Ashen years of suffering in watching an anemic, walking-dead, god-awful offense with no identity.

I was surprised to see Noah Vedral listed as “OR” on the two-deep. So we have a co-starter situation, which I think all Rutgers fans are intrigued about. I was positive Vedral would be the starter, however, this could bode well for the team overall suggesting that Greg and Staff were able to further develop Art Sitkowski, a young QB with clear talent, poorly utilized and trained by the previous regime, into a competitive player. Anyway, going back to Vedral, I said this about him in my 2020 preview piece:

I really think Vedral is the real deal and the realest deal of a QB transfer we’ve had (out of the many who were overhyped and ultimately couldn’t be the ones to right the Rutgers QB position over the years). He has actually started in this conference (2 games... I’ll take it), led Nebraska to a 4th quarter victory against Northwestern, has TWO years of immediate eligibility, and many including myself think he’s going to mesh well with Sean Glesson’s, quick no-huddle offense.

Brendon White who according to his Twitter seems very into the Rutgers and Scarlet Knight spirit was a former 4-star recruit, and Rose Bowl Defensive MVP. These types of talented defensive backs are precisely the players that Schiano makes into NFL caliber players. White worked well with Schiano when he was at Ohio State, so it makes sense why he transferred to Rutgers after a year of sitting out due to the coaching changes at OSU. As a sophomore in 2018, White played ten games, and recorded 19 tackles as a member of a hybrid linebacker rotation.

I’m also very excited to see graduate transfer Jovani Haskins listed as starter TE. Haskins had 20 career receptions at West Virginia starting his collegiate career at Miami. Haskins is a real deal player who will be a force at Tight End and make an immediate impact in a key offensive line position.

Sean Gleeson

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 17 Penn at Princeton Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I am very excited for Sean Gleeson. He’s a true Jersey guy having grew up in, played high school football in, and coached in for most of his life. His college playing career was as a Quarterback at Williams College. So this makes sense that he is also Rutgers’ Quarterbacks coach. In 2005, Gleeson as Williams’ QB led the NESCAC in passer rating with a rating of 163.6. In 2006, while splitting time as a senior, Gleeson helped lead his team to an 8-0 record, and combined with his co-quarterback partner to throw for over 4,000 yards, all while on the path to claiming the NESCAC title.

Perhaps this explains Rutgers’ co-QB situation? Additionally, note that 2005 and 2006 were both years that Rutgers rose to prominence under Schiano, so I imagine this was exciting for him to see as a Jersey guy and CFB player at the time and I’d like to that he is pumped to be working with Schiano.

For his coaching career, his only deviation from Jersey was when he went to be Mike Gundy’s offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for the 2019 season whose offense boasted some incredibly impressive stats. Gleeson had Oklahoma State’s offense average of 32.5 points per game – which ranked 35th in the FBS – and an average of 453.9 yards per game – which ranked 22nd. His Princeton offense in 2018 set an Ivy League record for 470 points in the season.

Gleeson is a real deal offensive coordinator. Not, “shows potential,” not, “washed up.” An ACTUAL young offensive up and comer. Rutgers fans will take all of this, and of course Gleeson’s very New Jerseyness is something we desperately need for recruiting.

Predictions for the Scarlet Knights

You know what? I think that the nature of this year, combined with Greg Schiano’s poise and maturity through the, “are we playing or are we not??” turmoil means that Rutgers is going to have a good year. Maybe not reflected in the record, but gone are the days of embarrassing shut-out blowouts, I think. I hope.

I think Rutgers is going solidly 2-6, possibly 3-5, with that 3rd win coming from surprising and knocking off a bigger team that everyone thought Rutgers couldn’t handle, all the while demonstrating a clear path to improvement. Though we’ll know in a few days as the way Rutgers performs this Saturday against Michigan State, which also has a new coach, will set the tone for the season.

My bold prediction: Rutgers is going to beat Michigan State this Saturday or come very close to.

So Big Ten Football is happening! OH MY GOD, BIG TEN FOOTBALL IS HAPPENING!!!!?!