We know their defense can occasionally give up points as well as their offense and special teams who proved equally adept at surrendering points, especially against Iowa and Penn State. But can their offense score more than they have over the past decade? The Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football program starts their opponent schedule at home against Northwestern on Sunday September 3. Will anyone be watching? Will everyone be watching? Who knows.
That game terrifies me for one simple reason; Northwestern has a proven quarterback, Rutgers does not. Even EA Sports simulates so.
A. Case History (this century, even more specifically this decade)
Last year, Rutgers simply had no offense other than against Indiana (where they also had some luck) and when they refused to throw the ball against former Big East foe Boston College. Against G5 Temple, they won without even scoring an offensive touchdown. In their nine seasons since joining the conference, Rutgers has averaged 20+, just 20, points per game only three times. The last time was 2020 and it’s been downhill ever since. So Sean Gleeson (now at Northwestern) was replaced by Kirk Ciarrocca as permanent offensive coordinator.
The defense and special teams are mostly intact other than losing arguably the best punter in NCAA History, Adam Korsak.
B. Opening Statement
Rutgers has enough lottery tickets that there is more than one scenario that the team could reach 6-6 and reach bowl eligibility. Unfortunately, all those scenarios boil down to either A. a quarterback who is willing, able, and allowed to run the ball a lot, B. A quarterback who can reliably keep the offense on schedule against stacked boxes with simple throws (if Christian Hackenberg was QB’ing this team their ceiling would still be seven wins), or C. dominant offensive line play in toss up games.
They lack proven receivers and tight ends, but as a Big Ten West wannabe, that never stopped Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota, did it? There are running backs who are at least Big Ten average, but had no success against 8 or at times 9 men boxes. All of them have better vision than breakout NFL RB Isiah Pacheco, but in the words of one former Rutgers coach who spoke to me this offseason, “The Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes and we had Noah Vedral.” And for most of last year, they didn’t even have Vedral ...
Gavin Wimsatt is a former four-star recruit who lacks accuracy (44% completion percentage, unfathomable 29% dropback success rate per one source) and aggressiveness, but can bring the majority of the other QB skills to the table. He is backed up by Evan Simon who threw for 300 yards against Iowa, but was otherwise inconsistent for every reason you can be: lack of WR separation, poor offensive line play, disconnect within the coaching staff, injuries to his best two running backs, more conflicting guidance from the coaching staff, and poor decision making on his own part at the worst possible times. Behind them is only one other scholarship guy, a raw true freshman out of New York. Kirk Ciarrocca needs to figure out how to do what he did with Tanner Morgan in a matter of months rather than years or the season will spiral out of control in a hurry. Or to convince Schiano they need to run the QB a lot even if it risks injury.
The defense and special teams are good, but not 2022 Iowa level good to win games on their own. And the one game they needed to just be slightly above average, they completely blew it against Michigan State. All three levels of the defense have proven Big Ten quality depth, but will that matter? (For more in depth information on the defense and special teamers check out the links to the podcasts in Section II below.)
III. Schedule of Events:
Sept. 3 (Sunday): vs Northwestern Wildcats
Sept. 9: vs Temple Owls
Sept. 16: vs Virginia Tech Hokies
Sept. 23: at Michigan Wolverines
Sept. 30: vs Wagner Seahawks
Oct. 7: at Wisconsin Badgers
Oct. 14: vs Michigan State Spartans
Oct. 21: at Indiana Hoosiers
Nov. 4: vs Ohio State Buckeyes
Nov. 11: at Iowa Hawkeyes
Nov. 18: at Penn State Nittany Lions
Nov. 25: vs Maryland Terrapins
IV. Is this schedule good or bad?
Crossover with Northwestern in Week 1 is as golden an opportunity as there is to do what Rutgers has only done once before, be 1-0 in Big Ten play. Wisconsin is a complete “have no idea what you are going to get” while Iowa you know exactly what you are going to get; the question is, can you beat either of them? As crossover opponents go, this is about as good as you can ask for in the final year of the current format.
Out of conference, Wagner was probably the worst FCS team in the country, Virginia Tech was a last place finisher in the ACC, and Temple won just one conference game. It can’t get any easier unless you are Michigan I suppose.
So if Gavin Wimsatt is healthy and running the ball, probably good because there is a chance to get some momentum in the early schedule. Rutgers like most college teams that plays in a big market can ride the wave if they win a few games, helping recruiting, fan interest, and keeping the team united. Schiano won games in his first tenure when the offense didn’t need to do much and the defense was flying around. If Wimsatt is the real deal OR Sam Brown is the real deal and Wimsatt can just throw accurately enough to get cheap yards, everyone will be telling us this success was inevitable based on their recruiting rankings.
On the flip side, if the offense takes as long to click as 2020 Penn State when Captain Kirk arrived there, the opportunity for wins may have completely evaporated unlike that Nittany Lion squad that turned 0-5 to 4-5. Rutgers has never won four conference games in a year since joining the league. And only once (2017) have they really righted the ship at all after a poor start.
They did win at Indiana once (thanks to a 25 point comeback), but do worse against Michigan State and Maryland at home for some reason, so hopefully that changes.
V. Closing Arguments
A. It could be a very long season
I’ll settle for four wins to avoid catastrophe because winning one conference game is a low bar, but better than the three winless campaigns during the Ash era. Three total victories will not be enough unless two are Big Ten conference games (which would mean they lose to Temple?!?!?!?) or one is a shocking victory over a ranked foe since Rutgers has not beaten a top 25 team since 2009, the longest streak in the Power Five by far. Schiano’s seat won’t be hot unless they reach double digit losses, but even then, who would take the fall?
B. Rutgers should have good defense and special teams
Rutgers has 9 opponents on the schedule who have lost games recently when the other team just played good defense and special teams. If they were in the Big Ten West for its final campaign, I’d feel pretty good about a bowl bid. Problem is, this team does not have what is needed against Penn State, Michigan, or Ohio State, so you have to win 2⁄3 of the remaining games, many of which are against teams that have more proven QBs. So can the Rutgers defense knock them off their marks? If so, the offense might be able to just opportunistically get a few points with gadgets, a few athletic playmakers, and short fields. Add in a few more blocked kicks and we might be cooking with gas ... before gas grills get banned anyway.
As of now the OTE writers are averaging out to about 3.9 wins on the season for Rutgers. I think the realistic expectation is 4-8 or 5-7, I’ll opt for the former.
This unfortunately keeps the program in another year of purgatory where a decision to go with Wimsatt or do what 8 of 14 other teams in the conference have done and import a starter a la the New York Jets with Aaron Rodgers. But will one want to come to New Jersey?
I think the answer is yes if the offense can show progress from their zillion freshmen linemen to give that signal caller a reason to believe he won’t be eating more turf than food from the grease trucks in 2024.
Dear Gavin Wimsatt, please just play insanely awesome, to make all my pessimism look completely idiotic and usher in a new era of fun Rutgers Football.
How many total games will Rutgers win in 2023?
This poll is closed
8 or more, my prescription meds are empty.
6 or 7, traditional bowling.
4 or 5, cautious.
2 or less, global warming of the seat.
How many Big Ten games will Rutgers win in 2023?
This poll is closed
6 or more, I’m a crazy person.
4-5, best season in B1G.
3, Bowl baby! ... unless you are Chris Ash.
2, still considered progress.
1, treading water.
Nada, They won’t even beat Northwestern.