I decided to write this Rutgers preview because I figured it’d be the funnest one to write, with the best opportunity to pepper this preview with all the jokes. Because, Rutgers football, you see.
Those may be famous last words and my Penn State hubris showing (though we’re not the only fanbase that feels that way), but when push comes to shove, this is Rutgers circa the Chris Ash era we’re talking about, and though this era is still early, as evidenced by his first year, this isn’t Greg Schiano at Rutgers 2.0 we’re talking about. And I’m not convinced I wouldn’t be this confident even if it was.
Quick 2018 Recap: Rutgers football had a lot of things going for it in 2018. Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, though, none of them were good - including having a game (against Maryland, of all squads) in which they completed three more passes to their opponent than they did to themselves.
Yes, in 2018, Rutgers had a game in which they had 2 caught passes and five thrown interceptions.
Offensive Player to Watch: Transfer quarterback McClane Carter, whom I’m going to pretend was named after Bruce Willis’ character in Die Hard even though it’s probably not true.
It’s not even clear that Carter will start this season; last year’s starter for Rutgers, Art Sitkowski, is still on the roster, after all. But an injection of some Texas swagger can’t hurt a team that desperately needs some. The biggest question is how Carter fits into Ash’s system or whether they’ll tailor the offense around his skill set.
Defensive Player to Watch: I’m going to go against the rules and not pick a defensive player, but rather new DC Andy Buh.
Yeah, he wasn’t anything particularly spectacular when he was the defensive coordinator at Maryland under DJ Durkin, but he’ll have to be a step up for a squad that averaged giving up over 400 yards and 31 points per game in 2018. Even getting this defense up to the 30th percentile of FBS defenses will be a step up, and will allow Carter or Sitkowski to try to keep up with their opponents.
Penn State Wins If: They show up and play to half of their potential. Even played the last game of the season, a banged up PSU squad at home should be able to have their full second string in by the fourth quarter.
Rutgers Wins If: A massive outbreak of E coli hits the Nittany Lions’ Thanksgiving Day buffet two days before this game.
Quick 2019 Preview: This is the 150th anniversary of the first college football game, played in Rutgers. They’re advertising the hell out of that. It doesn’t mean the results will be any better, though - and with a schedule of 10 teams that finished last season ahead of the Knights in S&P+ (FBS schools that didn’t include UMass, whose defensive lack of prowess in 2018 landed them just below Rutgers), and a recruiting class ranked last in the Big Ten, this will likely be another long year in Piscataway. How long, though, depends on Ash’s coaching ability.
A great season for this team would be heading into Penn State week needing a win to be bowl-eligible. This season likely won’t be that close.