Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Fitting in and competing in the Big Ten a challenge from day one in New Jersey

Iowa State’s Jake Knott (left) tries to bring down Rutgers fullback Michael Burton during the first half of their game during the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, in Bronx, New York. (The Gazette/Jim Slosiarek)
Iowa State’s Jake Knott (left) tries to bring down Rutgers fullback Michael Burton during the first half of their game during the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, in Bronx, New York. (The Gazette/Jim Slosiarek)

The second installment of a series ranking potential B1G championship game opponents that Iowa will not play in the regular season: No. 4 Rutgers


Conference: Big Ten, East Division

2013 record: 6-7 (3-5 American Athletic Conference, lost 29-16 to Notre Dame in Pinstripe Bowl)

Returning offensive starters (9): QB Gary Nova, RT Taj Alexander, RG Chris Muller, LG Keith Lumpkin, LT Kaleb Johnson, C Betim Bujari, TE Tyler Kroft, RB Paul James, FB Michael Burton

Projected starting offense: QB Gary Nova, sr., 6-2, 220; RB Paul James, jr., 6-0, 210; FB Michael Burton, sr., 6-0, 235; WR-X Leonte Carron, jr., 6-1, 200; WR-Z Ruhann Peele, so., 6-1, 185; TE Tyler Kroft, jr., 6-6, 240; LT Keith Lumpkin, jr., 6-8, 315; LG Kaleb Johnson, sr., 6-4, 305; C Betim Bujari, sr., 6-4, 295; RG Chris Muller, so., 6-6, 300; RT Taj Alexander, sr., 6-4, 290

Returning defensive starters (7): DE Djwany Mera, DT Darius Hamilton, WLB Kevin Snyder, MLB Steve Longa, CB Gareef Glashen, CB Anthony Cioffi, SS Lorenzo Waters

Projected starting defense: DE Djwany Mera, jr., 6-4, 260; NT Kenneth Kirksey, sr., 6-1, 275; DT Darius Hamilton, jr., 6-4, 260; R Quanzell Lambert, so., so., 6-1, 230; SLB Quentin Gause, jr., 6-1, 220; MLB Kevin Snyder, sr., 6-3, 235; WLB Steve Longa, so., 6-1, 220l CB Gareef Glashen, sr., 5-10, 180; CB Anthony Cioffi, so., 6-0, 180; SS Lorenzo Waters, sr., 6-0, 205; FS Johnathan Aiken, sr., 5-11, 190

Returning specialists (3): K Kyle Federico, jr., 6-0, 190; LS Kevin Snyder, sr., 6-3, 235; PR/KR Janarion Grant, so., 5-11, 170

Other specialists: P Joe Roth, jr., 6-0, 175

Key losses: WR Brandon Coleman, WR Quron Pratt, DB Jeremy Deering, DT Isaac Holmes, LB Jamal Merrell, DE Marcus Thompson

Key additions: OL Marcus Applefield, 6-6, 285, (Weeki Wachee, Fla.); TE Logan Lister, 6-5, 245, (Katy, Texas); DB Kam Lott, 5-10, 185 (Jacksonville, Fla.); WR Ntwademela Perry, 6-3, 200, (Durban Westville, South Africa); LB Brandon Russell, 6-1, 215 (Pembroke Pines, Fla.); DL Eric Wiafe, 6-5, 265 (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.); QB Hayden Rettig, so., 6-2, 205 (transfer from LSU; ineligible this season)

2013 review: Well, Rutgers got itself to a bowl game against Notre Dame in New York City. That was a cause for celebration and a nice reward for a 6-6 regular season. But Rutgers actually getting to that game was both perplexing and concerning for a program about to take several leaps forward into the Big Ten.

Rutgers actually had a nice start to the season. The Scarlet Knights dropped the opener 52-51 in overtime at Fresno State, which was one victory from playing in the Fiesta Bowl. Rutgers put up expected wins against Norfolk State and Eastern Michigan, then dumped Arkansas 28-24. The Scarlet Knights dropped SMU 55-52 in triple-overtime to start 4-1. Then the season got a little bit slippery.

A 24-10 loss at then-No. 8 Louisville was expected but the 49-14 home disaster against Houston was not. After edging 2-10 Temple 23-20, Rutgers suffered consecutive losses to Cincinnati, Central Florida and 3-9 Connecticut by a combined 73 points. But Rutgers picked up its sixth win with a 31-6 triumph against 2-10 South Florida, thus earning a bowl berth within driving distance of its campus.

QB Gary Nova played in 10 games and threw for 2,159 yards and 18 touchdowns. But he also tossed 14 interceptions and completed a pedestrian 54.5 percent of his passes. The Scarlet Knights threw 22 total interceptions (while collecting just eight of their own). They averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and were outrushed on average 312.0-235.6. But that was behind an inexperienced offensive line, and the Scarlet Knights return all five starters from last year. That unit must make strides to not get boat-raced in Big Ten play.

2014 schedule: A28 at Washington State; S6 Howard; S13 Penn State; S20 at Navy; S27 Tulane; O4 Michigan; O18 at Ohio State; O25 at Nebraska; N1 Wisconsin; N15 Indiana; N22 at Michigan State; N29 at Maryland

Key Stretch: September is vital for Rutgers if it wants a shot at a bowl berth. The cross-country trip to Spokane, Wash., is a match-up of virtual equals. Both qualified for lower-level bowls last year and a win could mean the difference between earning another berth and staying home in December. Rutgers’ other three non-conference opponents — Howard, Navy and Tulane — wrap around its first Big Ten game against Penn State. If Rutgers doesn’t start 4-1, it might be lucky to pick up six wins.

Trap game: Navy won nine games a year ago, including the Armed Forces Bowl. The Scarlet Knights’ game at Navy follows their Big Ten grand opening against Penn State, a night game held on Sept. 13. Emotions will run high that night for Rutgers based on both the opponent and the moment’s significance. Then playing at Annapolis and facing Navy almost constitutes dirty pool. If Rutgers has any questions, it should ask Indiana about the rewards of playing the best service academy. The Hoosiers dropped an early game 41-35 against Navy’s tricky flexbone option attack and it cost them a bowl berth. A similar fate could await Rutgers.

Glass half-full: Rutgers finds a way to outscore Washington State in the opener and wins all four of its non-conference games. An early home victory against either Penn State or Michigan gives the team and its fan base momentum as well as a storm-the-field moment. Rutgers’ veteran offensive line keeps it competitive during the heavy portion of its schedule. Then the Scarlet Knights pull off a win or two against either Indiana or Maryland and earn a bowl bid in their inaugural Big Ten season.

Glass half-empty: This one’s a little more realistic. A tough defeat in Spokane followed later by losses to Penn State and Navy puts Rutgers in a hole entering the grind of its Big Ten campaign. Four consecutive games of Michigan-Ohio State-Nebraska-Wisconsin destroys any shred of confidence and renders the team outside the bowl picture. The remaining schedule of Indiana followed by road trips to Michigan State and Maryland turns the Big Ten campaign into an 0-for campaign, leading to speculation about Coach Kyle Flood’s future with the program.

The Iowa angle: There’s no shared on-field history between these squads in football. They both can claim women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer, who led each school to a women’s Final Four. Rutgers secondary coach Darrell Wilson spent 11 years as a defensive assistant at Iowa. Rutgers’ rover-backer Quanzell Lambert was a major Iowa recruiting target in the class of 2012.

Rutgers does provide a potential gateway for Iowa football (and other sports) in the New York/New Jersey area. It could help Iowa athletics with exposure, marketing, recruiting and potential donations. Future media deals because of the New York/New Jersey footprint will help Iowa athletics grow financially, which will lead to bigger/better facilities. So Big Ten’s expansion does have some benefits.

As far as competition on the field, it’s a net-negative right now. Rutgers has had fleeting moments of success over the years but never has qualified for a BCS-level bowl. Iowa right now is scheduled to play Ohio State and Michigan State just once each through the 2019 season. Iowa and Rutgers will play twice over that span (2016, 2019). Iowa and Rutgers face off early in 2019, a Sept. 7 date at Kinnick Stadium.

Quotable: “I think (joining the Big Ten) impacts recruiting in a couple of ways. I think it allows us to recruit the best players in the country because I think high school players are looking for access to the national championship and when you play in the Big Ten Conference, and if you’re fortunate enough to be a division winner, and you’re fortunate enough to be the Big Ten champion, you’ve got to foresee yourself in that final four. I think every coach in the league would probably agree with that. I think the other thing it’s done — because of the history and tradition of the programs in the Big Ten — is it’s opened up some access to some non-traditional areas. Going back to last year we signed a tight end out of Texas, a tight end out of Minnesota (and) a quarterback out of Michigan. Those were places in the past where we didn’t go to, and I’m not sure those players would have wanted to play in a conference that’s solely based on the East Coast. So I think it’s impacted us in a couple of ways.” — Rutgers Coach Kyle Flood

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