Despite that strong first impression, the Scarlet Knights haven’t earned much respect in preseason predictions. Rutgers was picked to finish sixth in the seven-team Big Ten East Division in a poll of conference beat writers.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier in 2015 and Rutgers has big holes to fill, especially at quarterback and on the offensive line. Once again, there are a handful of toss-up games that will determine the Knights’ fate.
With so much uncertainty, the best case scenario and the worst case scenario are being analyzed.
Best case: 9-3
Hayden Rettig throws for four touchdowns in the first half of a blowout win over Norfolk State in the season opener and Rutgers has its quarterback for the future. Washington State brings its Air Raid offense to the East Coast, but Rettig and Leonte Carroo steal the show in a shootout. Free safety Anthony Cioffi seals the win with the interception, and then tells Washington State coach Mike Leach not to underestimate Jersey players. Rutgers gets revenge against Penn State, as Kemoko Turay sacks Christian Hackenberg four times and the defense gets a late goal-line stand to hold on for a victory.
Rutgers fans finally get something to celebrate on homecoming with a blowout win over Kansas. This is the “best scenario” but not the dream scenario, and Michigan State ends the Knights’ undefeated fantasies with a convincing win in Piscataway. Rettig and Carroo have another big day against Indiana’s shaky secondary and Rutgers hits the midpoint of the season with a 5-1 record.
Rutgers’ hype starts to build, but defending national champion Ohio State slows the bandwagon with a blowout. The downward trend continues with a loss at Wisconsin, as Glassboro native Corey Clement vaults into Heisman Trophy contention with a big day. The Knights stop the bleeding with another win over Michigan, this time against Jim Harbaugh at the Big House.
The Knights pick up a marquee win over a Nebraska team struggling to adapt to new coach Mike Riley. Rutgers stuffs Army’s triple-option and rolls to an easy win. Once again, the Knights close with a win over Maryland. The 9-3 finish gets Rutgers to the biggest bowl game in program history.
Worst case: 3-9
Rettig and Chris Laviano struggle in an ugly win over Norfolk State and a quarterback controversy develops. Washington State lights up Rutgers’ inexperienced secondary and the Knights don’t have the offensive firepower to keep pace as they fall to 1-1. Things hit rock bottom as Rutgers is blown out in front of 107,000 Penn State fans in Happy Valley.
Rutgers gets its first win of the season against Kansas on homecoming, but the quarterback issues persist. Michigan State steamrolls Rutgers, scoring on a fake field goal in the final two minutes to cap a 56-6 win. With a healthy Nate Sudfeld at quarterback, Indiana gets revenge for last year’s loss to drop Rutgers to 2-4 at the midpoint of the season.
Urban Meyer sends a message to New Jersey recruits with Ohio State’s 60-3 win at High Point Solution Stadium. The misery continues at Wisconsin, which “jumps around” after another blowout of the Knights. Rutgers limps into the Big House where Harbaugh has the program turned around. The Wolverines get revenge for last season’s loss, as East Orange native Jabrill Peppers has two interceptions and a punt return for a touchdown.
The Scarlet Knights fall to 2-8 with a home loss to Nebraska. Rutgers finally snaps the six-game losing streak with a win over an overmatched Army squad. The season finishes with a loss to Maryland that leaves fans calling for the jobs of head coach Kyle Flood and athletic director Julie Hermann.
Neither of those scenarios are expect to unfold. In fact, expect the season to wind up right in the middle of the best and worst case scenarios with a 6-6 record.
Look at Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin as extreme long shots for wins, and Norfolk State, Kansas and Army as locks for wins. That leaves six toss-up games. Rutgers had an incredible success rate in toss-ups last season, but things tend to even out.
With little experience at quarterback, offensive line and the secondary, it’s difficult to envision the Knights coming through in the clutch as consistently as last season. Considering all of that uncertainty, a 6-6 record would have to be considered a success.