This Rutgers football season is going to be strange.
The Scarlet Knights have not kicked off a campaign in October since the Eisenhower Administration. And, if all goes well, they will play one of the latest regular season games in their 151-year history.
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And in those games and every in between, the Scarlet Knights will aim to snap a 21-game conference losing streak - the second-longest in Big Ten history - and keep their positive momentum going in Greg Schiano’s first season back at the helm.
The last time we did this - which feels like a lifetime ago - it was hard to find a win. But now? It just feels different for some reason. The schedule remains tough, but it no longer seems as daunting.
How many wins? Let’s go week by week:
Week 1 at Michigan State (10/24) : This could be the perfect storm for Rutgers. The Spartans have underachieved in recent seasons and have a new head coach. There is recruiting heat between the programs and an easy motivational angle for Schiano and staff to hit on. The good vibes from memories of 2004 will flow. Rutgers gets several weeks to prepare. If the Scarlet Knights show up to play, it can add up to a day of catharsis that ends the ugly conference losing streak and propels the program for the rest of the season.
Win, 1-0 .
Week 2 vs. Indiana (10/31) : It’s fitting the Big Ten put this game on Halloween, because last year’s 1-yard passing display by Rutgers was one of the scariest things in league history. Rutgers cannot think about moving up in the world until it can move past the Hoosiers. That is not going to happen for a few years. Indiana had a chance for a special season before the pandemic changed everything from a scheduling standpoint. Now the Hoosiers can’t let attainable wins slip by them if they want to have a respectable record.
Loss, 1-1 .
Week 3 at Ohio State (11/7) : Ryan Day and the Buckeyes had better go 9-0 and make the College Football Playoff after trying to single-handedly drag the Big Ten back onto the field this fall. If they don’t, the schadenfreude will be immense.
Loss, 1-2 .
Week 4 vs. Illinois (11/14) : It’s a winnable game, but not as easy as most think. Lovie Smith has recruited extremely well and the Illini are about to have the consistent success everyone has been predicting Rutgers' other crossover opponent. The lack of fans in SHI Stadium plays to Illinois as well.
Loss, 1-3 .
Week 5 vs. Michigan (11/21) : This will not be Schiano’s first matchup with Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers rolled to a 33-14 win over the Buccaneers late in the 2013 season. And, at least for now, this game will likely have a similar score.
Loss, 1-4 .
Week 6 at Purdue (11/28) : Rutgers was playing a home game on Thanksgiving weekend according to the first schedule. The Scarlet Knights then had the week off according to the second one. And now they have to make their historic first-ever trip to West Lafayette right after the holiday. Purdue’s flair for big upset wins has masked the fact the Boilermakers are 17-21 in three seasons under Jeff Brohm and looking at a second straight losing season. In fact, this may be Purdue’s best shot at a win this season. Expect it to be desperate.
Loss, 1-5 .
Week 7 vs. Penn State (12/5) : Rutgers has been more competitive against Penn State than many realize, especially the last two seasons. Yes, the Nittany Lions have had injury issues at quarterback in the last two meetings, but that is still part of the game. Rutgers may have been able to take an upset bid into the fourth quarter one or both times if it had a functioning offense. Could the Scarlet Knights find themselves with a puncher’s chance again this fall? Don’t rule it out. The Nittany Lions could have two or three losses by December and largely removed from the New Year’s Six hunt. But don’t count on it, either.
Loss, 1-6 .
Week 8 at Maryland (12/12) : The Terrapins have outscored Rutgers 82-14 since the Scarlet Knights' win in 2017, their last conference victory. But is it talent or coaching? Likely both. Maryland’s Mike Locksley is known as a recruiter, not a tactician. But his roster is not exactly racing ahead of Rutgers' right now. And the Scarlet Knights will be better coached under Schiano than they were under Chris Ash. This series will be nip-and-tuck again. It deserves a rivalry trophy. It should always be the last game of the regular season. And Rutgers is going to find a way.
Win, 2-6 .
Week 9 vs. Nebraska (12/19) : You knew it was going to happen. Rutgers finishes sixth in the East on the strength of its win over Maryland, but Illinois takes sixth in the West. The Big Ten then rejiggers the matchups to avoid rematches and the Scarlet Knights land an angry fifth-place Nebraska team that feels this entire schedule was a conspiracy against them. Hope the Cornhuskers don’t listen to the podcast!
Loss, 2-7 final record .
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