BY JEFF SLADE
As football season inches closer, we take a look at the early preseason previews of every team for the 2015 Big Ten Season, ranking numbers 14 through one until we finally hit September 3rd.
2014 Record: 8-5 (3-5)
Key games: at Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland
Players to watch: WR Leonte Carroo, DE Kemoko Turray, DT Darius Hamilton
In 2014, Rutgers entered their first Big Ten season with little expected and much to gain.
Thus, the conference and nation couldn’t help but be surprised as Rutgers posted an 8-5 record including a marquee win over traditional power Michigan. They went on to defeat North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl, their first postseason victory since the Greg Schiano era.
However, similar to the other newcomer Maryland, many around the Big Ten will wait before proclaiming Rutgers true contenders.
One year is just that, but a second successful season would go a long way towards establishing Rutgers as more than an afterthought.
The schedule for Rutgers is not an easy one.
In the non-conference, Washington State will look for revenge after a home loss in 2014, while Kansas and Army will provide difficult tests as well.
In the conference, they face about the toughest intra-division games possible against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Inside the division, they face Michigan State, Ohio State, and Maryland at home, while traveling to Penn State, Indiana, and Michigan.
Besides Indiana and perhaps Maryland, they’ll be likely underdogs in every other conference game. In order for any semblance of 2014’s success, Rutgers will need to pull an upset or two (or four).
On offense, Rutgers will look to replace the presence of four-year starter Gary Nova. Though Nova had his faults, he was able to lead the offense to over 7,500 passing yards and 60 touchdowns in his last three seasons.
The favorite to take the huddle as of today may change depending on who you ask.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Laviano has served as backup to Nova the past two seasons, but has played extremely sparingly.
There’s also Hayden Rettig, a 6’4 transfer from LSU who was once rated the third ranked pro-style quarterback in the country as a recruit in high school.
Rettig may have the edge in terms of talent, but there’s a reason why he transferred from Baton Rouge; and it’d surprise nobody to see Laviano take the helm come September 5.
No matter who the favorite is, the quarterback battle is an undecided one and certainly interesting to watch leading into the opener.
Whoever’s throwing the ball; they’ll be helped by one of the nation’s top receivers in Leonte Carroo, who decided to forgo the NFL Draft for a final year in Piscataway.
The situation in the backfield is somewhat more unclear, with five running backs on the roster with over 300 rushing yards last season. It’s a good problem to have, however, and the running back by committee approach will continue.
On defense, the Scarlet Knights will need improvement across the board to improve upon a unit ranking near the bottom of about every 2014 defensive category.
Defensive end Kemoko Turray has the potential to be a star after a breakout freshman season. Meanwhile, Steve Longa returns at linebacker after a 2014 campaign leading the team overwhelmingly in tackles. Plus, there’s also former five-star defensive tackle Darius Hamilton lurking around, who’s yet to realize his undeniable talent.
Some of the pieces are there, but they still need to be put together.
Despite the potential, Rutgers will this year and every year have to contend with the looming brutality of the Big Ten East.
Ohio State is coming off a national championship; Michigan State has developed into perennial contender; Penn State is pulling in regular top-15 recruiting classes; and three-time NFC Champion coach Jim Harbaugh has taken the reigns in Michigan.
Despite their early success, does Rutgers truly have the ability to hang with the powers of the East?
I’m leaning towards no, and 2015 may very well be the first year to show it.
Prediction: 6-7 (3-5); sixth in Big Ten East