Due to the recent addition of my alma mater to the Big Ten, and since I am a life long Ohio State fan, I thought I would share my knowledge of Rutgers, and some personal views on its football program. Hopfully this will enlighten some B1G fans unfamiliar with Rutgers. Even better would be if I could help change some people's perceptions of one of the Big Ten's newest members, and at the very least offer you something you may not know about Rutgers University.
As long as I can remember I have been an Ohio State fan, and that is mostly due to my mom growing up in Ohio and my dad attending OSU. I am still a die hard OSU fan, but I also am now an adult and have now lived in New Jersey for 20 years. I graduated from Rutgers in 2011, and I am pretty well versed on their football program and everything that goes along with its tradition as the birth place of college football. In case you are not familiar with college football history, I will explain the 'birth place' reference. Princeton and Rutgers played the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 when the country was still recovering from the civil war and Princeton was stilled known as the College of New Jersey. Now I will try not to bore any of you with more fun facts you can find on Wikipedia. Ultimately college football has become a question of, 'what have you done for me lately?'. Thus I will try to avoid boring you with anymore history lessons about Rutgers. I just wanted to point out that Rutgers offers the Big Ten another feather to add to its cap with a history already full of rich football tradition.
Currently Rutgers is coming off a Big East title and a 9-3 regular season that began 7-0 with a win over an SEC team in Arkansas (that win looked a lot better in the early weeks of the 2012 season). Their season changed once they lost to a stubborn Kent State team which ended their rapid clime up the college football polls. They still managed to finish the season with a Big East conference championship. However, it was a season that finished on a low note with losses over Pitt and Louisville, which forced them to share their Big East title with Cincinnati and Louisville.
2013 Russell Athletic Bowl:
Due to the disappointing loss to Louisville in their final game of the season, Rutgers denied itself a chance to play in the Orange Bowl, which would have marked their first appearance ever in a BCS bowl. The tie breaker went to Louisville due to their victory over Rutgers. Rutgers then went on to lose their Bowl game 13-10 in OT to a stubborn Virginia Tech team. Rutgers had a 7-3 lead going into the fourth quarter, but Virginia Tech fought back to tie the game and then went on to win it in over time.
Looking back at their 2012-2013 season Rutgers is probably satisfied with what their first year head coach was able to accomplish, especially with no previous head coaching experience and a very young group of players. They will lose two players who decided to forgo their senior and redshirt junior seasons respectively, by entering the NFL draft. Both losses will hurt, especially since one of those players is their star Running Back Jawan Jamison (who reminds many Rutgers fans of a former Rutgers Scarlet Knight, who is getting ready to play in the Super Bowl this weekend, Ray Rice).
First year head coach Kyle Flood set a Rutgers record after starting his tenure 7-0. In February 2012 Flood was promoted after long time Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano decided to leave for a NFL job as the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buc's. Flood only had two days before national signing day in 2012 to keep his class together, and he largely succeeded in his effort to hold the recruiting class together. He even was able to add another top offensive lineman to finish a class that many people regard as Rutgers' best recruiting class in history.
Recruiting History and Outlook:
Rutgers' rapid improvement under Greg Schiano and now Kyle Flood is due in large part to their stronger ability to keep a lot of the North Jersey and specifically Bergen County recruits in state. Bergen Catholic and especially Don Bosco Prep are almost always ranked in the top 25 nationally, and often produce the best HS football talent the state has to offer. Rutgers also recruits South Florida rather well due to Greg Schiano's ties he developed as Miami's Defensive Coordinator in 1999 and 2000. He coached former NFL defensive player of the year, safety Ed Reed (Ravens), and also super bowl champion Jonathan Vilma (Saints) during his brief tenure at Miami. After Schiano's departure for the NFL, Rutgers have not missed a beat in recruiting, and are still able to benefit from the recruiting contacts Rutgers' assistant coaches developed in Florida during the Schiano era. They also have a number of their offensive coaches who joined Rutgers after the 2011-2012 season from Pitt. Besides these coaches being use to the grind of major college football recruiting, they also brought experience in recruiting Western PA, Maryland, and the Midwest from their previous post at Pitt. The experiences at Pitt will probably be valuable to Rutgers now that they are joining the Big Ten.
The table below is just a glimpse at how Rutgers have recruited in comparison to the rest of the nation and the Big Ten over the last 5 years according to Rivals.com. I compared Rivals' data to the available ESPN.com class rankings along with 247, and I decided that since all the sites rankings are relatively similar that I would just offer the Rivals data, and if people wish to compare the data more closely they can take a look at the other sites on their own.
Rivals.com rankings from the last 5 complete recruiting classes
Year Avg stars Nat. Ranking Rank within B1G Total Commits
2012 3.26 24 3 19
2011 2.96 32 6 24
2010 2.75 64 9 24
2009 3.00 38 8 23
2008 2.65 46 8 20
The recruiting data are obviously not exactly jaw dropping, but if they were bringing in top 10 classes, I think it would be more worrying relative to how that talent is translating to the field. Rutgers is not Alabama or Florida, but all the available evidence from their latest results and recruiting information (with the exception being 2010) seems to indicate Rutgers will be able to compete in the Big Ten. They are ranked in the top half of the Big Ten or close to it by recruiting services almost every year since they started their rapid improvement as a program 5-8 years ago, and the results are starting to show on the field on a consistent basis. They also have proven they can win their bowl games. Rutgers had a 5 game winning streak in bowls, which was the longest active streak in the nation before their loss to Virginia Tech this past year.
If I had to compare Rutgers' football program to a current Big Ten program I would have to say Michigan State is very close in their yearly recruiting rankings and also relative to their improved play on the field even if both programs have not yet achieved a level of yearly success in the wins loss column. There will probably be a short adjustment period when Rutgers enter Big Ten play at the start of the 2014-2015 season, but I think the evidence indicates that they are not the worthless addition that many pundits and fans within the Big Ten have made them out to be.
In fact ESPN.com formulated a list of schools which should or could become college football powers very rapidly (within 2 years). Rutgers was amongst ESPN's top 5 when they looked at all the programs currently in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), and asked experts what schools are best positioned to become consistent contenders for BCS bowls and conference championships in the next few years. They based their rankings off their conversations with 'experts', who were often members of other staffs or administrations at big schools around the country that are familiar with the programs in question. The people ESPN talked to almost all mentioned Rutgers' massive enrollment (amongst the largest in the country), their proximity to talent rich recruiting areas along with television exposure, and the recently upgraded facilities that are on par with any school in the country. Due to these reasons there is a belief that Rutgers is considered to be a 'sleeping giant' amongst many college football insiders.
Outlook in the Big Ten:
Ultimately I would predict that Rutgers is an 8-4 team with at least a .500 record when they join the Big Ten in 2014. As I have pointed out, Rutgers has everything they need to become a football power, and it will be exciting to see how they make the transition to the Big Ten. Rutgers' true identity is found on the defensive side of the ball, and it is certainly a strength for them usually, and this is probably due to their focus on recruiting great athletes with the speed to compete against almost anyone in the country. On offense they tend to rely on power running and consistent if not prolific passing on the offensive side of the ball. The foundation of their program is on recruiting very good defensive and offensive linemen, because like most programs they feel success often starts in the trenches. Rutgers would seem to project very well as a member of the Big Ten conference and I recommend keeping an open mind to the newest member.
I hope this description of Rutgers' football program (through the eyes of a die hard OSU fan and Rutgers alum) will have helped to broaden people's knowledge and hopefully offer a reason for B1G fans to show some interest in Rutgers. I know people who are 30 years or older probably still have an image of Rutgers that is based off of their reputation in the 1990s, which was essentially that they were the worst team in college football. Due to the common image many people have of Rutgers has caused 'us' as Big Ten fans to look at Rutgers as nothing more than an addition to the Big Ten's geographic footprint in the country's largest television market. Thinking of Rutgers in such a narrow manner has caused people to forget that Rutgers is no longer a team that wins one game a year and that they will bring a good program to the conference, and have the potential to become one of the great programs if they continue to improve. Ultimately I think people will be pleasantly surprised (maybe angered) by the quality Rutgers will add to Big Ten football. According to most reports around Rutgers back in November, they wanted assurances from the Big Ten conference that they would be in the same division as Ohio State. This is likely because Rutgers wants to open up the Ohio area for recruiting and for their own internal financial reasons. Around NJ it is widely believed that the Big Ten did assure Rutgers they would be in OSU's division, but only time will tell if that is the case. Personally I am happy they are joining the Big Ten and I hope they end up in the same division as OSU, because that will allow me to get great tickets to OSU at Rutgers games.
Visiting Rutgers in the future?
For future reference New Brunswick, which is the town where Rutgers' main campus is located, is a great place to come watch a football game in my opinion. If any Buckeye fans are thinking about making the trip sometime for an OSU game here, I would say it is worth the 9 hour drive across PA. There are plenty of nice restaurants and bars around campus, as well as great tail gating before, during and after games. It is also a great college town if you are interested in experiencing the Rutgers' nightlife. If you come to New Brunswick do not leave without visiting the world famous Grease trucks on College Ave.