Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Head coach: Kyle Flood
2014 Record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten
2014 Bowl: 40-21 Win over North Carolina at Quick Lane Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 3 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +80000
Odds to win 2015 Big Ten Title: +30000
Regular Season Wins: Over 5 (+100); Under 5 (-130)
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The Rutgers Knights have struggled to keep consistency with its offensive schemes, but this year Ben McDaniels insists things will be much the same. Last year, Rutgers ranked No. 7 in the Big Ten in total offense, and the QB positioned is marked with some uncertainty.
Four-year starter Gary Nova is gone, and two redshirt sophomores will fight for the chance to replace him.
Chris Laviano and LSU transfer Hayden Rettig are the top-two candidates, and Kyle Flood will take his time before deciding on which to go with this season.
At WR the Knights have Leonte Carroo, one of the top in the NCAA who could have gone pro. The backfield is also strong and deep, which will help balance a pretty strong Scarlet Knights’ offense. Paul James will have the chance at primary ball carrier, after having been the victim of a knee injury that delayed his impact.
The Knights defense ranked near the bottom of all stats in the Big Ten last year. It gave up 180 points in losing to the league’s top-four teams and six starters graduating is hardly a good sign for a unit that was already so poor.
Darius Hamilton is going to be the best player in the defensive unit, but it ranked 106th nationally in run defense last year and that has to improve for Rutgers to be much more than a bottom feeder in the Big Ten. Hamilton thinks the group is “really talented,” and maybe it is, but it lacks experience and isn’t really building on any sustained success. That means it will have to come together quickly, and Hamilton will have to be the one to forge the process.
The Scarlet Knights are very good on special teams and have led the country in blocked kicks since 2009 (41). Kyle Federico hit 16 of 21 FG last year and Alan Lucy was an errant place snapper at times. Joe Roth and Tim Gleeson are battling for punting duties.
Losing to Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State by a combined score of 180-44 showed that Rutgers is the doormats of the Big Ten. It’s a long way to go defensively before it has the type of unit that can counter some of the powerful attacks in the Big Ten.
Rutgers is going to be defined by its QB play this year and when it faces OSU, Wisconsin MSU and Nebraska four weeks straight, it’s going to face that same tough test again. Laviano and Rettig are both talented but whoever gains the position will have to keep the TOs down. CB Blessaun Austin is coming in after a post graduate season where he had eight pass break-ups last season and he is in contention for a starting role.
The defense could use a guy like Austin to make some plays and create some extra possessions. That’s basically the kind of improvement that Rutgers has to make to eke out any extra wins with the difficulty of its schedule.
It has reached a Bowl game 10 times in 11 years, but at some point the Knights are going to want to play for something bigger than the Quick Lane Bowl, and another eight win season isn’t really going to change things dramatically for anyone involved. The over/under of 5 is likely on the low end, and we’re going to give Rutgers exactly one win more than that here.
Prediction: 6 wins