2019 College Football Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

(Photo: Khaseem Greene, 2012 Rutgers Football)

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Head Coach: Chris Ash

2018 Record: 1-11, 0-9 Conference

Bowl: N/A

Season Win Prop: 3 wins (O +105, U -135)

Make 4 Team Playoff: +200000

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights just continue to disappoint, despite Chris Ash pushing his unreasonable goals on a wavering fan base. Promising a return to Bowl games, the team instead won just one game, while nine players were arrested and a true freshman struggled his way through an attempt at quarterbacking a horrible offense. Ash is still owed nearly $10 million more and signed through 2022, but it will take more than floating bowl projections out to save his job.

Rutgers did not win a single Big Ten game last year, and its place at the cellar seems all but solidified if not for the fact that Illinois has been nearly just as futile.

Offense

Rutgers is not even remotely difficult for opposing defenses to stop, and that show itself as the team did not even manage to average two touchdowns per contest last year. It regressed from previously poor seasons to just 13.5 points per game, with its peak under Ash having been just an 18 point-per-game campaign in 2018. Artur Sitkowski returns at quarterback, and he is awful. He ranked last of 113 QBs nationally last year with a passer rating of just 76.4.

He is now a sophomore, but improvement will have to come fast. He threw 18 interceptions last season, and he completed just 49 percent his looks. Offensive coordinator John McNulty is searching hard for bright spots, and one of those few is that the Knights did improve its third-down efficiency last season. It ranked last place nationally in plays greater than 10-yards, though, and it was second-to-last in plays of 20 or 30 yards, or more.

The Knights, at least, do have a talented running back in junior Raheem Blackshear. He had 586 yards last season, and sophomore Isaiah Pacheco was good for 551 yards. That combo should be a good source of rushing production, but the wide receivers are hardly good. The team returns four of its top five from a unit that struggled.

The offensive line returns three players that started at least five games. All of this adds up to something of a mess, but somehow Ash is hoping to salvage it and remain competitive in a tough Big Ten that basically ate his team alive last season. He cites issues on the offensive line and receivers, but other than having two decent running backs there is not really much cause for optimism that this year’s iteration of Scarlet Knight football is any better than the previous version.

Defense

Ash’s calling card, supposedly, is his defensive teams. But last year hardly showed it. He decided to hire Maryland defensive coordinator Andy Buh to take over his team’s defensive play calling. He is experienced with Buh from their teams at Wisconsin, but last year’s Rutgers defense surrendered 31.4 points per game and ranked No. 89 nationally, so they have plenty of work to do obviously.

The depth at linebacker should help, and the backfield is deep as well. Damon Hayes returns to his natural position of a cornerback after playing 12 games at safety last season. Sophomore Avery Young was called on to start real early in Week 2, but he should be more prepared to start a full season this year. Buh does not believe there will be huge changes in the scheme, but perhaps there should be. He is hoping his guys “play hard,” but with the disparity of talent between Rutgers and the elite teams in its conference, that probably is not really enough.

Special Teams

Justin Davidovicz was both the kicker of FGs and kickoffs last year, and he hit 9 of 11 FG including a 52-yard attempt. Adam Korsak punted for a 40.6-yard average. Young and Pacheco bring some potential for returns.

Final Word

Ash is doing everything he can to save this program and his job, but it likely will not be enough, and he has gone just 3-24 in Big Ten play during his time at Rutgers. McNulty returns as offensive coordinator, which is something new to the program which tends to turnover that position to a new face every season. Ash is still on the books for a full $7.5 million past this season, and he says he “loves the team,” but at some point, his delusions are not going to be enough to keep butts in the seat of the stadium. This team has to start winning.

Prediction: 2 wins (under)

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