Location: New Brunswick-Piscataway, New Jersey
Stadium: High Point Solutions Stadium
All-Time Record: 626-606-42
Despite being the “Birthplace of College Football” and sharing the 1869 national championship with Princeton University in the first year of intercollegiate play, Rutgers has not had an overly successful heritage in the sport through the years. – Prof. Wikipedia
The above sentence sums up just about everything you need to know about the college football equivalent of Poland. Proud, but easily overtaken. Rutgers got a head start on nearly every school in the nation at football, and yet they’re little more than a speed bump placed before the on-ramp to success. If you tried to write a history of Rutgers football, it would have two dates:
1869: Rutgers plays Princeton in first ever intercollegiate football game
1976: Rutgers goes 11-0 and no one trusts them enough to invite them to a bowl game
2006: Ray Rice beats his way to Rutgers first ever postseason bowl game victory
Holy hell, just think about that for a second: Rutgers spent 137 years mired in mediocrity before they managed to put together even a semblance of consistency. Far more difficult things have been fixed in less time. The French and the English settled the Hundred Years’ War in 116 years; Jonas Salk cured Polio over his 80 years of life; Wake Forest won a conference Title in 2006 AND been to ten bowl games (to Rutgers nine) in less time.
There’s a reason why Rutgers has such a terrible reputation, and it’s entirely their fault. They weren’t hit by NCAA sanctions or the Black Death or anything like that, they just stunk. Rutgers is bad at football for absolutely no reason. I spent some of my childhood in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and despite loving football, I never cared about Rutgers. It didn’t even occurred to me that Rutgers ought to merit consideration as a team you should cheer for.
And the only person to blame for that is, again, themselves. Rutgers is right next to one of the biggest media markets in America (New York) and is situated firmly between tons of solid youth football, and they have taken advantage of absolutely none of that. Know how much the average New Jersey sports fan knows about Rutgers? Ray Rice.
Still, Rutgers and Maryland are now brothers in arms, hate it or love it. They’re married for the time being as the two newest additions to the Big Ten; the latest examples of conference expansion. Hate all you want about spray tans, Bababooey, Newark and the stench, the Jersey Shore, and jug handles, but they’re you’re brother now. Like it or not, Maryland and Rutgers are kinda into the same chick; they’re Eskimo brothers.
But onto their football team…
2013 Record: 6-7
Why they could be good in 2014: RB Paul James and Offensive Coordinator Ralph Friedgen
Of course Ralph Friedgen decided to join Rutgers during the same season Maryland is set to make their big publicity splash into the Big Ten. It’s almost as if the Fridge decided to head to Rutgers specifically because of the way Maryland did him a little dirty, but that’s hearsay. Nonetheless, Fridge has the chance to turn Rutgers into something resembling a solid team.
Friedgen has the unenviable task of changing QB Gary Nova from a game-killing turnover machine into an actual option moving forward. Nova has all the physical tools to be a good quarterback, but he’s incredibly inconsistent and will need some major coaxing from Fridge to ensure Rutgers is competitive in the Big Ten. Fortunately Fridge is one of the most accomplished offensive coordinators Rutgers has ever seen.
75-50 at Maryland and an ACC Coach of the Year under his belt before he left the school suggests he’s a decent head coach, but he should kill it as an offensive coordinator. Friedgen figured out how to make Danny O’Brien work, which is more than anyone else can say, so there’s no reason why Nova in his senior season won’t get a little better.
Meanwhile, Paul James and his two first names is a very dangerous running back when he’s healthy. He’s deceptively fast, has great size, and is hard to take down once he gets going. Last year, his 881 yards and 9 touchdowns were hampered only by him missing four games due to injury. James started the year off with three-straight 100-yard games (he was shy of the 200-yard mark by 20 yards, twice) and ate up South Florida for 113 yards to end the regular season. And now he gets a coach who likes to run the ball.
Ralph and James sounds like a match made in heaven, to be honest. James reminds you of Steve Slaton, the guy Friedgen missed out on (by his own doing) back at Maryland. They’re both seniors that are seeking to remake their image, in on way or another. Ralph is going to hand James a lot of carries, and James will probably love that fact given that he never averaged less than 4 yards per carry when he got the ball 12 or more times.
If James is healthy, Rutgers can run him into the ground, and that means the ball is in Nova’s hand less, which in turn means Rutgers will win more.
Why they could be bad in 2014: Gary Nova
The QB whose name sounds like a Sci-Fy Channel Original lead actor is the single reason why Rutgers could get obliterated this season. Nova is to quarterbacks what Oscar Meyer bacon is to real bacon. It may look like bacon, and it may even smell like bacon, but at the end of the day, you know the difference.
Nova has a killer arm, great height (6’2), and is sturdy as heck (220 lbs), but he couldn’t shoot a fish in a barrel. Sure he threw for 18 touchdowns to 14 interceptions last season, but five of his touchdowns came during one game (5/18), four came against five-win Southern Methodist (9/18), and another three against two-win Temple (12/18). Bottom line? They’re suspect.
Especially because he got yanked for someone else after completing 32% of his passes against UCF. Six of his ten games last year, Nova posted a QBR of less than 30. He hasn’t been solid against good competition, and Nova is going to need a lot of improvement if he expects to match his sophomore season statistics.
Ralph might be able to help minimize some of those mistakes, there’s no question about that. He got Sam Hollenbach to stop screwing games up with the help of a couple running backs named Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore, who kept the ball out of his hands ore often. There’s a good chance he could do the same with Paul James next year.
Best game on the schedule: vs Michigan, at Maryland
Hmm, get blasted by Michigan for the first time as a Big Ten member or get a leg up on Maryland in terms of Big Ten relevancy? Choices!
Worst game on the schedule: at Ohio State
Can the Ohio State scoreboard handle triple digits?
W/L Prediction: 5-7
If Rutgers can beat Maryland, they might get to a bowl game. Otherwise, they are going to be in for a rude awakening with one of the toughest schedules in the country. At Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State, plus home games against Michigan and Wisconsin spell a trainwreck of a season.