Preview 2017: Rutgers Is Still Young, Still Rebuilding
It’s going to take a while for a young Rutgers team to rebuild into any sort of Big Ten East player.
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Rutgers might have the oldest college football program among all FBS teams – kicking the sport off with a 6-4 win over Princeton in 1869 – but at the moment, it’s very, very young.
And it’s going to need a little while.
Remembering that the program needed to hit the reset button after the embarrassing meltdown of 2015 – arrests, an NCAA investigation, head coach Kyle Flood being suspended, and a 1-5 finish – it wasn’t going to be pretty.
This is what a total rebuild looks like.
A punching bag last season, the Scarlet Knights had to deal with Washington, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State – four College Football Playoff-caliber teams – losing to them by a combined score of 223-14.
Throw in the 49-0 loss to Michigan State, four shutouts, two games scoring seven points, two games scoring 13, finishing with the nation’s worst offense, the nation’s third-worst run defense the worst punting game, and the second-worst scoring attack, and other than a win over New Mexico, there wasn’t any fun.
Yeah, Rutgers might still be in the loaded Big Ten East. Yeah, it’s still going to be a while. Yeah, this might be another rough year. But there’s hope. Really.
Head coach Chris Ash is only 43 years old. Before taking on this massive task, he was an elite defensive coordinator who grew into a big-time head coaching prospect. He’ll get plenty of time to put it all together, but there’s no quick fix here.
Fortunately, Ash is young.
Rutgers’ best offensive weapon is probably a true freshman – star quarterback recruit Johnathan Lewis. Two underclassmen started at offensive tackle last season, and when top receiver Janarion Grant went down, the best target – Jawuan Harris – stepped up in his freshman year.
And now, after the nightmare of an offensive campaign, it’s possible that just three seniors will start for former Minnesota head coach/Rutgers not-young offensive coordinator, Jerry Kill.
On the other side, the run defense didn’t do anything to help the cause, and there weren’t enough big plays to overcome the issues on offense, but several new starters were getting their feet wet. Just three seniors were in the starting defensive lineup late in the season, with six underclassmen starting in the back seven, including all three linebackers.
Want more youth? Eight key defensive backups on the two-deep were underclassmen, as was punter Michael Cintron.
And now it’s up to all those young players to grow into experienced players who can figure out how to start winning – or at least be more competitive.
No one’s going to expect miracles, and just about everyone will pick Rutgers to finish dead-last in the East. But very soon, this team won’t be so young anymore. Very soon, the Scarlet Knights won’t be this bad.
For long-suffering fans, though, it’d be nice if everyone could grow up in a hurry.