Since this is honesty hour, I also have to eat crow a bit: yes, Gregory Schiano did lots of nastiness to my beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his tenure. But, we won the Super Bowl so I have decided to forgive and forget.
Water under the bridge! Besides, us Rutgers fans have to face facts. Schiano is the only person – until we have the funds to get Urban Meyer after he flames out with the Jags – for the tall task of getting all the talented kids to take their talents to New Brunswick.
Yes, our record was 3-6 but if you’ve been a tortured Scarlet Knight supporter there was PLENTY to be happy about from last year’s COVID-shortened season.
Opening win at Michigan State
This would represent our first win against Michigan State since joining the Big Ten back in 2014. Despite the discombobulated nature of trying to prepare for a season in the face of COVID, Rutgers got a signature win in Schiano’s first game back on the sidelines.
Michigan State is another program undergoing change, as this was also Mel Tucker’s first game coaching his alma mater. But there’s no better way to turn the tide than knocking a Big Ten powerhouse down the ol’ totem pole.
The Scarlet Knights rush was all the rage as Isiah Pacheco turned in two rushing touchdowns, while quarterbacks Noah Vedral and Johnny Langan brought in another two scores on the ground.
The defense was opportunistic as well recovering five fumbles and hauling in two interceptions. It was lovely, I had a blast.
Going into 3OT vs Michigan
If Harbaugh lost this game to Rutgers, Michigan might have deactivated his access to the facilities on the spot.
After trailing by 10 halfway through, the third and fourth quarters were a slugfest with multiple lead changes. A touchdown and two-point conversion with less than 40 seconds left allowed Rutgers to bring the game to extras.
A winnable game on many fronts – see the missed field goals in OT – being able to go toe-to-toe with arguably the second-best Big Ten program showed just what Schiano’s Scarlet Knights may be capable of with some seasoning.
Wins against Purdue and Maryland on the road
For a program that went winless in the Big Ten in three of their last four seasons prior to 2020, any conference win is a step in the right direction. Even with Purdue and Maryland – 2-4 and 2-3 respectively – also having down years, each managed to nab some impressive wins along the way.
Purdue upset 15th ranked Iowa in the season opener while Maryland’s two wins came against Minnesota and Penn State in back-to-back weeks.
Johnny Langan balled out against the Boilermakers, registering a passing touchdown and being 5 yards shy of the century mark on the ground. Sitkowski also threw for two touchdowns in a game where Rutgers fought back being down 30-20 in the 3rd quarter.
A clean game versus the Terrapins, with Melton and Pacheco scoring three touchdowns and the Scarlet Knight defense forcing two interceptions, allowed for an overtime win in College Park.
There’s a lot to be excited about coming into year two of Schiano’s return. Star receiver Bo Melton makes his second consecutive Biletnikoff Award Watch List after a season of 47 catches for 638 yards and 6 touchdowns. The steady and consistent running back Isaih Pacheco has the ability to enter the Scarlet Knight record books, needing 91 carries and 462 yards to move into 10th place all-time in both categories.
On the other side of the ball, the Big Ten and team leader in total tackles (101), Olakunle Fatukasi, returns along with Tyshon Fogg, who tied for second in total tackles for the Scarlet Knights with 65. Christian Izen will also return to the Scarlet Knight secondary after tying Fogg for second place on the team in total tackles, leading the team in interceptions (4) – good for 5th in the conference – and leading the defense in fumble recoveries (3).
Game 1 Temple
Game 2 @ Syracuse
Game 3 Delaware
Game 4 @ Michigan
Game 5 Ohio State
Game 6 Michigan State
Game 7 Northwestern
Game 8 @ Illinois
Game 9 Wisconsin
Game 10 @ Indiana
Game 11 @ Penn State
Game 12 Maryland
Clearly, the hope is to enter Big Ten play sitting at 3-0. Between Temple’s 1-6 finish last season and Delaware being an FCS program, those should be wins. Syracuse, a longtime rival of Rutgers may be a challenge going on the road.
‘Having Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive weeks throws the Scarlet Knights right into the fire, but great performances will set the stage for how the team will fare the rest of the way. An upset can create a domino effect for the Scarlet Knights to possibly pull out results against the Spartans, Wildcats and Fighting Illini.
Then Rutgers faces a tough task as Wisconsin, Indiana and Penn State come into the season ranked in the top 25. I personally haven’t been the biggest fan of Noah Vedral and would love to see Sitkowski either take the starting job or get a real shot at the job as the best pure passer on the team.
More than anything, the judge will be Rutgers being able to be competitive in these games, as the excitement is set to arrive in 2022 – where the Scarlet Knights currently rank 4th in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation. Nevertheless, this column will be here every step of the way – good, bad or ugly – to chronicle our journey to the top of the Big Ten.