It’s safe to say that things have not gone swell in Piscataway, New Jersey since Rutgers moved to the Big Ten. Between two head coaches, the Scarlet Knights have compiled an 18–31 overall record, including a 7–27 mark in conference play. Led by second-year head coach Chris Ash, Rutgers won just four games in 2017, one of which was a shutout victory over FCS Morgan State. They were outscored by an average of over 17 points per game against FBS competition, and registered just one win against a team with a winning record.
The good news? There’s nowhere to go but up. With the hiring of former NFL assistant John McNulty as offensive coordinator, healthy competition at the quarterback position, and a year of development under the Ash regime, the future is looking brighter for Scarlet Knights fans.
2018 Rutgers Scarlet Knight Offense
Rutgers may see a new face under center in 2018. Gone is Kyle Bolin, a Louisville transfer who spent one season in New Jersey and displayed underwhelming numbers, with a 54.9% completion rate and twice as many interceptions (6) as touchdowns (3). Senior Giovanni Rescigno, the incumbent, is the only signal-caller on the roster with any experience, as he threw 517 yards and two touchdowns a year ago but completed less than 50% of his passes. Dual-threat QB Jonathan Lewis is also in the mix, though he saw very limited action a season ago. Rutgers thought they would have the services of Western Michigan transfer Tom Flacco, but he transferred to Towson to play in the same state as his better-known brother, Joe. Expect Lewis and Rescigno to battle for the starting spot in September.
The Scarlet Knights will have to turn to some youngsters in the running game. Gus Edwards and Robert Martin, who combined for 1,165 yards and 9 rushing touchdowns in 2017, are both gone. On the bright side, speedy sophomore Raheem Blackshear, the third-leading rusher on last season’s squad, is coming back, and should get the bulk of the carries. But fans should look out for Boston College graduate transfer Jon Hilliman, who had a breakout season for the Eagles in 2014 with 860 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Sadly, knee injuries limited him to four games in 2015, and he promptly lost the starting job thereafter. If Hilliman can resurrect his freshman performance, the Knights running game will be a force to be reckoned with.
This where the rebuilding aspect comes into play. Tight end Jerome Washington is in his second season with the program after transferring from Miami (FL) in 2015. He caught 28 passes for 282 yards a season ago. The four leading returning wideouts—Hunter Hayek, Bo Melton, Everett Wormley, and Mohamed Jabbie—are all sophomores. The potential is there, but the receiving unit must continue to develop to be effective. Daevon Robinson, a 3-star freshman, should get some reps as well. Rutgers will hope to resuscitate a woefully inefficient offense that averaged just 263 yards and 18 points per game, the second-worst in college football.
This could be the strong spot for Rutgers in 2018. Left tackle Tariq Cole is an NFL prospect and potential star. Freshmen center Michael Maietti returns with nearly a full season of college experience under his belt, while redshirt junior Kamaal Seymour has blossomed into one of the best right tackles in the Big Ten. If the quarterbacks and running game play up to par, Rutgers won’t be letting up many sacks next season.
2018 Rutgers Scarlet Knights Defense
D-Line and LBs
The Scarlet Knights’ linebacking unit is stout. Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts are both rising seniors who led the team in tackles a year ago with 116 and 96, respectively. The return of Tyreek Maddox-Williams, who missed all of 2017 with a knee injury, is a welcome sight. But the defensive line had its struggles, as they failed to generate sacks and stop the run. Rutgers allowed 4.8 yards per rush last year against FBS competition, which ranked 87th among all FBS teams. They also yielded 2.58 points per possession on defense, just 98th in the country. The 6’2, 295-lb. senior Kevin Wilkins will be the leader of the defensive line. Bulky senior Jon Bateky recorded 27 assisted tackles and 1.5 sacks as a junior. However, he’ll need to do more in order for the Knights to stop opposing offenses.
Talented safety Blessuan Austin returns after tearing his ACL in September of 2017. Junior K.J. Gray returns after recording five passes defended and two picks a season ago. While Kiy Hester, who had three interceptions, is transferring out, Saquan Hampton is an up-and-coming DB who is an astute tackler and should become even better in 2018.
Newcomer to Watch
Redshirt freshman receiver Shameen Jones is a player to look out for in 2018. With so much turnover from a season ago, and many young players to give the ball to, Jones should get quite a few reps this fall. At 6’3″ and 175 lbs, the 3-star recruit out of the Bronx could find himself in the mix of a youthful but promising Rutgers wideout corps.
Life in the Big Ten East Division is tough. Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State are perennial college football powers who recruit the best athletes year in and year out. As such, it is tough for schools like Rutgers to be competitive, especially when facing roster and coaching turnovers. Vegas has the over/under on the Scarlet Knights’ win total at four, and that’s probably about right. While the offense is promising for the future, they struggled so mightily last year and lost so much talent that it is reasonable to expect they will still have a difficult time putting points on the board. The defense has its bright spots, but may not be stingy enough to cover for the offense.
Luckily, Rutgers has four winnable games in its first five. They host G5 opponents Texas State and Buffalo, with trips to Ohio State and Kansas in between. A home matchup with Indiana in late September looms large. If the Scarlet Knights can win four of their first five contests, and perhaps eek out wins over rebuilding Illinois and Maryland programs, they have a great shot to go bowling in 2018. But they must do so then, because the schedule gets drastically tougher after that. Trips to Wisconsin and Michigan State go along with home dates against Northwestern, Michigan, and Penn State. Should Rutgers manage to win at least five of their first seven contests, a 13th game is well within reach. If they can only muster four wins or less, it may be a long season in Piscataway.
Prediction: 6-6 overall, 3-6 Big Ten