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July 14, 2014
Better know your foe: Rutgers
Of the two teams, Rutgers seems to be further away from competition in the Big Ten than Maryland does. They've regressed (statistically speaking) in each of the last two seasons, and the level of competition is about to get a significant bump for the foreseeable future.
That's not to say that Rutgers can't get to a point where they can compete for division titles in their new conference. They're well positioned in a state that already produces a good amount of division one football talent, but they'll need to start winning a bit more to keep that home-grown talent from fleeing to other programs.
Rutgers' recruiting footprint is much more centralized than Maryland's, their fellow Big Ten newcomer. Whereas the Terps seem to focus on recruiting from the Mid-Atlantic states all the way down to Florida, Rutgers has tended to stick within their local base, apart from a heavy focus on the Sunshine State and smaller excursions into California.
For the most part it's hard to blame Rutgers for recruiting in the states listed below. After all, Florida is one of the nation's biggest bastions of high school talent. The problem for Rutgers is that they haven't had a lot of success in Florida, considering how many prospects they've offered over the last four years.
Only 14 of 207 Florida prospects have signed with Rutgers over the last four years. That's a 6.7 success rate, which is the second-worst among the teams we've looked at so far. Only LSU has a worse success rate, although the Tigers probably get a higher level of talent out of the state than Rutgers does.
The Scarlet Knights naturally spend a lot of recruiting effort in New Jersey, which produces a fair amount of high school talent of its own. The Scarlet Knights have signed 34.7 percent of the New Jersey natives they've offered over the last four years- that's not fantastic, but it's pretty good for a talent-rich state where a lot of other schools tend to recruit.
With Rutgers now in the Big Ten, I'm wondering if we'll see the Scarlet Knights branch out and start recruiting the Midwest a little more- specifically in Ohio. That's a relatively close talent hotbed that they could tap into, especially since they could offer prospects a chance to play against Ohio State every year.
At the very least Rutgers is making the leap to the Big Ten conference with some experienced players returning from last season. Nine offensive starters and seven defensive starters are back from last year's units, which at least gives them a chance to improve on what was a rough 6-7 season.
As a whole I think six wins was a lot for the Scarlet Knights, considering where they ranked in the end-of-year S&P+ rankings from FootballOutsiders.com. Rutgers finished ranked No. 94 overall, including a No. 90 offensive rank and a No. 91 rank on defense. Four of their six wins came against teams who ranked lower than No. 91 at the end of the season, and SMU and Arkansas didn't finish a lot higher than the Scarlet Knights.
That's a big reason why I'm not expecting a whole lot from Rutgers in year one- the level of competition takes a big step up. They might have been a bowl team in the American, but playing the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State isn't going to make their path to another bowl game any easier.
If they get back to a bowl game the Scarlet Knights will need some more production from their quarterback. Gary Nova completed 54.5 percent of his passes last year for 2159 yards, on top of throwing 14 interceptions to go with 18 touchdowns. New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen will try to bring a more quarterback friendly offense to Piscataway, but Rutgers can't afford to turn the ball over quite so often in their new conference.
Rutgers brings back most of their rushing attack and all five starters from last year's offensive line, but they'll need to do a little better than 3.7 yards per carry, which would have ranked in the bottom third of the Big Ten last year. Junior running back Paul James is back after rushing for 914 yards (5.6 per carry) last year, but the Knights will have to lean more on their offensive line to open up bigger holes for James and Justin Goodwin.
Defensively the Scarlet Knights four starters from the front seven on their 4-3 defense, which actually stopped the run pretty well last year. Rutgers held opponents to just 3.1 yards per carry last year, but an inexperienced secondary allowed a staggering 7.8 yards per attempt. You'd expect that number to drop a little bit with three of four starters back in the secondary, and it will have to get better if the Scarlet Knights want to stay within striking distance of a bowl game in their first year as a Big Ten team.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.