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Can Rutgers put up a fight in the Big House? Our 2017 preview

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At times in 2016, Rutgers looked like the worst team in the FBS. They can pretty much only go up from here.

Rutgers v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I almost led with the headline, "Big Ten forces Rutgers to play Michigan again in 2017," because that's pretty much how it feels.

Following a tough road test at Penn State, Michigan will get to come home the following week and "play" Rutgers in the eighth conference matchup of the season.

Unfortunately for relative Big Ten newbie Rutgers, they have to play teams like Michigan every year. Luckily for Big Ten veterans like Michigan, they get to play teams like Rutgers every year.

That's pretty much the gist of it.

By this point, Michigan fans should know what they're getting when they face the Scarlet Knights (ignore the 2014 Brady Hoke game). Rutgers, plainly, has not been competitive as of late. Michigan has outscored them 127-16 the past two seasons (and almost ran a Ruth's Chris out of business in the process).

How bad was Rutgers in 2016? They won two of their first three games — against Howard (who?) and New Mexico — and then lost the final nine. Against division foes Michigan, MSU, Ohio State and Penn State, the cumulative score was...drum roll...224-0.

ZERO.

Though there was one scare, if you recall: against Michigan, a fourth quarter pass from Shane Morris was deflected, intercepted, and then returned all the way for a Scarlet Knights touchdown — only to be overturned on review, as the ball hit the ground and was then ruled incomplete.

That was a close one.

Michigan v Rutgers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

"Where's the love for the Scarlet Knights?"

In 2014, Rutgers’ inaugural Big Ten season, the Scarlet Knights went 8-5 and took down both Michigan and Navy. In their conference opener, they came within a field goal of knocking off Penn State, and if it weren’t for a tough stretch facing Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin consecutively — and the first two on the road — the season might have gone even better.

The future looked bright.

Then they took a step back in 2015, winning just one conference game. Then 2016 happened.

And then, finally, a report was published this off-season releasing information that the conference’s new TV deal will net a payout to the Wolverines and Buckeyes of $51.1 million, while Rutgers will only receive $11.6 million.

The Scarlet Knight faithful were outraged. But the facts spoke for themselves: Rutgers has been lousy, in all athletics, in its few years since joining the conference.

Welcome to the Big Ten. You’ll have to earn your respect here.

"How good (or bad) will Rutgers be in 2017?"

Well, things can’t get much worse, so I’ll say they’ll be better. How much? Time will tell. (Probably not a whole lot.)

The biggest coaching change they made was bringing in former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill to run the offense. Rutgers has had an undersized offense, and unless you’ve got Oregon speed, that’s not going to bode well in the Big Ten. Kill should bring in some size and will definitely add serious Big Ten experience to this staff.

It’s hard to jump-start a struggling program, however, when you can’t get the fanbase on board. Before the spring game, which saw no live tackling, the university hired Big & Rich to perform, and head coach Chris Ash personally worked the frats and sororities to campaign for his program. The result: a crowd of just over 13,000 fans.

Michigan v Rutgers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

There’s a lot going against Rutgers right now. It was a demoralized team in 2016. Unfortunately, 2017 doesn’t look like it’s going to be any easier. The Scarlet Knights open the season with Washington, and then their first two conference games are at Nebraska and home against Ohio State. Tough draw.

“Now about the game. Any playmakers going to emerge this seasons for RU?"

There’s some talent on the offense — you just have to find it.

The presumed starter at quarterback, Giovanni Rescigno (a Warren De La Salle product), brings a little experience from a year ago, though if there’s a guy to get excited about it would be incoming freshman Johnathan Lewis. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Lewis is an dangerous mix of speed, size and talent. He has a thick frame and a cannon of an arm but zero college experience. If the season goes like last year, he could find himself seeing plenty of playing time.

The weapons on this unit are at running back and wide receiver. Robert Martin and Josh Hicks return to the backfield and will be joined by some young talent as well. Martin and Hicks combined for nearly 800 yards on the ground last season, though sophomore Trey Sneed may push them both for playing time.

Rutgers also has some talent at wide receiver, including Janarion Grant, who's been a superstar returner and all-around speed demon for the Scarlet Knights but was injured at the tail end of September last year and got a medical redshirt.

There's also 5-9, 186-pound Jawuan Harris, who tallied 481 receiving yards in his redshirt freshman season, and Ahmir Mitchell, a former Wolverine commit who is eligible to play in 2017, though he is currently recovering from an ACL injury suffered in spring camp.

On the defensive side of the ball, there’s a lot of youth. The defensive line is young but has decent size. The linebacking corps is a fairly forgettable group, but there’s speed, talent and a little bit of experience in the secondary.

At cornerback they have Damon Hayes on one side and Blessuan Austin on the other. Hayes is just a sophomore and is a twitchy, quick cover guy, while Austin is all speed. Rounding out the group are safeties Kiy Hester (former Miami transfer), Ross Douglas and Saquan Hampton.

All of that said, it’s still tough to get excited about the talent matchups in this contest. Michigan, in all reality, will have a field day.

"Is there any chance Michigan doesn't just runaway with this one (again)?"

Nope.

Poll

By how much does Michigan beat Rutgers?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Don't get cocky...pride comes before the fall
    (53 votes)
  • 4%
    A modest touchdown or two
    (24 votes)
  • 66%
    A solid blowout, 20-30 points
    (357 votes)
  • 18%
    Something crazy, like 78-0
    (101 votes)
535 votes total Vote Now