As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2020 non-conference schedule on September 12th at Rutgers.
The Chris Ash era ended early in 2019, with Rutgers floundering to a 8-32 record in four seasons under the former Ohio State defensive coordinator. Ash was fired with eight games to go in the 2019 season, and his successor, Nunzio Campanile went 1-7 in his place, with just one win—over Liberty.
The Scarlet Knights turned to a familiar name in hopes of turning the program around in Greg Schiano. In his first stint with Rutgers from 2001-2011, Schiano made Rutgers into a respectable team in the Big East, going 68–67 and guiding the team to six bowl games (keeping in mind that the Scarlet Knights have only ever appeared in 10 post-season games).
In a magical 2006 season, Schiano led the Knights to a program-best 11 wins and finished 12th in the country.
He rode that momentum to a forgettable two seasons in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he went 11-21 before returning to the college coaching ranks as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator.
In his short time in Piscataway, Schiano has worked his New Jersey football connections, already landing 11 verbal commitments for the class of 2021. Seven of them hail from the Garden State, including four-star linebacker Khayri Banton. 247 Sports ranks the Scarlet Knights’ class 11th overall in the country, though it is certainly still early.
QUARTERBACK BATTLE AHEAD
One of Schiano’s first recruiting wins didn’t actually occur on the trail.
He convinced redshirt sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski to withdraw his name from the transfer portal, which sets up an interesting quarterback battle for 2020.
Sitkowski started every game of his freshman year, but the results were not good.
He completed just 49.1 percent of his passes and threw for an unsightly 18 interceptions to just four touchdowns. Rutgers won just one game in 2018 (over Texas State), and in one particularly bad performance against Maryland, Sitkowski threw for eight yards on 2-16 passing and four interceptions in a 34-7 loss.
He was projected to be the starter heading into his sophomore year, but lost the starting job to Texas Tech transfer McClane Carter. Carter only lasted two games before a career-ending concussion, and Sitkowski played in the next three games, including two starts.
But when Ash was fired, Campanile asked Sitkowski to redshirt, and installed true freshman Johnny Langan as the starter. Langan struggled (as did the whole team), and he finished the year throwing for 840 yards and four touchdowns (against nine interceptions).
Sitkowski and Langan will likely battle for the starting quarterback position heading into the fall, and adding intrigue is the offseason addition of Baylor transfer quarterback Peyton Powell. Though Powell is likely looked at as a defensive back or wide receiver, Schiano did mention that he will be in the mix at quarterback.
A TOUGH OUTLOOK
The Big 10 East is one of the most competitive divisions in all of college football (outside of the SEC West), so Schiano has an uphill climb ahead of him.
But optimistic Scarlet Knights fans (if they still exist) can point to a relatively easy first three weeks, with an opener against Monmouth followed by games against Syracuse and Temple.
If Rutgers could start 3-0, there are winnable games against Illinois, Indiana, Maryland and Purdue in the conference schedule that could inch them to the six win mark and a bowl game. That would be a huge boon for Schiano in his return season.
But Rutgers also faces a brutal final three-game stretch of the year, with games against Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, plus a Week 4 matchup at Ohio State. An 1-11 record also isn’t out of the question either.