During every college football preseason, a path to bowl eligibility is developed in the media and fan base. So why should this year be any different? Greg Schiano will lead the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in his second year since returning to the New Jersey state university. Can he get them back to a bowl game? Jersey Sporting News takes a look at the Scarlet Knights schedule to find the most logical road.
Sweep Non-Conference Slate
It starts Thursday, September 2 at SHI Stadium in Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights must take care of business and dominate Temple in the season opener. The Owls are expected to struggle this season, picked 10th in the 11-team American Athletic Conference. If bowl eligibility is a goal for Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights must get off to a fast start and come out victorious. This game will set the tone for the season.
Rutgers hits the road for a trip to Syracuse the following week before hosting Delaware, an FCS team. Syracuse was picked to finish last in the ACC's Atlantic Division, so Rutgers should not have a problem squeezing the Orange. The Blue Hens of Delaware are one of the top teams in FCS. But yes, they are still in FCS, and Rutgers should not be loosing to an FCS team. Delaware may prove to be Rutgers' most difficult non-conference matchup, but it's one they must find a way to win.
If Rutgers can get off to a 3-0 start, bowl eligibility is in sight, but by no means is it a guarantee.
Can Rutgers Win Three Big Ten Games?
The Scarlet Knights won three conference games a season ago, and will need to do that once again in order to become eligible for the postseason. Where do those wins come from? Of course there could be an upset somewhere, but let's be honest, the Big Ten East Division creates a brutal schedule.
Games on the road at Michigan and home versus Ohio State would appear to be losses for the Scarlet Knights, putting them at 3-2. Their next game, at home against Michigan State, could be the make-or-break matchup for Rutgers bowl hopes. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Spartans in East Lansing last season, and may be the better team this year. Give Rutgers a win at home - now sitting at 4-2.
The Scarlet Knights likely need to take one of the next two road games - at Northwestern and at Illinois. The most likely would be topping Illinois. Rutgers lost to the Illini on a field goal with three seconds left a season ago. Illinois did look like an improved team, now coached by Bret Bielema, in their season opening win over Nebraska. If the Scarlet Knights are able to split the back to back road games, they would sit at 5-3, needing one win in their final four games.
Those final four games, however, start with three straight preseason Top-25 teams. Let's assume they fall at home to No. 12 Wisconsin, at No. 17 Indiana, and at No. 19 Penn State. Losing three straight puts Rutgers at 5-6 and in a must win game to end the regular season, at SHI Stadium versus Maryland. The Scarlet Knights topped the Terps in overtime on the road last season. A win over Maryland puts Rutgers at 6-6 and bowl eligible.
Bowl Eligibility Road Map
Of course, in a 12-game season, anything can happen and there is always the unpredictable outcome somewhere. But it's the preseason and media and fans alike will analyze a teams' potential success. Agonizing over the Scarlet Knights schedule, many different outcomes come to mind.
Wins: Temple, @Syracuse, Delaware, Michigan State, @Illinois, Maryland
Losses: @Michigan, Ohio State, @Northwestern, Wisconsin, @Indiana, @Penn State
Maybe Rutgers pulls an upset, say at Northwestern or at Indiana, and then they more comfortably become bowl eligible, assuming all of the other results stand the way we have predicted. Nobody knows exactly how the season will play out, but Greg Schiano and company are ready to roll in what should be an exciting year for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Kickoff is 6:30pm ET on Thursday.