For many football fans, Rutgers football might be regarded as the punchline to a horrible Jim Delany joke. Truth be told that no matter what you think about Rutgers athletics being in the Big Ten, Rutgers bringing the Big Ten into the New York metropolitan area was never a joke. In 2014, it meant $48 million a year extra just to BTN. That was back at the time when conference payouts to each vested Big Ten school was $32 million.
But Rutgers football was still a joke, right? Not when Delany make the move. Rutgers went to nine bowl games over ten seasons from 2005 to 2014...but since? 21-61 over the last seven seasons, though the Scarlet Knights did manage a last-minute Gator Bowl invite last season, replacing an injury, COVID and transfer-portal riddled Texas A&M squad that had to pull out of the game. With less than a week to prepare for the game, Rutgers lost 38-10 to Wake Forest. But with only 12 returning starters, 2022 doesn’t exactly look like the year for Rutgers to get back to a winning season.
One of those returning starters probably won’t keep his job. Former Husker Noah Vedral (6’1” 200 lbs.) completed 59% of his passes for 1,823 yards and seven touchdowns with seven interceptions; he’s also Rutgers’ leading returning rusher with 297 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 2.9 yards per carry. In the Gator Bowl, redshirting freshman Gavin Wimsatt (6’3” 220 lbs.) received extensive playing time, suggesting that the coaches wanted to get him experience for 2022. His numbers in the bowl game weren’t great (7 of 16 passing for 30 yards, though he did rush four times for 39 yards. Wimsatt was a late enrollee at Rutgers who actually started last season playing two games for Owensboro High School in Kentucky instead of going through Rutgers’ preseason camp.
At running back, junior Aaron Young (5’10” 200 lbs.) and sophomore Kyle Monangai (5’9” 205 lbs.) will be battling to take over the job vacated by Isaih Pacheco, who’s now with the Kansas City Chiefs. Young averaged 3.7 yards per carry while Monangai averaged 3.8. Young is still limited by an injury suffered this spring, which could give Monangai a bit of an edge.
Likewise at receiver, Rutgers has to replace Bo Melton who was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. Senior Shameen Jones (6’2” 185 lbs.) has started 26 games over the last four seasons; in 2021, he caught 35 passes for 334 yards. Senior Aron Cruickshank (5’10” 170 lbs.) caught 20 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. They are adding Syracuse transfer Taj Harris (6’1” 185 lbs.), who started 32 games with over 2,000 yards receiving in his career, and West Virginia transfer Sean Ryan (6’4” 200 lbs.) who caught 25 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns last season. The incoming transfers should offset the loss of Melton...but only if quarterback play improves.
Only two starters could return on the offensive line, and one of them, junior guard Reggie Sutton (6’4” 310 lbs.) is a “long shot to return” according to head coach Greg Schiano. Sutton was Rutgers’ best offensive lineman until suffering a knee injury early in the season. That leaves only junior center Ireland Brown (6’3” 300 lbs.) as a returning starter. Rutgers hit the transfer portal hard, pulling in Minnesota transfer Curtis Dunlap (6’5” 335 lbs.; 16 career starts with the Gophers), Colorado State transfer Mike Ciaffoni (6’3” 300 lbs.; five starts last season), Louisiana-Monroe transfer Willie Tyler (6’6” 325 lbs.; nine starts last season), and 1-AA All-American JD DiRenzo (6’6” 315 lbs.) from Sacred Heart. This group of transfers probably will be an upgrade over last year’s porous offensive line, but probably will still be one of the lower rated groups in the Big Ten.
Rutgers only returns six starters from a defense that ranked 11th in the Big Ten in both scoring and total defense. And with only two returning starters in the front seven, it could be another rough season defensively. Junior defensive tackle Mayan Ahanotu (6’4” 295 lbs., 18 tackles in 2021) is the only returning starter now that Mohamed Toure is out for the season after a spring injury. Sophomore defensive end Kyonte Hamilton (6’4” 270 lbs.) did have 22 tackles last season while fellow sophomore Aaron Lewis (6’5” 255 lbs.) added 30 with 2.5 sacks.
At linebacker, sophomore weakside linebacker Tyreem Powell (6’5” 235 lbs.) and junior middle linebacker Deion Jennings (6’1” 225 lbs.) are going to be counted on to step up and fill the holes that the loss of Rutgers’ top three (and probably top four) linebackers from last season. Drew SIngleton (6’2” 235 lbs.) is appealing to the NCAA for a waiver to play in 2022; he was fourth on the Rutgers defense last season with 59 tackles.
The secondary returns intact to be the strength of the Rutgers defense. Senior free safety Avery Young (6’0” 195 lbs.) leads all returning Scarlet Knights with 81 tackles last season. Young is taking advantage of the extra COVID year of eligibility to become a five year starter for Rutgers. Junior strong safety Christian Izien (5’10” 200 lbs.) is a three year starter who was third in tackles last season with 75. Sophomore cornerbacks Robert Longerbeam (5’11” 170 lbs.) and Max Melton (6’0” 190 lbs.) will combine with junior cornerback Kessawn Abraham (5’10” 190 lbs.); last season they combined for 28 passes defended. Melton led Rutgers with three interceptions last season.
2022 probably isn’t going to be the season that Rutgers shakes their reputation. 2023 or 2024? That’s probably a different conversation. Phil Steele found an interesting stat: Rutgers hasn’t won a home conference game since 2017. In 2018 and 2019, Rutgers went winless in the Big Ten, and in 2020 and 2021, Rutgers won road games at Purdue, Maryland, Illinois and Indiana (38-3 last season!). Hopefully that string lasts at least through “Friday Night Lights” against the Huskers; the Scarlet Knights do get Indiana at home two weeks later.
What happens when Nebraska returns to Jersey to play Rutgers?
This poll is closed
After upsetting Iowa at home, Rutgers extends a home winning streak to three games by beating Nebraska.
Nebraska is a little sloppy on a short week, but still heads home with a win.
These Huskers were Born to Run all over this Rutgers team. Nebraska is the Boss on this Friday night in New Jersey.