Greg Schiano has turned around a horrible Rutgers football program once. Doing it a second time is going to be even harder, especially with the Scarlet Knights playing in the Big Ten.
Schiano, who was hired in December after a rocky courtship, will kick off his second tour with the Scarlet Knights on Sept. 24 when a conference-only season gets underway with a game at Michigan State.
Rutgers comes into the season somewhat of a mystery after not having either a spring practice or a full training camp because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 2-10 season that led to the firing of Chris Ash four games into his fourth season. The school has won three games the past two years and has lost 21 straight conference games since beating Maryland in 2017.
With the Big Ten season being postponed and then brought back, the team didn't get back on the field in pads until late last month. There have only been a couple of practices and a few scrimmages.
“Because of the way things have unfolded, this is a different year," Schiano said. “It's different when you start as a head coach your first year anyway and then throw this COVID and all the things that have gone along with it. We’re just going to have to kind of play it by ear and really see how things develop.”
The 54-year-old Schiano said he is going to see how things play out.
What's also different this second time around is the level of competition. When Schiano took over the program in 2001, the Scarlet Knights were playing in the Big East against the likes of Syracuse, Louisville and West Virginia. He started 3-20 and didn't post a winning season until 2005.
Rutgers went to postseason bowls in six of seven seasons before Schiano left to take a job with Tampa Bay of the NFL. He was fired after two seasons and spent recent years as a college assistant, mostly at Ohio State. He has not been a head coach since Rutgers called him back. His time at Penn State during the child abuse scandal involving coach Jerry Sandusky probably hurt his chances.
Being competitive in the Big Ten is not going to be easy. The powerhouse league includes Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa, all usually ranked every season. There are no easy games.
Schiano, who is a good recruiter, is going to have to find a lot of talent to compete.
QUARTERBACK HUNT The Scarlet Knights seemingly have three players in the mix for the starting job — Nebraska graduate transfer Noah Vedral and returnees Art Sitkowski and Johnny Langan. Vedral played in six games with the Cornhuskers last season and had two starts. He was 34 of 52 for 418 yards passing and rushed for 106 yards and three touchdowns. Langan started the final eight games for Rutgers last season. Sitkowski started two of three games and was 44 of 68 for 429 yards and a touchdown passing before deciding to redshirt the season. Schiano plans to release his depth chart in the week leading to Michigan State.
Schiano made his mark at Rutgers with his defenses and special teams units. Both have some talent this year. The Scarlet Knights return three top linebackers: Tyshon Fogg, Olakunle Fatukasi and Tyreek Maddox-Williams. The line caught a break when Elorm Lumor got a waiver from the NCAA after declaring for the NFL draft and not being picked. The staff also brought in three transfers — Malik Barrow (Central Florida), Ireland Burke (Boston College), and Michael Dwunfour (Michigan). The secondary has experience but is not deep. Australian Adam Korsak is one of the top punters in college.
The offense scored 159 points last season and it may struggle again. The offensive line lost four starters — LT Mike Lonsdorf opted out for heath reasons, LG Zach Venesky and RT Kamaal Seymour finished their college careers, and center Mike Marietti transferred to Missouri. RG Nick Krimm is the lone returning starter. Tackles Raikwon O'Neal and Reggie Sutton got experience last year. OL Cedrice Paillant is a transfer from Monroe College.
Rutgers had an outbreak after returning to campus in mid-June. At least 30 football players test positive for COVID-19 with most of the cases happening in July and August. Schiano said all the players are doing well. He insists the pandemic was the Scarlet Knights' biggest opponent this season.
Three players opted out of this season because of health concerns. Lonsdorf was the only starter in the group, which included WR Everett Wormley and DL Matt Thomas. Both had limited action last season.
The best part of the all-conference schedule is Rutgers does not have a brutal final month. A year ago, it finished with games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. The last three this year — before the Week 9 game — are Purdue, Penn State and Maryland.
A conference game against Nebraska was taken off the revised schedule. The nonconference games lost were against Monmouth, Syracuse and Temple.
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