A few weeks ago, Kyle Flood getting fired at Rutgers seemed like one of the surest bets in college football. The Scarlet Knights were struggling, first losing to a Washington State team at home that recently lost to an FCS squad, and then played uninspired football against their big rival, Penn State. Plus, the program was embroiled in numerous embarrassing off the field incidents, culminating in Flood's suspension after one of the dumbest and clumsiest attempts at cheating in recent college football history. He was suspended for three games, and his eventually dismissal seemed like a matter of when, not if.
But now Flood's suspension is over. There are head coaching openings at North Texas, Maryland, South Carolina and USC, but not at Rutgers. And thanks to another inspired comeback over the weekend, there's a chance Flood hangs on for another year.
Let's appreciate exactly what Rutgers did on Saturday for a second. With 5:25 left in the 3rd quarter, Indiana's Devine Redding rumbled 66 yards for a touchdown to put the Hoosiers ahead, 52-27. It was the 28th point Indiana had scored in the quarter, pushing a competitive game into laugher territory. What was left of Rutgers' season seemed over.
But Chris Laviano found Leonte Carroo for a 43 yard bomb near the end of the quarter, Kemoko Turay returned an errant snap 26 yards for a touchdown, and the comeback was on. The explosive Hoosier offense couldn't score a single point in the fourth quarter, and Kyle Federico hit a 26 yard field goal as time expired to complete the improbable 25 point comeback. Suddenly, it's Indiana's season that is now in a tailspin, and Rutgers has new life, headed into a major home showdown with Ohio State.
This isn't the first time Rutgers has done this under Kyle Flood. Last season, late in the second quarter, Maryland took a 35-10 lead over the Scarlet Knights. Instead of folding, Rutgers outscored the Terrapins 24-3 in the second half, and with former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen on the sidelines, Flood engineered what was then the biggest comeback in Rutgers history, knocking off Maryland 41-38.
Things sort of fell apart for Maryland after that. The Terps were murdered by Stanford in their bowl game, 45-21, and would only win one more game over FBS competition under Randy Edsall (a 35-17 win over South Florida) before Maryland made a change. Had the Terps hung on to that victory, they would have finished the regular season 8-4, with a winning record in Big Ten play, and likely a bowl game against not-Stanford. Is Edsall still at Maryland if the Terps don't have the emotional gutpunch of blowing 25 point lead to the offensive coordinator that you recently fired as your head coach? It's possible.
Indiana, gunning for their first bowl game since 2007 (and only their second since 1993), desperately needed this victory, not just to stay in the bowl hunt, but to possibly solidify job security for Kevin Wilson. Now at 4-3, the Hoosiers have almost no margin for error, as Michigan State, Michigan and the undefeated and cruising Iowa Hawkeyes are still on the schedule. If the Hoosiers stumble against Maryland or Purdue and fail to make a bowl game, the Rutgers game will be the one their fans, and likely their administrators, point to as their biggest missed opportunity. It's not hard to imagine a Flood comeback indirectly being responsible for another Big Ten coach losing his job.
But what about Rutgers? The Scarlet Knights still have an uphill climb to make a bowl game. Even after their dramatic comeback, they're only 93rd in the updated S&P+ rankings, and are only projected to win two more games, at Army and over Maryland. They need three more wins to make a bowl game, and they don't have more than a 10% chance to win any of their next three (Ohio State, at Wisconsin, at Michigan), per S&P+. The other game on their schedule, a home game against Nebraska, isn't much better. Rutgers is currently given a 27% chance of a victory.
It is possible that making a bowl game isn't enough to save Flood. After all, the email scandal and the rash of arrests all still happened, and it's possible that Rutgers will still decide to fire him after the season. Many of the criticisms lobbed at Flood remain true, even with the dramatic comeback as well. In a division with elite recruiters, Rutgers has been only average, failing to secure one of the top 15 prospects in New Jersey this year. The defense has struggled the last two seasons. If the university decided to go in a different direction, nobody would bat an eye or raise a protest.
But it also isn't hard to envision a scenario where Flood sticks around now. If the academic and arrest scandals weren't bad enough to fire Flood back in September, maybe they aren't bad enough to fire him now. Rutgers got the doors blown off against good teams last season, but they've already improved (they only lost to Michigan State by seven), and stronger showings against Ohio State and Michigan could be seen as a sign of progress.
Plus, Rutgers can always decide that Flood has made just enough progress for them to not want to go into a coaching search cycle competing against Maryland and Illinois, and potentially other programs like Syracuse, Virginia, Central Florida, or other Big Ten jobs. If Rutgers waits a year, maybe they're the only Big Ten job open?
It's a tough battle, but under Kyle Flood, the Scarlet Knights have come back and won a few tough battles. It seemed ridiculous, but now there is at least *a chance* that the next Big Ten coaching dominio to fall might be *because* of Kyle Flood, instead of him.