The Ohio State football season will be here before you know it, and even if you’ve only been paying semi-close attention this offseason, you’re probably aware of the major storylines with the program. This is going to be an exceptionally young, but talented and athletic team. There’s a lack of proven production at wideout, running back, and defensive back. They return the best QB in the conference, and should at least compete for a Big Ten title.
But you may not know a lot about the specific teams on Ohio State’s schedule. We’ll get into a lot more detail before the actual games, but you may want a primer so you can sound smart at the bar, or at the barbecue, or in the grocery store checkout line.
So take a look at Ohio State’s opponents this year. Next up, the Buckeye’s first Big Ten opponent, Rutgers.
So, what was the story with Rutgers last year?
It’s a long story, and almost all of it was bad. Off the field, everything was basically one constant disaster movie, from multiple players getting in trouble with the law, to their head coach getting involved in the absolute dumbest cheating scandal ever. These are the sorts of things you have a hard time getting away with if your team is very good, and Rutgers was not very good.
The Scarlet Knights won just a single Big Ten game (a massive comeback against Indiana), and for the second year in a row, looked mostly uncompetitive against the best teams in the Big Ten. The school decided it was time for a change, canning Kyle Flood, and hiring Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash, in a little bit of an upset. Ash is now trying to rebuild Rutgers culturally to more closely emulate Ohio State, in everything from organizational excellence, to hatin’ on Michigan.
What should we expect from Rutgers on offense this year?
Ash tabbed Drew Mehringer, a former Rice QB, Tom Herman assistant, and OSU grad assistant as his offensive coordinator, presumably to run an offense similar to what Herman, and Urban Meyer at Ohio State, are cooking up. Spread-to-run principles with mobile QBs, occasional tempo and verticality in the passing game. When, or I suppose, if, Rutgers gets the personnel to run that system, it could be pretty exciting. After all, there are certainly athletes on the banks.
Do they have that now? Eh ... Kinda? Rutgers returns four starters from a pretty decent offensive line, and has some skill position talent, like returnman Janarion Grant and running backs like Robert Martin and Josh Hicks that can do some damage against Big Ten defenses.
But the most important position is the quarterback, and neither of of Rutgers’ QBs Chris Laviano (who struggled with turnovers last season) or former LSU Tiger Hayden Rettig are going to bring up memories of Braxton Miller or Greg Ward. There’s also the question of who replaces Leonte Carroo as a big play threat. Both Ohio State and Houston were great at producing explosive plays, but Rutgers hasn’t been. And this baseline talent level may not be high enough to dink and dunk people to death.
Okay, so maybe there’s some potential with that offense. What about the defense?
It was pretty bad! Thanks to injuries and suspension, Rutgers was forced to trot out a lightly experienced secondary that got absolutely barbecued at every opportunity. The good news for Rutgers fans is that virtually everybody is back, now with more experience. But its not like Rutgers is bring back a cadre of four-star defensive backs that just needed a little seasoning.
Last season, Rutgers gave up the fifth worst number of passes of 20 yards or more. Michigan graduate transfer Ross Taylor-Douglas joining the group should help, but a massive improvement from this group feels a bit unlikely, even with Chris Ash’s reputation as a excellent teacher of defensive fundamentals.
Rutgers is also replacing basically all of their linebackers, but they have a legitimately very good defensive tackle in Darius Hamilton, and the Scarlet Knights could have a spicy run defense, which is critical to competing in the Big Ten East.
Has Rutgers ever beaten Ohio State?
In football? No. The two teams have only played twice, but Ohio State won both games by a combined 105-24 score.
Is Rutgers going to be any good this season?
They should be improved. Their secondary can’t get much worse than it was last year, and they just hired a new head coach who has a solid record of teaching and improving defensive play, even if the pieces don’t totally fit. They have some skill position talent, and after murderous schedules their first two years in the Big Ten, the league slate lets up a little bit.
But even with all of that, there aren’t many possible wins on this schedule, the talent disparity between them and their division opponents is significant, and their secondary will probably still suck. This doesn’t seem like a bowl team to me.
How worried should Ohio State fans be about this game?
Losing to Rutgers is going to happen someday, and when that day comes, I will need to eat a lot of words that I’ve written about them on the internet. But on homecoming, after a bye week, while Rutgers is working out a new coach and new offensive systems, does not seem likely. The Buckeyes should be favored by a very healthy amount, and even if they don’t cover, they should still beat Rutgers relatively comfortably.