Friday night was the start of Rutgers’ fourth year in the Big Ten. They only had one conference victory in football over the past two seasons, and they are 14-23 overall since joining the prestigious conference while only winning four conference games.
The Scarlet Knights took another loss in their home opener by taking a 30-14 loss to the No. 8-ranked Washington Huskies. Go ahead and say the game was competitive until midway through the third quarter, but that’s good enough to buy a cup of coffee.
This does not count as progress. This does not even qualify as a moral victory. A loss is a loss, so it’s hard to sell recruits and coaches in the tri-state area about this football program. Not even winning this game would change things.
The Scarlet Knights can say progress by winning games against legitimate Big Ten teams. This is where they can inspire high school studs to say they can be a part of something special in building a Big Ten powerhouse in their backyard.
It would be unrealistic to think Rutgers will get a signature win against Ohio State and Michigan, but beating Michigan State, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa should not be too much to ask. If Rutgers wants to be taken seriously as a Big Ten team, they have to beat those second-tier teams. That can’t be negotiable.
To the credit of second-year Rutgers football head coach Chris Ash and his players, they never celebrated about giving Washington a game in their press conference after the game. They were disappointed. They knew they should have played better as the game went on. They thought they should have made more plays and toughen up defensively.
Rutgers defense did the best they could to give their offense a chance to catch up to Washington. They were gassed by the third quarter after being on the field for most of the first half. That’s what happens when Rutgers offense had so many one and outs after an 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter that gave them an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
It was hard to blame Rutgers quarterback Kyle Bolin or running back Gus Edwards for Rutgers being inept on offense when neither had time to do anything with the offensive line being manhandled by Washington’s defensive line. It was impressive Bolin was not injured while running for his life for most of the game.
Friday’s game is the best as it gets for the Scarlet Knights. They will be competitive and maybe entertaining this year, but this is as good as it will get in Ash’s second-year of leading them out of the carcass. They have so much work to do. They can start by getting big bodies that can match up with the other team’s defensive line that is worth Big Ten’s standards.
Being competitive and entertaining will not be good enough to capture the attention of New York and New Jersey. Only winning will. When then-No.15 Rutgers upset then-No. 3 Louisville on a Thursday night at Piscataway in 2006, it garnered attention nationally and locally. It was good enough to be in the back page of both New York tabloids. It was even a sports radio talking point the day after Rutgers’ finest moment.
It’s imperative Rutgers makes some sort of progress this year. They need to get at least five to six wins this year to show they are moving in the right direction. They eventually have to beat Ohio State and Michigan to show they are worthy enough to be in the Big Ten.
It’s understandable why Rutgers went to the Big Ten. They needed the money to keep the programs at the school afloat. We get why the conference wanted the school because it provided the revenue and ratings in the New York market, not to mention getting the Big Ten Network on the cable carriers in the tri-state area.
Now Rutgers has to make sure that they are worthy of being in a competitive conference. They have to find a way to get it done. If Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin can be competitive, so can the Scarlet Knights.
It’s not going to be easy, but nothing is. Rutgers has to find a way, and that’s really all that matters.
No one is saying Friday night was discouraging, but don’t say this is encouraging, either. Not when same issues continue to plague Rutgers from awful offense to bad offensive line. Not when the other team is celebrating as victors at Rutgers’ football field.
To put it bluntly, it’s another night of Same Old Rutgers.
That label will not change until wins against Big Ten teams take place.