Spring is a time for every college football program to feel a sense of optimism about the season to come, even if you won just one game a year ago. This is the case for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who went just 1-11 last season after dropping 11 straight games after their season-opening victory against Texas State.
With a handful of coaching changes and some youth in key positions, Rutgers will hope some growing pains will lead to progress of some magnitude beginning this spring. And let’s be honest, there is a lot of room for improvement across the board in New Jersey. But even after a dreadful season last year, even Rutgers has reasons to be looking forward to the 2019 season as spring practices get underway.
5 Storylines to Watch During Rutgers' Spring Practice
1. Will Artur Sitkowski learn from his growing pains of 2018?
Sitkowski looked like a freshman quarterback last season for good reason. He was. Playing in 11 games leading the Rutgers offense, Sitkowski completed just 49.1 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and 18 interceptions thrown. Despite those numbers, head coach Chris Ash appears ready to move into 2019 with Sitkowski as his starter, so the hope is he will learn from his freshman experience and take steps forward this spring. Boston College transfer Johnny Langan could be an alternative if he is granted eligibility this fall by the NCAA. Early enrollee Cole Snyder could make his case to move up the depth chart immediately as well.
2. A concern on the offensive line
As you might expect given how Rutgers performed last season, the offensive line could have used a little help at times. Just ahead of the spring practices, Rutgers also lost one of their top offensive linemen, Jonah Jackson, as a graduate transfer to Ohio State, of all teams. Now the Scarlet Knights have a massive hole to plug this spring, which gives new offensive line coach Peter Rossomando some options to consider this spring. One focus Ash has been improving the strength and physicality of the offensive line. Will there be signs of that this spring?
3. New defensive coordinator Andy Buh takes over
Amid a few staffing changes at Rutgers this offseason is the addition of Buh. He previously worked with Ash at Wisconsin and comes to Rutgers after three seasons at Maryland. There is plenty of room for improvement across the entire defense and there are some key spots to address in the secondary this spring. Buh, along with new cornerbacks coach Jay Valai, will have some decisions to make with the roster as they try to improve what Rutgers does on defense.
4. Rutgers must focus on ball control
It has been a long time since Rutgers managed to have a turnover margin above minus-two. The last time it happened was 2012 when Rutgers was in the Big East (not even the American at that point). Last year the turnovers were well out of hand with Sitkowski’s 18 interceptions helping to sink Rutgers to a Big Ten-worst minus-14 (no other Big Ten team had lower than a -4 turnover margin). Even if Rutgers can’t force more turnovers than they lose, finding a way to trim down on the turnovers is essential for Rutgers to take steps forward, and that’s an area that both the offense and defense can work on this spring.
5. Year four under Ash begins
Ash begins what amounts to a pretty significant spring with this being his fourth one in charge of the program. Entering the fourth year as head coach means the time to show some significant signs of improvement within the program need to start translating to wins in the fall. The Scarlet Knights are just 7-29 under Ash the previous three seasons. Coming off the worst season of Rutgers football since 2002, Ash must raise the bar for everyone in the program in the spring if he is to hold his job after the fall.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.