In December 2000, Rutgers made then-34-year-old Greg Schiano the youngest head coach in college football at the time. Brash and naive to the challenges of resurrecting a downtrodden Big East program, Schiano vowed that the Scarlet Knights would win a national championship under his watch. They finished a season ranked just once in his 11-year tenure.
Flash forward to December 2019, when Schiano was brought back to again resurrect Rutgers. And while his task of rebuilding the Scarlet Knights will be more challenging in the mightier Big Ten, Schiano again predicted New Jersey’s team would eventually become No. 1 in the land.
It’s a bold statement for a program that won just 18.8 percent of its games under Schiano’s predecessor, Chris Ash. But it’s one that Schiano believes is possible. After all, he did turn Rutgers from a Big East doormat into a perennial bowl qualifier before leaving for a two-year stint as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach.
“We’re chasing some big dudes. No, we’re not chasing — we’re passing,” says Schiano, who was away from football for two years after his Tampa Bay job but returned with a three-year run as the Ohio State defensive coordinator. “That has to be our leaping-off point.’’
Previewing Rutgers' Offense for 2020
Rutgers finished last in the Big Ten in total offense in each of Ash’s four seasons, averaging 271.9 yards per game during that span. But there’s hope in the arrival of Sean Gleeson, who was hired to run the offense after coordinating an Oklahoma State unit that ranked 21st nationally in yards per game (453.9) last season.
Gleeson is Rutgers’ 11th offensive coordinator in 11 years. A former Division III quarterback, Gleeson will oversee competitions at virtually every position.
That includes quarterback, where Artur Sitkowski will look to win back his starting job after requesting to sit out the final eight games of his second season in order to preserve a redshirt. Sitkowski started 11 of 12 games as a true freshman in 2018 but had a nation-leading 18 interceptions with only four touchdowns. Johnny Langan, who completed just 50.3 percent of his passes while starting the final eight games, figures to be in the mix, but Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral will arrive this offseason to push for the starting job. Redshirt freshman Cole Snyder and true freshman Evan Simon will also compete, but Sitkowski, Vedral and Langan are ahead on the depth chart.
Running back is Rutgers’ deepest position, featuring Isaih Pacheco, Kay’Ron Adams and Aaron Young. The trio combined for 1,043 yards. Schiano has kept mum on exactly what the offense will look like, but Gleeson’s history leans on multiple-personnel spread schemes that rely on quick tempo and a power running game.
There’s plenty of uncertainty in a receiver corps with a lot of depth but only one proven pass catcher — Bo Melton, who registered team-high totals in catches (30) and receiving yards (427) in a breakthrough junior year.
Previewing Rutgers' Defense for 2020
Schiano tapped one of his former assistants, Robb Smith, as his defensive coordinator. Smith helped the Scarlet Knights claim a share of the Big East title in 2012 while overseeing a unit that ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense (14.2 ppg).
The team’s deepest position is linebacker, which returns six players with starting experience. Because of the depth in a unit that features proven defensive playmakers such as Tyshon Fogg, Olakunle Fatukasi, Tyreek Maddox-Williams and Drew Singleton, Schiano is expected to experiment with a 3-4 scheme after primarily employing 4-3 units in the past.
While there are big question marks on a defensive line that will rely on the leadership of nose tackle Julius Turner and defensive end Mike Tverdov, the secondary could be improved thanks to the return of cornerbacks Avery Young and Tre Avery and the addition of Ohio State transfer Brendon White.
Related: Ranking the Big Ten Coaches for 2020
Previewing Rutgers' Specialists for 2020
The Scarlet Knights return their two primary kicking specialists. Justin Davidovicz drilled 20-of-26 field goals (76.9 percent) and has made all 35 extra points during his first two years handling the placekicking job. Adam Korsak is one of the nation’s most decorated punters, earning recognition as a Ray Guy Award semifinalist and All-Big Ten honoree with a punting average of 43.8 yards.
Wisconsin transfer Aron Cruickshank is hoping for a waiver to play in 2020. The kickoff return specialist returned two for touchdowns last season for the Badgers.
For as much success as Schiano had late in his first go-round as Rutgers’ coach, it should be noted that it took him five years to reach a bowl. There’s a reason why Schiano pushed for an eight-year deal, and that’s because this is widely considered one of the toughest rebuilding jobs in the country. Schiano admits the challenge of competing in the Big Ten makes the job daunting. But he points to improved facilities and a renewed commitment from university officials. “I think we’re in better position to make our move,” he says.
While long-suffering Rutgers fans hope it won’t take Schiano long to rediscover his magic, the reality is this is a program that has finished last in the Big Ten East Division in all but one year since its most recent bowl appearance in 2014. Finishing out of the basement would be a good place to start.