#86 Rutgers Football 2016 Preview

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Overall Rank: #86
#13 Big Ten

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Rutgers stumbled on and off the field and it was time for a change. So the Scarlet Knights went out and grabbed Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash to take over the program. Coach Ash knows the Big Ten and he knows defense, so that is a good place for Rutgers to start heading into year three in the Big Ten. After going 4-8 overall and 1-7 in Big Ten play, the expectations are low, but there is some talent here if Coach Ash can find it.
2015 Record: 4-8, 1-7
2015 Bowl: None
Coach: Chris Ash (0-0 at Rutgers, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Drew Mehringer
Defensive Coordinator: Jay Niemann
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Robert Martin, RB, 763 yards
Passing: Chris Laviano, QB, 2,247 yards
Receiving: Andre Patton, WR, 432 yards
Tackles: Isaiah Wharton, CB, 57
Sacks: Quanzell Lambert, DE, 2.5
Interceptions: Anthony Cioffi, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Josh Hicks, WR Janarion Grant, OL Chris Muller, DT Darius Hamilton, DE Kemoko Turay
Key Losses: RB Paul James, WR Leonte Carroo, OL Keith Lumpkin, LB Steve Longa, LB Quentin Gause, LB Kaiwan Lewis, K Kyle Federico
The offense will look different as the team transitions to a run first spread offense, similar to what Ohio State runs. And running the ball is not a bad idea for Rutgers this year with running backs Robert Martin, Josh Hicks, Desmond Peoples and Justin Goodwin all returning. The junior duo of Martin and Hicks could be very good. Even with the now departed Paul James starting most of the 2015 campaign, Martin rushed for 763 yards and six touchdowns while Hicks added 674 yards and four touchdowns. Chris Laviano returns at quarterback after throwing for 2,247 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Once again he will get competition from Hayden Rettig and whoever picks up the new offense better will likely be the starter for game one. Whoever is under center no longer has Leonte Carroo to throw the ball to though and that could be huge. Carroo was a difference maker last year and caught a team high 39 passes for 809 yards and ten touchdowns despite missing nearly half the season with injuries. Carlton Agudosi stepped in for Carroo, but was largely ineffective. Janarion Grant is a speedster and Andre Patton is a quality secondary target, but the receiving corps will certainly miss Carroo. But there should be enough weapons to turn this into a dangerous offense as long as one of the quarterbacks can pick up the system effectively.
The bigger concern is on defense where there is a lot of talent to replace. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton is a great place to start. When healthy back in 2014, Hamilton tallied 6.0 sacks and 11.5 tackles-for-loss. With Quanzell Lambert also back after leading the team with 2.5 sacks last year, the Rutgers line should be improved as long as Hamilton stays healthy. But the run defense, which ranked 12th in the Big Ten last year, could be worse with all three starting linebackers gone. Sophomore linebacker Deonte Roberts has star potential and could be the player that ends up holding the entire unit together. The hope in the secondary is that three freshmen starters from a year ago gained valuable experience and will be much improved in 2016. The unit cannot really get worse and there is a high ceiling for sophomore cornerbacks Isaiah Wharton and Blessaum Austin.
The Bottom Line:
Success for Rutgers in the Big Ten will come from recruiting and it will take a few years before we see how that ends up. For now, the goal is reaching a bowl game again and getting the current crop of players up to speed on the new schemes. An opening weekend trip to Washington and the first three Big Ten games against Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan will not help though. But after that, Rutgers should start playing better against the lesser talented teams in the Big Ten and begin to show some improvement. It will not be enough to get to six wins though. 
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 169.9 (67th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 207.1 (86, 10)
Total Offense: 377.0 (84, 8)
Scoring Offense: 27.1 (78, 7)
Rushing Defense: 186.1 (84, 12)
Pass Defense: 275.9 (118, 12)
Total Defense: 462.0 (111, 13)
Scoring Defense: 34.9 (104, 12)
Turnover Margin: -0.17 (85, 9)
Sacks: 1.17 (120, 14)
Sacks Allowed: 2.08 (65, 9)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#80 Kemoko Turay