In 2014, its first year in the Big Ten, Rutgers went 8-5, 3-5 in the conference, and beat North Carolina by 19 points in a bowl game. So why does it seem like that was more like 2004?
Last season, in Chris Ash’s debut, the Scarlet Knights were 2-10, 0-9. Needless to say, the former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator doesn’t want to ever go through anything like that again.
“It’s a new team,” he emphasized. “History doesn’t determine our future at all. “Last year is gone. It’s behind us. Nobody’s looking back. To be quite honest, it’s harder to convince the fans and media. The players believe in our plan. That’s what’s important.
“I think it all starts with me. My response to last year, the language I use, making sure we’re being as positive as we possibly can. You can’t completely flush what happened. We have to educate the players, as to why. It trickles down to everyone.”
They play in arguably the toughest division in FBS, with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan. Last year they lost to those three and Michigan State by a combined 224-0. On Friday night they’re opening at home against Washington. But Ash knew what he was signing up for.
“This is the third Big Ten school I’ve been at [he was an assistant Wisconsin],” Ash noted. “That’s why I wanted to come here, to compete against the best. If you don’t, then don’t take a job in a league like this. I don’t look at it as a challenge. It’s an opportunity to beat some good people.”
The new quarterback is graduate transfer Kyle Bolin, who played in 13 games (six starts) the last three seasons at Louisville before losing the job last offseason to eventual Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. It probably won’t hurt. Neither can the addition of former Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill as offensive coordinator. And the reality is it would be hard for things to get worse.
There are still lots of questions. Yet there is also some talent, including the return of wide receiver Janarion Grant, who missed the final eight games with an injury. He’s already tied an NCAA record for touchdown returns (five on kickoffs, three on punts).
Left guard Dorian Miller — who played his high-school ball about an hour away at Metuchen – is a fifth-year senior whose brother Dejuan was a wideout at Oklahoma. He knows it’s likely going to take time. Still, he would at least like to go out on a better note.
“Words are good, but that only gets you so far,” he said. “Losing can become a habit, just like winning. It’s been an interesting experience. From the outside looking in, it’s easy to poke fun at people who are down. That’s part of the game, part of life. We all knew what was possible when we became college-football players.
“You can’t come to the facility every day thinking about the record. We truly know what it’s like to deal with adversity. Obviously we want to do more. You don’t want it to be a grind, wondering why I’m not feeling it today. You have to keep it in perspective.”
Some seasons that’s easier than others. Hopefully it’s a different season.
For the time being, though, think mostly manageable steps.