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Syracuse football 2021 opponent preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

In case you weren’t familiar already...

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

We’re still months out from the start of the 2021 Syracuse Orange football season. And even if we’ve yet to even see a depth chart for this year’s team, there’s still plenty to talk about in the lead-up to kickoff. Last week, we kicked off our very early opponent preview series with a look at Ohio. This time around, we move on to Syracuse’s week two opponent for the home opener:

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

School: Rutgers, State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick

Mascot: Scarlet Knights

#BRAND Slogan(s): #CHOP

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #SUNJ OR #Chopped

Recommended Blog: On the Banks

Conference: Big Ten

History vs. Syracuse: 12-30-1 dating all the way back to 1914. And if not for GERG, it would be even more lopsided. Rutgers has won seven of the last 10 in the series, though they’ve split the last four games. Each of the last three matchups have been decided by eight points or less, with the Scarlet Knights taking the two most recent results (including a 23-15 win in 2012 that would stop SU from playing in the Sugar Bowl). The Orange(men) won 12 straight in this series from 1987 to 1998, and 15 of 16 from 1987 to 2002.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Greg Schiano, 2nd/13th year. Any Orange fan that’s been at this for more than a decade is familiar with Schiano at this point. The former Bucknell linebacker made his way to Penn State, the Chicago Bears and Miami before getting his first head coaching shot with Rutgers. Combined with GERG sinking Syracuse’s program, the Scarlet Knights found some mild relevance under Schiano, going 68-67 with a top-25 season in 2006.

The results at Rutgers were enough to help net the program a Big Ten invite and get Schiano the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching job. After flaming out with the Bucs, he was an Ohio State assistant for three years, before heading back to Rutgers (though not before Tennessee fans revolted after he was almost hired there in 2017).

2020 Record: (3-6) (3-6)

Recapping Last Season:

With a schedule entirely made of Big Ten teams, Rutgers did look a little more competitive early on. They beat Michigan State in the opener, and managed to score more than 20 points against top-25 teams Indiana and Ohio State. The Scarlet Knights would wind up beating Purdue and Maryland, while losing another three games by a score or less. While they still had a losing record, there were definitely some positive feelings (fair or not) about what transpired.

Rutgers’ offense was still in rough shape despite keeping things close with more opponents. They were 106th in yards per game, yet 78th in scoring. Starter Noah Vedral was alright at QB, hitting 62% of his passes for 1,219 yards, nine touchdowns and eight picks. Running back Isaih Pacheco averaged 4.44 yards per carry en route to 515 yards and three scores. But the most effective offensive weapon was receiver Bo Melton, who caught 47 passes for 638 yards and six TDs.

Defensively, Rutgers gave up plenty of yards (449 per game) and points (32.1). However, they did force 19 turnovers, which was top-20 in the country, and were top-30 in the country in terms of tackles for loss with 71 on the year. Christian Izien’s four INTs were one of the top totals in the Big Ten, while Mohamed Toure and Mike Tverdov both finished in the top 10 in the league for sacks.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

2021 Season Outlook:

The Scarlet Knights don’t have the easiest start to the season, with Temple and then a road game at Syracuse. A game vs, Delaware then gives way to Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Northwestern in consecutive games. Wisconsin, Indiana and Penn State in November should also cause some problems. Even an improved Rutgers team could find it tough to hit six wins just by way of a difficult slate.

Vedral’s back, but there are other options on the roster from last year including dual-threat Johnny Langan (though Arthur Sitkowski isn’t among the competitors after transferring to Illinois). Even if the quarterback position isn’t really improved, Melton is back at wideout, and they’ll add Kansas State transfer Josh Youngblood as well to an extensive receiver group. Pacheco returns at running back, but no other returning running back hit 100 yards last year (though two quarterbacks did).

Rutgers loses just one of the team’s top 10 tacklers from last year, eight of nine interceptions, and nearly all of last year’s 21 sacks. Most notably on the defense, they’ll add North Carolina cornerback Patrice Rene, who defended four passes and had a force fumble for the Heels last year.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, September 11

Location: Carrier Dome Stadium, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 55%

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

Like many teams this year, Rutgers brings back a lot and has a lot of young players with experience on the roster. Last season’s efforts certainly show a team that can compete week to week, and this won’t be an easy game for the Scarlet Knights or the Orange. Right now, favoring Syracuse comes primarily from being at home and a belief that this offense simply has to improve by default. The Orange defense should also like what it sees against this Rutgers offense, though. At least enough to help guide SU to a close victory.