Best case/Worst case: Rutgers


Our series on the best- and worst-case scenario for every Big Ten team in 2014 continues with one of two new league members, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

For Rutgers' fans or anyone new to this preseason blog staple, please know these are not to be viewed as predictions. Do not take them seriously. The scenarios illustrate the potential highs and lows in a season. Still not sure? Read the first installment on Wisconsin. Yes, this is meant to be fun.

Best case

Oh, what a night. Gary Nova throws for 240 yards and three touchdowns, and nose tackle Darius Hamilton sacks Christian Hackenberg on fourth down in the final minute as Rutgers defeats Penn State 24-21 at High Points Solutions Stadium in the Scarlet Knights' Big Ten debut.

Rutgers' first win over the Nittany Lions since 1988 -- in the first game between the traditional rivals since 1995 -- highlights a 6-0 start spurred by a resurgent Nova, a mean core of linebackers and a series of fortunate bounces.

Coach Kyle Flood's upstart bunch escapes a late night in Pullman, Washington, with a wild 38-35 victory in the season opener. After the emotional victory over Penn State, Rutgers starts sluggish at Navy, but running back Paul James churns for two touchdowns, and Tyler Kroft catches a late score from Nova to secure a comeback win.

Michigan, in freefall mode after losses to Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota, manages just 11 rushing yards in a 21-3 Rutgers win on Oct. 4 in Piscataway as linebacker Steve Longa collects 20 tackles.

The day after an open date on the first weekend of October, Rutgers climbs to No. 15 in The Associated Press poll. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen is acclaimed as the best Big Ten hire of the previous offseason, and former OC Ron Prince accepts a demotion to quality control coach with the Detroit Lions following a poor performance by the club's tight ends.

The dream season hits a rough patch in late October. Rutgers loses at Ohio State, the first of three defeats in five games before a post-Thanksgiving road win over new rival Maryland to clinch a third-place finish in the Big Ten East.

Flood is named Big Ten coach of the year. Nova is a second-team pick at quarterback. Longa, Hamilton and Kroft are first-team selections. The Big Ten sends Rutgers across the country to San Diego to face USC as the league rekindles its tie-in with the Holiday Bowl.

Really, though, the season will be remembered for what happened on Sept. 13. The win is viewed as the most important by Rutgers since a 2006 upset of third-ranked Louisville en route to an 11-win season. Three of the Nittany Lions' four ESPN 300 recruiting commitments out of New Jersey attend the PSU game, including quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who flips to the Scarlet Knights after the Michigan victory.

To top it off, Rutgers jumps eight spots to No. 25 on this list.

Worst case

This is ugly. Very ugly. Mike Leach runs up the score in the Aug. 28 opener, calling a flea-flicker with 40 seconds to play in a 55-21 debacle at Seattle's Century Link Field.

Penn State spoils the Scarlet Knights' Big Ten opener with a three-touchdown win before a revved-up group of fans in Piscataway who begin to head for the exits in the third quarter.

Nova goes down with a knee injury in a loss at Navy. Tulane squeaks past the Scarlet Knights. Michigan extends its unbeaten season with a 42-0 victory on Oct. 4 as Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess toy with the defensive scheme of first-year coordinator Joe Rossi.

A poll of Rutgers fans and students during the off week before the Scarlet Knights visit Ohio State reveals that a majority believe the school should attempt to petition the AAC for re-entry. Athletic Director Julie Hermann is discovered by the Newark Star-Ledger to have inquired about the possibility, reigniting discussion of this unfortunate situation.

Braxton Miller accounts for five touchdowns in the first half on Oct. 18, the start of a three- week stretch in which Rutgers is outscored 134-16 by the Buckeyes, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Rutgers does not lose in Week 11. Actually, it doesn't play. Hermann bungles an attempt to fire Flood as she is overruled publicly by the school's president.

Losses to Indiana, Michigan State and Maryland make it official: Flood is out after a 1-11 finish in his third year, the worst season at school since 2002. Rutgers does not come closer than seven points from winning a Big Ten game. Purdue feels better about itself.