2015 season preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights


Previewing the 2015 season for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights:

2014 record: 8-5 (3-5 Big Ten; beat North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl)

Key losses: QB Gary Nova, FB Michael Burton, TE Tyler Kroft, OL Kaleb Johnson, OL Betim Bujari, OL Taj Alexander, DL David Milewski, LB Kevin Snyder, DB Lorenzo Waters

Key returners: RB Paul James, RB Josh Hicks, RB Robert Martin, RB Desmon Peoples, WR Leonte Carroo, WR Janarion Grant, OL Keith Lumpkin, OL Chris Muller, DL Darius Hamilton, DL Kemoko Turay, LB Steve Longa, LB Quentin Gause, DB Nadir Barnwell, DB Anthony Cioffi, K Kyle Federico

Newcomer name to know: Rutgers was the beneficiary of a decommitment when defensive end Marques Ford and Tennessee split ways in January before signing day. Ford then committed to Rutgers and immediately became the highest-rated prospect in the class. An Under Armour All-American, Ford might take time to fully develop and add strength, but he could be a big-time contributor for Rutgers.

Class of '16 update: The crop of prospects from New Jersey in the 2016 class is outstanding, with eight ESPN 300 prospects and 28 ranked from five-stars to three-stars hailing from the Garden State. The problem for Rutgers is that only two of those recruits picked the Scarlet Knights. While there are six of the 28 yet to make a commitment, including No. 1-ranked Rashan Gary, it doesn’t look likely that Rutgers will be the landing spot. The class has 18 commitments, including Elite 11 quarterback Anthony Russo, but Rutgers fans might look back on this in-state group of prospects and think what could have been.

Biggest question mark: Who will earn the starting job at quarterback? It's really a two-way race right now between redshirt sophomores Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. Laviano was a little ahead after the spring, but that's to be expected since he was more familiar with the offense. (Rettig transferred last season and worked with the scout team.) Rettig appears to have the stronger arm and the higher ceiling, but Laviano showed more consistency before camp opened up. The decision here is an important one, as the winner of this job could be the man for the next three seasons.

Most important game: At Penn State on Sept. 19 at Beaver Stadium. Some fans may be hesitant to label this a rivalry, but that's where this regional matchup seems headed. This is an important game for Rutgers to show it's a contender and not just Penn State's little brother who lives the next state over. The Scarlet Knights are still clamoring for respect, and nothing would help more than a victory over a university a little more than a three hour's drive away.

Upset special: See above. The Knights dominated on defense last season and, if Darius Hamilton posts a similar performance as last year, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg could again be running for his life. Rutgers nearly came away with the win last season, and this year's matchup will almost certainly be decided by Rutgers' defense. The Knights don't need more motivation than they already have for this game.

Key stat: Six. That's the number of kicks that Rutgers blocked last season, which was tied for the most in the country. Three of those blocks came from then-freshman Kemoko Turay, who also tied the individual high for that stat. Just take a look at this block, and try not to be impressed.

Prediction: 6-6. Rutgers really can't get a break with the scheduling. Not only are its two cross-over games against Wisconsin and Nebraska, but it also once again has a tough non-conference test against Washington State. Still, this team has talented players and should reach .500. It'll be close, but expect to see Rutgers in a bowl at year's end.