Rutgers football has enjoyed a relatively quiet and drama-free offseason so far (in stark contrast to last year's messy summer that resulted in the dismissal of Kyle Flood and Athletic Director Julie Hermann). On Monday, however, newly hired head coach Chris Ash made headlines while discussing non-conference scheduling with NJ Advance Media.
"The days of just scheduling easy games and victories are gone," Ash candidly told reporters. ".... In this day and age, the fans, the media, the playoff committees, they want to see what you did in your non-conference games."
Ash's remarks certainly have merit. In the past, many major programs have been criticized for scheduling "cupcake" games against inferior opponents to boost their win total. Recently, however, this trend has been in decline.
The advent of the College Football playoff has certainly changed the philosophy of how Athletic Directors go about filling their future schedules. Teams are now incentivized to take risks and schedule games against marquee opponents. For proof, look no further than Week 1 of the 2016 season. Here are some notable match ups:
- Oklahoma vs. Houston
- LSU vs. Wisconsin
- USC vs. Alabama
- Clemson vs. Auburn
- Notre Dame vs. Texas
- Mississippi vs. Florida State
While some of these games might have been scheduled before the creation of the Playoff, the trend cannot be ignored: college football's biggest powers are more willing to play each other than ever before. So how has this trend affected Rutgers?
It's hard to tell.
Before analyzing a schedule, it is important to keep things in perspective. It would be foolish for new Rutgers Athletic Director Patrick Hobbs to schedule with the same mindset and vigor as Alabama's AD. While the potential rewards are obvious, a historically unsuccessful program like RU has to be prudent when building a non-conference schedule. A win over New Mexico might be more valuable than a road loss to Washington.
Unlike the top-tier Power 5 schools, Rutgers isn't looking for a Week 1 statement win to impress the Playoff Committee. Instead, they're chasing bowl eligibility, and trying to establish their footing in a new conference. A conference that does their win/loss record no favors.
Rutgers' jump to the Big Ten Conference only limits their scheduling flexibility. Increasingly strict scheduling guidelines mandate that members face off against at least one Power 5 opponent every year. The conference also strictly prohibits the scheduling of any FCS schools. Finally, the B1G is moving from an eight game conference schedule to a nine game conference schedule starting next season. This leaves New Jersey's State University with a dilemma: Do they schedule big time games against big time opponents? Or do they balance their schedule out with weaker schools to soften the blow of annual losses to the likes of the Ohio States and Michigans of the world.
If you ask Chris Ash, it's a balancing act.
"You have to balance it out, in my opinion," said Ash. "Make sure you have some games you feel like you can win and also get yourself a challenging game in there that helps motivate and excite your players and gives you a barometer of where you are at before you start conference play."
Ash's pragmatic yet confident scheduling philosophy has yet to be tested. With college football schedules made years in advance, the new head coach has yet to make a mark on their non-conference slate. When analyzing their future opponents, however, you can tell that their current slate isn't far off from his goals.
Notable Upcoming Non-Conference Opponents:
|Kansas Jayhawks||Big 12||Away||2018|
The Scarlet Knights currently have eight games scheduled vs. Power 5 opponents over the next nine seasons. This includes home-and-home series with the Washington Huskies, UCLA Bruins and the Virginia Tech Hokies. They also have a road trip to face the Miami Hurricanes booked for 2019, with a corresponding home game to be determined.
The unpredictable nature of college football makes future strength of schedule almost impossible to forecast. Just because a school is from a Power 5 conference, that doesn't necessarily make them a quality opponent. The Kansas Jayhawks are a member of the Big 12 conference, but they are the laughingstock of that conference, coming off an 0-12 season. Historically, a non-conference game against Temple (not a member of a power conference) might be perceived as an early season tune-up. Last year, however, the Owls were anything but a cupcake (just ask B1G conference foe Penn State), and certainly would have strengthened Rutgers' resume. It's relatively unpredictable.
Speculating about future non-conference schedules is certainly an interesting way for fans and media members to get through the long offseason. But for now, it's just that: Speculation. While fans can fantasize about 2024, Chris Ash is most certainly focused on a tough Week 1 battle vs. Washington.