Can Rutgers Make a Bowl Game in Chris Ash's First Season?

Scarlet Report takes a game-by-game look at the 2016 season and how Rutgers could make a bowl game in coach Chris Ash's first season. Can Rutgers go bowling? Join the discussion.

A bowl game means a lot more than a 13th opening kickoff for a team, and for coach Chris Ash's first season, the extra practices and recruiting exposure would be valuable.

Picked at the bottom of the Big Ten, many do not project Rutgers as a bowl team for 2016.

We at Scarlet Report, however, take a deeper look at how Rutgers could go bowling this season.

Date Opponent / Event Location Time / Result
09/03/16 at Washington TV Seattle, Wash. 2:00 p.m. ET
09/10/16 vs. Howard TV High Point Solutions Stadium 12:00 p.m. ET
09/17/16 vs. New Mexico TV High Point Solutions Stadium 12:00 p.m. ET
09/24/16 vs. Iowa High Point Solutions Stadium TBA
10/01/16 at Ohio State Columbus, Ohio 12:00 p.m. ET
10/08/16 vs. Michigan TV High Point Solutions Stadium 7 or 8 p.m. ET
10/15/16 vs. Illinois High Point Solutions Stadium 12:00 p.m. ET
10/22/16 at Minnesota Minneapolis, Minn. 12:00 p.m. ET
11/05/16 vs. Indiana High Point Solutions Stadium TBA
11/12/16 at Michigan State East Lansing, Mich. TBA
11/19/16 vs. Penn State TV High Point Solutions Stadium 8:00 p.m. ET
11/26/16 at Maryland College Park, Md. TBA

The (Projected) Wins

Howard – If the last 10 years of FCS games are any indication, Rutgers has no cause for concern in Ash's home debut.

New Mexico – Don't let New Mexico's 7-6 season under Bob Davie fool you. Sure, the Lobos rank 10 spots higher in the CBS 128-team ranking system but Rutgers has plenty in its favor hear. Home-field advantage for a noon EST kick and the week after a 1-AA opponent give Rutgers a projected victory.

Illinois – Finally an advantageous crossover matchup for Rutgers. After a brutal two years with Nebraska and Wisconsin as opponents, Illinois represents a perfect chance for Rutgers to steal a conference win and build momentum. Homecoming and Rutgers football historically mix about as well as lamb and tuna fish but it's a new day under Ash, who faces another Big Ten head coach newcomer – Lovie Smith.

Indiana – Rutgers offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer needs to put on a power-spread clinic. Indiana is a notoriously porous defensive secondary, and the Rutgers offense will be fresh after a bye week.

The (Projected) Losses

at Washington – Rutgers is a three-touchdown underdog on the road in game one, and does not have the best recent history on the West Coast. Rutgers lost at Fresno State in an epic late-night clash and needed some magic to squeak by a bad Washington State team two years ago. The 2016 rendition of Washington is a step above both.

Iowa – Another game with great storylines, last year's West Division champs are a model for what Rutgers wants to be under Ash. It's a game that Rutgers could potentially steal, but not a safe bet in Vegas by any means. 

at Ohio State – Some fun storylines this week, but Rutgers is a long way from closing the gap here. Student vs. teacher, Greg Schiano vs. Rutgers, a homecoming for many former Buckeyes, there are 100 reasons to watch.

Michigan – This is not Brady Hoke's desperate last stand. These Wolverines are a step above, and a year after Jim Harbaugh embarrassed Rutgers at the Big House, he and his New Jersey-heavy roster return to Piscataway as favorites.

at Michigan State – The last trip to East Lansing, Mich., was a nightmare on and off the field for Rutgers. Michigan State has a lot of key players to replace, but the Spartans are still a favorite.

Swing Games

at Minnesota – This is the first road game of the year where Rutgers won't be a massive underdog. Some teams love road games, and Rutgers could easily be one of them. In Minnesota, Tracy Claeys went 2-4 after he took over last season as the Gophers go through their own transition.

Penn State – Who knows where Penn State will be as a team this late in the year? Senior night for Rutgers against a team for which no love is lost. The Nittany Lions are 2-0 against Rutgers since the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten, but that was under a different coach and a different scheme. Penn State had its own disappointments in 2015 and it's bound to be a hot crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium.

at Maryland – Anything goes in this series. Rutgers had no business beating Maryland in College Park two years ago and the same goes for the Terps in Kyle Flood's last game as head coach in Piscataway. Heading into the season, Scarlet Report projects Maryland as the “bowl or no bowl” moment for Rutgers football.

Does Rutgers Make a Bowl Game? – It comes down to team identity in the decisive final games of 2016. There are clear wins and losses early on the Rutgers schedule, but anything is possible with Rutgers potentially at 5-6 against Maryland. If Rutgers is a tired, beaten down team from the grind of a true rebuild, then December means vacation and recruiting. But if Rutgers catches its stride with developed newcomers and leadership (Ash is off the the right start) then 15 December practices are more than possible. Win two of three against Minnesota, Penn State and Maryland and year one is a massive success.

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