Indiana begins one of the most important seasons in the history of its football program on Sept. 4. The Hoosiers are coming off a 6-2 campaign and an Outback Bowl berth in 2020 and are expected to be a preseason Top 25 team. We are profiling each of the 12 teams Indiana will face this season as they try to build on that momentum
Date/Time/TV: Nov. 13, time and television TBA.
Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington.
2020 record/bowl result: 3-6 overall, 3-6 in the Big Ten. No bowl game.
Returning Starters, Offense (11): QB Noah Vedral, RB Isaih, Pacheco, WR Aron Cruickshank, WR Bo Melton, WR Shameen Jones, TE Jovani Haskins, LT Raiquon O’Neal, LG Cedrice Paillant, C Nick Krimin, RG Bryan Felter, RT Reggie Sutton.
Offensive Outlook: Rutgers returns all of its starters, but that doesn’t mean all of the Scarlet Knights returners are guaranteed to start in 2021. They finished 13th in the Big Ten in total offense with 339.1 yards per game, so after that performance, not too many players are safe. Quarterback Noah Vedral’s backup Artur Sitkowski transferred to Illinois, but he could be pushed by Evan Simon and Cole Snyder. The wide receivers will certainly be pushed by Josh Youngblood, a Kansas State transfer who was All-Big 12 as a kick returner. Temple transfer David Nwaogwugwu could make a push at each of the offensive tackle spots. Wide receivers Bo Melton (47 receptions, 638 yards, six touchdowns in 2020) and Aron Cruickshank seem to be in solid shape, however, and Isaih Pacheco is coming off a season in which he rushed for 515 yards and three touchdowns, so they have some good skill options.
Returning Starters, Defense (9): DE Mike Tverdov, DT Julius Turner, DE CJ Onyechi, LB Tyshon Fogg, LB Olakunle Fatukasi, CB Trey Avery, CB Avery Young, NB Max Melton, S Christian Izien
Starters Lost, Defense (2): DT Michael Dwumfour, S Brandon White.
Defensive Outlook: Rutgers’ defense in 2020 found itself in a similar position to its offense. The Scarlet Knights finished 11th in the league in scoring defense (32.1 points per game) and 13th in total defense (449.1 yards per game) so the fact that they return most of last year’s starters only means so much. Olakunle Fatukasi was one of the most productive linebackers in the Big Ten last season with 101 tackles, including 11 for loss and three sacks to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media. Cornerback Trey Avery was a third-team All-Big Ten pick and defensive end Mike Tverdov recorded four sacks and 10.5 for loss, but as a collective unit they weren’t exactly fearsome. In fact, no team gave up more passing touchdowns than Rutgers’ 21 and only Illinois gave up more yards per passing attempt than the Scarlet Knights 7.9 per throw.
Special Teams Returners (3): K Valentino Ambrosio, P Adam Korsak, LS Billy Taylor
Special Teams Outlook: Valentino Ambrosio made nine of his 11 field goal attempts, which put him third in the Big Ten in percentage among kickers who attempted at least 10 field goals. Korsak averaged 43.0 yards per punt which put him seventh in the conference, and he was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media and third by the coaches. Aron Cruickshank took back two kickoff returns for touchdowns and was named first-team All-Big Ten by both the media and coaches as a returner.
Overall outlook: There could come a time in the not too distant future when Greg Schiano turns Rutgers into a contender, at least if the recruiting rankings for the 2022 class are any indication. The Scarlet Knights have six four-star recruits already in this year’s class and fourth in the Big Ten and 12th nationally according to the 247Sports composite rankings. But the Hoosiers don’t have to worry about any of those players in 2021. There’s certainly a chance that Rutgers could surprise someone in 2021, as it grabbed victories over Michigan State, Purdue and Maryland in 2020. But Indiana should have enough talent to not be one of those teams. The Scarlet Knights simply don’t have the sort of firepower on either side of the ball that should allow for an upset of a legitimate Top 25 team.
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