Rutgers still trying to close the Big Ten gap in Greg Schiano’s fourth season back

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PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Greg Schiano has been trying to close the gap Rutgers faces in the Big Ten Conference since returning for a second stint as the football coach late in 2019.

A better-than-expected first season and Texas A&M out of the postseason because of a COVID-19 outbreak allowed Rutgers into the Gator Bowl in 2020 with a 5-7 record, The tiebreaker was the team’s academic performance

That’s the highlight so far . Schiano and Rutgers are still lagging behind in a brutal conference that will be more competitive next year with the addition of Pac-12 programs.

Through three years, Rutgers has posted a 12-22 record under Schiano with a 6-21 record in the league. The Scarlet Knights were were 4—8 last year, with a 1-8 mark in the conference. It was a year in which the offense was one of the worst in college football and coordinator Sean Gleeson was fired during the season.

While those aren’t great number numbers, the Scarlet Knights were 9-39 overall and 3-33 in the league in the four seasons before Schiano returned. They have not had a winning season since 2014.

Schiano believes Rutgers is getting better but translating that into wins and losses is a guess.

“As our players get toward the tail end of their careers, as they get bigger, faster and stronger, those are the guys that will move the program,” Schiano said. “When they start playing their best football, when that happens, we’ll be a better team.”

D-FENCE

This is the strength of the team with talent at all three levels, the line, linebackers and secondary, Junior Aaron Lewis is one of the top linemen in the conference. Tyreem Powell and Deion Jennings are the leading tacklers returning from last year, while Max Melton leads a secondary bolstered by the addition of Flip Dixon, who transferred from Minnesota.

GAVIN WIMSATT

The redshirt sophomore Gavin Wimsatt is by far the most skilled quarterback Rutgers has brought to Piscataway, New Jersey. The 19-year-old athlete has it all. He can beat a team with his arm and his legs. What he lacks is experience and consistency. Still, Schiano has named him the starter over Evan Simon.

Watching him in practice, he can drop a 60-yard pass on dime. The next play he can whistle a pass five yards over a receiver’s head on a short out pattern.

Wimsatt was 65 of 145 for 757 yards, five TDs and seven interceptions. He needs to be a lot better for Kirk Ciarrocca, who is back for a second stint as offensive coordinator with Schiano.

RECEIVERS

The receivers room has 11 underclassmen, so two transfers play a lot. Naseim Brantley had 53 catches for 893 yards and nine touchdowns with Western Illinois. JaQuae Jackson played at California of Pennsylvania last year and had 77 catches for 1,178 yards and 13 touchdowns. Senior Johnny Langan and Maine transfer Shawn Bowman should contribute at tight end.

EXTRA POINTS

Rutgers averaged 128.2 yards rushing in 2022 and Samuel Brown, Aaron Young, Kyle Monangai, Al-Shadee Salaam are joined by freshman Ja’Shon Benjamin. Three starters on OL return. Flynn Appleby replaces fellow Aussie Adam Korsak as the punter. This team needs to stay healthy to compete.

WIN EARLY

If Rutgers is going to do anything this season, it has to win early. With contests against Northwestern, Temple, Virginia Tech, Wagner, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Indiana in the first two months, there are opportunities. Beating the likes of Michigan early and Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and Maryland late will be a lot tougher.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll

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