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Northwestern situation raises stakes for Rutgers in season opener



Nov 5, 2022; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Northwestern Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald (center) takes the field with his team against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern football is a program in complete turmoil. With disturbing allegations, a botched response from the administration following a six month investigation that resulted in a spin cycle reversal to fire longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern is in full disaster mode.

Despite college basketball coaching legend Bob Huggins doing his best to rule the current sports news cycle, the Evanston elites have a stronghold on top billing.

The Wildcats also happen to be the season opening opponent for Rutgers. The two programs meet in less than eight weeks.

It was reported on Tuesday that Northwestern is retaining its assistant coaches for the 2023 season. Defensive coordinator David Braun is expected to be named the interim head coach after joining the program in January.

Every player has a thirty day window now to enter the transfer portal without having to sit out this coming season. However, with preseason camp beginning in just a few weeks, it will be a major challenge to find a new program for any who try.

First, this is a very unfortunate situation. Multiple former players have spoken out and were included in the investigation that uncovered a history of hazing incidents. Hopefully, Northwestern can rebuild its culture in a positive way.

That being said, from a Rutgers perspective, a golden opportunity now presents itself. There is no denying that September is as critical a month in not only Schiano 2.0, but his entire Rutgers career. The opportunity to start the season with a 4-1 record in September is right in front of them. It all starts with the season opener against Northwestern.

The Wildcats are coming off a 1-11 season. There is no telling the state of the roster and staff that ultimately arrives in Piscataway on Labor Day weekend.

Of course, there is a possibility that this situation could galvanize the Northwestern football team. With Braun being new to the program, he could help reset the culture quickly. In addition, quarterback Ben Bryant transferred in from Cincinnati and could help transform the offense.

Even so, the program is reeling and the fallout is just beginning. There is no way to know what the emotional toll that will weigh on this team. Northwestern is vulnerable.

Rutgers is entering year four with Schiano being back. Almost the entire defense that was the bright spot last season returns. A new offense is in place with veteran coaches who have a history of success. Getting solid production out of Gavin Wimsatt at quarterback, finding reliable receivers in the pass game and getting Samuel Brown healthy and back to form in the backfield are all critical. And of course, the key to it all is a cohesive offensive line. However, these are all things the program has been working on and the staff has a plan in place. The Scarlet Knights are a work in progress, but doing so from a stable environment.

Rutgers is coming from a place of preparation and development. It’s been a quiet offseason, which is always a positive. Northwestern is not even in the healing stage of a program altering crisis and the spotlight on them is growing daily.

As Rutgers fans, there is never a time to rest easy. This game just became even more critical. If the Scarlet Knights want to take a legitimate step forward this season, they have to win this game. That was always the case. Not doing so under these new circumstances would be more damaging now though. It would be a tough sell to believe things are getting better if the season begins with a loss to a Northwestern program approaching rock bottom. Not insurmountable, but it certainly would add more weight on the back of RU in attempting to make a climb up this fall. Hopefully, Rutgers can take advantage and begin the 2023 season with a Big Ten victory that gives the program momentum to build on.

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  1. BataliBoli98

    July 12, 2023 at 10:48 am

    Wow – three articles in three hours! It will be fascinating to see how this move at NW looks as more information comes out in the coming weeks. Will some players face discipline? Since his staff was retained, was Fitzgerald the only coach who had knowledge of what was going on? Regardless, it will continue to be a significant distraction in Evanston. I completely agree with the premise that this now becomes even more of a “must win” game. I also agree that there is some danger in this galvanizing the NW players and that they will come out amped up for RU. However, I would think that this would be much more likely if the game was in Evanston. The crowd would also be there to rally around the players. That won’t be the case in Piscataway.
    Go RU!

  2. Henry Rutgers

    July 12, 2023 at 11:55 am

    Another quality piece of journalism. Any idea where this leaves Gleason?

  3. pj43

    July 12, 2023 at 3:36 pm

    I’ll never understand how these hazing incidents continue to happen at any level of football.  There’s just no place for it.  It’s sickening to hear the excuse that no one within the coaching staff  knew or that teammates didn’t have the guts to call it out and put a stop to it.  I was of the opinion  that Fitzgerald was not the kind of head coach to allow this type of situation to exist or tolerate it.  Unfortunately, I guess I was wrong.  

  4. moru

    July 13, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    Can’t help but remind you of Mr Franklin having a hazing situation with Micah Parsons harrassing another teammate. That was pretty weird and they managed to tamp it down. Must say this thing with nw is bazzarro.

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