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Rutgers football: Ranking each game by level of difficulty



Photo credit Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2023 season for Rutgers kicking off in less than four weeks, it’s time to rank the level of difficulty of each game on the schedule. The order is based on how I think Rutgers matches up against each opponent. It’s not a power ranking of opponents. I also included my confidence level for each game with 10 being the most confident and 0 being the least. Let’s get into it.

No. 12 Wagner (Home)

Saturday, September 30

One of the worst FCS schools provides Rutgers a likely get well game following a trip to the Big House against Michigan. It should allow for younger players lower on the depth chart some quality playing time and give the starters a lighter load heading into a critical October.

AB Confidence Level: 10

No. 11 Temple (Home)

Saturday, September 9

Despite having the Owls near the bottom, Rutgers can absolutely not take this game for granted. If not for a Shaquan Loyal pick six last season, RU would have probably suffered a brutal loss to its former Big East foe. Despite turning over half its roster, Temple will come to Piscataway looking to make a statement. Quarterback EJ Warner is back after earning AAC Rookie of the Year honors. Obviously, the Scarlet Knights should win this matchup comfortably, but taking this team lightly would be a major mistake.

AB Confidence Level: 8

No. 10 Indiana (Road)

Saturday, October 21

This is a road game and also the eighth straight week Rutgers will be playing with the bye to follow. The Scarlet Knights have beaten the Hoosiers each of the past two years and were picked to finish ahead of them in the Big Ten East standings. None of that will matter in late October in Bloomington. The Scarlet Knights have pounded the Hoosiers on the ground the past two years and will need to do so once again this fall. If Sam Brown is clicking, I think he will punish IU at home.

AB Confidence Level: 7

No. 9 Northwestern (Home)

Sunday, September 3

The Wildcats are embroiled in turmoil with the hazing scandal that led to the dismissal of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. They do have an experienced quarterback in Ben Bryant who is dangerous. I rank this game ahead of Indiana specifically because it’s the first game of the season. Northwestern is a bit more unpredictable and will be looking to make a statement in the season opener. This is a game Rutgers needs to win for many reasons and should. Even so, there is more to it now than if it was just a 1-11 team from last season visiting Piscataway.

AB Confidence Level: 6

No. 8 Virginia Tech (Home)

Saturday, September 16

An absolutely huge game for Rutgers. The Hokies weren’t good last year but should be improved in head coach Brent Pry’s second season. It’s the swing game of the season in my opinion. If RU can complete a 3-0 start over Northwestern, Temple and Virginia Tech, it would give them a legitimate chance of finishing with six or more victories. It would also give them legitimate confidence heading to the Big House the following week against Michigan, who they’ve played tough the past three meetings. A loss would be disappointing but also make it a lot more difficult getting to a bowl game in 2023.

AB Confidence Level: 5

No. 7 Michigan State (Home)

Saturday, October 14

Sparty comes to Rutgers for Homecoming and this is a huge opportunity for Greg Schiano’s team. It’s a critical year for Mel Tucker and MSU. Every matchup between the two schools over the last three years has been intense and this game shouldn’t be any different. Michigan State will be coming off a bye week while Rutgers comes home following a road game at Wisconsin. Obviously, the offensive development for RU is key to not only win key games, but keep the defense from getting worn down by mid-October. A win here would be a major statement for the program.

AB Confidence Level: 5

No. 6 Iowa (Road)

Saturday, November 11

There is no way of knowing the shape that the Hawkeyes will be in when Rutgers visits Iowa City on the second Saturday of November. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz could be dealing with even more scrutiny at this stage of the season than he did last fall. This is certainly a game Rutgers could steal if they are able to run the ball, limit turnovers and prevent big plays from the home team. RU will certainly be the underdog, but this is a matchup where hope for an upset should exist.

AB Confidence Level: 5

No. 5 Maryland (Home)

Saturday, November 25

The Terps are talented and dominated Rutgers at the end of last season. With quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa back, Maryland has a chance to take another step forward this fall. Can Rutgers close the gap on Senior Day at SHI Stadium? Whether they’ll be playing for a bowl game, already clinched eligibility or just finishing out another disappointing campaign remains to be seen. Either way, it’s a tough game but another matchup that you hope RU is ready for. Being the last game of the season, whichever team is healthier typically has the edge as we’ve seen in recent meetings between the two programs.

AB Confidence Level: 4

No. 4 Wisconsin (Road)

Saturday, October 7

The Badgers should be much improved under first year head coach Luke Fickell. With SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai expected to start at quarterback, Wisconsin will have a new look offense with Phil Longo as coordinator. Playing in Madison is always a difficult task. Hopefully, Rutgers can be competitive in this early October meeting.

AB Confidence Level: 3

No. 3 Penn State (Road)

Saturday, November 18

The Nittany Lions are expected to be a top 15 team nationally once again. Rutgers typically struggles in the trenches against PSU. This game will certainly indicate how much progress both lines have actually made for Rutgers this fall.

AB Confidence Level: 2

No. 2 Michigan (Road)

Saturday, September 23

As mentioned above, Rutgers has played Michigan very tough the past three seasons. They lost a heartbreaker in triple overtime in 2020, played the Wolverines to a one score loss in 2021 in their last visit to Ann Arbor and led UM at halftime last season. With head coach Jim Harbaugh expected to miss the first four games of the season due to an NCAA suspension, it certainly can’t hurt Rutgers’ chances. Even with a potential 3-0 start, the Scarlet Knights would be heavy underdogs. That being said, Michigan has struggled to dominate Schiano’s team in recent years. If it’s close again in the fourth quarter, perhaps the tide will finally turn. Regardless, there is no denying this is an extremely difficult game against a team projected to make the college football playoff for a third straight year.

AB Confidence Level: 3

No. 1 Ohio State (Home)

Saturday, November 4

The Buckeyes have dominated Rutgers like no other program since joining the Big Ten. Even though the game is at home, hard to envision RU giving OSU a legit challenge. Their fast paced offensive style typically wears down the Rutgers defense. Perhaps this year will different and it would obviously be the upset of college football this season if it actually happened. The Scarlet Knights will be coming off its bye week, so having two weeks to rest and prepare could be a factor in being more competitive this time.

AB Confidence Level: 0

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. SailingEngineerSF

    August 8, 2023 at 11:25 am

    Thanks for the article

    Suggestion – Would be nice if you could make a chart with the schedule in order with a color based “difficulty” column next to it so we can see when there would be multiple difficult games in a row

    Would not rank it just 1-12 but like on a 1-10 scale. Like Wagner is a .5, Temple is a 3, despite them being one “place” apart

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