The 2023 season opener is almost four months away. However, it’s a critical game for Rutgers that’s worth pondering already.
Northwestern is also looking to rebound after a difficult season a year ago. Coming off a miserable 1-11 campaign in which they only won the season opener against Nebraska in Ireland, the Wildcats are looking for as many options at quarterback as possible.
For a program that played five signal callers last season, last week they added Cincinnati QB Ben Bryant. He played high school ball in LaGrange, Illinois less than an hour from Northwestern. It’s his sixth and final season of college. Bryant redshirted his freshman year and gained an extra year with Covid.
His journey has been unusual. He played two more seasons at Cincinnati as a backup. Bryant then transferred to Eastern Michigan to start, then came back to the Bearcats for last season.
Bryant threw for 2,731 yards, 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing 61.2% of his passes in 2022. He suffered a season-ending foot injury after 11 starts in which he led Cincy to a 9-2 record and national ranking. They lost the final two games without him.
After former head coach Luke Fickell left for Wisconsin, Bryant shared first-team reps with Arizona State transfer QB Emory Jones during spring practice. Jones was brought in by new head coach Scott Satterfield. The two signal callers were expected to battle for the starting role during training camp. Instead, Bryant commuted to Northwestern less than a week after entering the transfer portal.
It’s likely Bryant would have been performing in an NFL rookie camp last week if he hadn’t gotten injured so late in the season. While he was limited at the start of spring practice for Cincinnati, Bryant was not limited by the end.
After backing up Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder most of his Bearcat career, Bryant will look to make the most of his final season in college.
With incumbent starter Ryan Sullivan back, who took over the still recovering Ryan Hilinski along with the inexperienced Jack Lausch, there is opportunity for Bryant to take over the job.
Northwestern was just No. 94 in passing offense last season in averaging 210.3 yards per game. Rutgers was No. 124 at 153.9 yards per game, so both teams are in need of major improvement.
It’s no secret both teams need a win in the season opener to set the tone for a better fall than the year before. While it appears Rutgers will pursue the transfer portal for wide receiver, it seems less likely at this point a quarterback will be added. However, it’s likely a hopefully improved RU defense will be tested on September 2 when Northwestern visits.
While Bryant hasn’t won the starting job yet, his experience and past success gives him an advantage. Of course, the Scarlet Knights faced a veteran QB Phil Jurkovec with NFL aspirations last season. However, Rutgers beat Boston College 22-21 in the season opener. They could face a similar challenge to start the 2023 opener as well.
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