We are heading into the bye weekend for Rutgers football. Even so, there is a lot going on with many Rutgers sports. Fall is heading down the stretch and winter seasons are set to begin soon. Here are ten thoughts to ponder.
Football will win more games
Heading into the bye weekend, it’s still incredible to realize that Rutgers is off to its best start in 11 years at 6-2 and bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. It’s been an exciting fall in which the Scarlet Knights have won every game they were favored in. That includes all but one having a double digit margin of victory. This is still a team that must prove it can beat winning teams with a run first approach and that the defense can hold strong. Ohio State and Penn State will be tough tasks, but expecting RU to be more competitive against them than in years past is fair. Iowa and Maryland are winnable if Rutgers can play clean football.
No matter what happens in November, we know this team is bowling. But with how this team continues to get better, I think they have two more wins in them. Most likely, I’d say another regular season win and then a bowl win against a manageable opponent. Some fans are not thrilled with the Pinstripe Bowl as a destination, but wearing down another ACC team with its physicality and run game should make for a festive time.
Rutgers volleyball showing signs of progress
After the program earned its first ever ranked win this season against No. 16 Minnesota on October, the Scarlet Knights haven’t won over its last four matches in Big Ten play. That included a loss to No. 1 Wisconsin and the rematch at Minnesota. However, they did take Illinois, who are now 6-5 in league action, to five sets last weekend. And then on Friday, Rutgers defeated last place Iowa in five sets on the road. It’s a positive step for this program as they continue to compete in the best volleyball league in the country. They won the last two sets on Friday as Alyssa Kinkela continues to lead the way for RU. Freshmen Zora Hardison and Anna Hartman have shown plenty of promise of late and that bodes well for the future.
Rutgers women’s soccer still kicking
The Scarlet Knights (9-6-3) earned a clutch 2-1 victory over Northwestern to earn the No. 6 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It’s been a disappointing season for the most consistently successful program at Rutgers over the last decade. However, this team has won four of its last fives games. This is a talented group and they could make a serious postseason run.
There is work to be done if Rutgers wants to earn an NCAA Tournament berth for a 12th straight year. Head coach Mike O’Neill has been away from the team and missed Senior Day due to the passing of his sister. This program has been through a lot and it would be foolish to count them out. They’ll play No. 3 seed Wisconsin on Sunday, October 29 at 3:30 ET in Madison. A loss would likely spell the end of the season, while a win keeps hope alive.
On Friday, Riley Tiernan and Emily Mason were named Second Team All-Big Ten selections while goalkeeper Olivia Bodmer and Ashley Baran made the All-Freshman Team. Rutgers needs all four standout players to lead the way on the pitch the rest of the way. There is a lot of pride within this program, so expect them to go down swinging and hopefully that’s not anytime soon.
Men’s soccer on the brink
Similarly to the women’s team, the Scarlet Knights are 3-1-1 in its last five games. However, RU is only 5-6-3 on the season. Any chance of making it back to the NCAA Tournament relies on winning the Big Ten Tournament for a second straight year. Rutgers is currently in 5th place but play 4th place Indiana on Saturday in Bloomington. They’re assured a spot in the conference tournament, but making another run is different story. Jackson Temple has been great once again but things have not meshed as well as expected as a team. Hopefully, this program can find November magic once again.
Wrestling ready for bounce back season
Rutgers head coach Scott Goodale commented at media day this week that the program has over a dozen national qualifiers on the roster. He’s done a good job of plugging holes in the lineup through the transfer portal this offseason. The program has added Harvard transfer Yaraslau Slavikouski at heavyweight as Oklahoma grad transfers Jacob Butler and Mitch Moore in the middleweights. Rutgers has plenty of firepower returning as well to give real hope that the Goodale’s program will take a step forward this season.
Winning record should be goal for women’s basketball
With Coquese Washington entering her second season, there is reason for optimism. She also improved the roster through the transfer portal by adding UNC forward Destiny Adams and Texas A&M point guard Mya Petticord. Rutgers has six key contributors back from last season including All-Big Ten Freshman Kaylene Smikle. The Scarlet Knights are still only ten deep and have a long way to go in competing at the top of the conference. However, a winning record and middle of the pack finish in the Big Ten is a realistic goal for this squad.
Rutgers baseball has impressive fall ball campaign
The Scarlet Knights made waves across the sport last weekend in defeating SEC Tournament champions and NCAA Tournament qualifier Vanderbilt 16-6 in 18 innings of play last weekend. The Scarlet Knights beat Stony Brook 6-5 over three 5 inning segments on Friday. The Rutgers pitching staff was extremely impressive against Vandy as 11 hurlers combined for 22 strikeouts, 4 walks and just 2 earned runs over two full games worth of action. Freshmen pitchers Zack Konstantinovsky was dominant in 3 innings while transfers Joey DeChiaro and Jordan Falco were strong as well. Not to mention ace Christian Coppola had a big offseason and is back. With Josh Kuroda-Grauer returning, Tony Santa Maria healthy and Trevor Cohen poised to take another step forward, Rutgers baseball is a very intriguing team next spring from not just a Big Ten level, but the national stage as well.
Rutgers field hockey can win a national title
Meredith Civico’s team suffered a heartbreaking loss last weekend against No. 1 Northwestern. I wrote about the painful details of the shootout loss here. Thinking they won only to suffer the first loss of the season was a cruel fate. The Wildcats clinched the Big Ten regular season title with a 5-1 win over No. 7 Maryland on Thursday. Even so, Rutgers moved up to No. 3 in this week’s coaches poll. Even with a humbling 7-2 road loss to No. 8 Iowa on Friday, RU earned the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Who could blame this team for a letdown after what happened last Sunday.
The point is this team has been so good all season. At 15-1, everything they want to achieve in the postseason is on the table. They have played Northwestern, who lost in the national title game last season, better than any other program in the country the last four years. RU has beaten them four times with NU being ranked in the top five each time. Despite what happened last weekend, Rutgers is good enough to make a Final Four and compete for a national championship next month. Buckle up.
Men’s basketball going to be fun
Following Rutgers’ double overtime exhibition loss to St. John’s last weekend, it’s hard not like this team already. Trailing by 20 points in the second half, the Scarlet Knights had multiple chances to win the game. And this was without Mawot Mag and playing an experimental rotation. With speedy guards who are built to score in transition, this season is primed to be an entertaining one for sure. Defense and rebounding are key questions for this team, but I wouldn’t dismiss the strong team chemistry formed on the overseas trip this summer. Tip-off is in less than 10 days against Princeton so get your hammer before Steve Pikiell’s eighth campaign gets underway.
Rutgers taking stronger hold in Big Ten
As we know, football has a lot to do with perception of any school and its athletic department. With Greg Schiano getting his program back to respectability and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, the positive vibes have followed. With so many other sports showing early signs of having better seasons this year, it’s an important time for Rutgers to take a step forward as a whole on the field in 2023-2024. It’s a critical year after last year’s disappointing Director Cup’s finish. That’s not the end all be all, but Rutgers took a step back in every major sport. I expect many programs to be more competitive in the Big Ten this season. This year is already feeling different and fans should be optimistic there will be a lot of reasons to cheer the rest of this academic year.
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