To this point, Liberty’s schedule has been very manageable with 5 of the first 7 games at home, including 2 games against FCS competition and a bye week in between. The Flames need to have a successful first half of the season, because the 2nd half is very challenging. Week 9 begins a stretch of 4 straight road games, 2 of which are against P5 opponents not including Independent BYU. The first game of this stretch is at Big 10 member Rutgers.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Conference: Big Ten
Coach: Chris Ash is entering his fourth season as head coach at Rutgers, with a 7-29 overall mark and 3-24 Big 10 record during his tenure.
2018 Record: 1-11, 0-9
Last Season: After appearing in nine bowl games from 2005-14, led primarily by Greg Schiano during that tenure, the program has hit rock bottom and are one of the worst P5 programs in the country after coming off a 1-11 season. For the 2nd time in 3 seasons, the Scarlet Knights failed to win a Big Ten game, but that wasn’t their only black mark on the season. Out of conference Rutgers got destroyed by Kansas and Buffalo, losing by a combined score of 97-27. Rutgers finished last in all of FBS in scoring offense, averaging just 13.5 points per game while only scoring more than 17 points once.
The running game was one of the few glimmers of hope despite their offensive struggles as running back Raheem Blackshear led the team in rushing and receiving while also factoring in on returns as well. His fellow tailback Isaih Pacheco had 511 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. The offensive line units was one of the best in the Big Ten, allowing a league-best 16 sacks and less than 5 tackles for loss per game. Quarterback Artur Sitkowski had a rough true freshman campaign, completing just 49% of his passes for 1,158 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions.
The defense ranked in the top 20 in the country in pass defense, allowing 187 yards per game, but they surrendered 40 or more points in 4 games including a 3 game stretch in losses to Ohio State, Kansas and Buffalo. The defense allowed 149 points in those 3 September games.
2019 Outlook: Rutgers has some winnable games on their schedule this season, opening on a Friday night at home against UMass. The rest of their non-conference games include home dates against Boston College and Liberty, but if they’re unable to sniff victory in a league game this season the writing may be on the wall for Coach Ash.
Rutgers has yet to complete over 50% percent of their passes in a season for as long as Ash has been head coach. If they are to be more competitive this season, Sitkowski must make marked improvement. The Scarlet Knights added a couple transfers at QB to push Sitkowski for the starting job in Johnny Langan (Boston College) and McLane Carter (Texas Tech). Carter began last season as the Red Raiders starting quarterback before going down with an injury. Their offense will again flow through the run game, as Raheem Blackshear and Isaih Pacheco lead a talented group of backs.
The defense loses several key contributors from a solid 2018 campaign including defensive backs Isaiah Wharton and Saquan Hampton.
Liberty Game Date: Saturday, October 26
Location: HighPoint.com Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Odds of Liberty Victory: 41 percent
Very Early Outlook: Liberty will receive $1 million for its trip to Piscataway regardless of the outcome, but to get that payday and come away with a win could really set the team up coming down down the stretch run. This game has a lot of people buzzing around the ASOR community as many think the Flames have a really good shot at the win. Despite their record in recent seasons, they are still a Big 10 member and have Big 10 level athletes. Expect the game to be close throughout and not decided until the 4th quarter.