Jumping from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten was supposed to be a step up for Rutgers last season, and it was. The Scarlet Knights managed to hold their own enough to reach the postseason in a Big Ten debut season few expected to result in a bowl trip. Despite getting to the postseason, Rutgers saw firsthand just how far it still has to go before being able to make any threats in the Big Ten East Division and Big Ten Conference.
The gap was put on clear display against the top programs in the Big Ten last season; Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Rutgers lost to eventual national champion Ohio State 56-17 (it was 49-7 before Rutgers picked up a long field goal and a touchdown with six seconds left in the game). Ohio State outgained Rutgers 585-345 in that game, with 324 of Ohio State’s yards coming on the ground. Against Michigan State, Rutgers fell behind 35-0 at halftime before losing 45-3. The Spartans outgained Rutgers 520-234, with a 242-95 edge on the ground. Wisconsin sent Rutgers home with a 37-0 loss (298 rushing yards to Rutgers’ 76). The Nebraska loss was not quite as ugly, but Rutgers was on the wrong end of a 42-24 final score (and Ameer Abdullah).
What did Rutgers learn from these games? The time to get bigger and stronger is now, and they have been attacking that this offseason.
According to a report from NJ.com, Rutgers football players broke 19 all-time program records in the weight room during the winter and the players are excited to get back at it on Tuesday for summer conditioning routines.
“Now we all know,” Rutgers linebacker Steve Longa said. “The coaches knew. We had an idea, but we didn’t really know. We got out there and we knew what we were up against. After the season, we knew what we had to work on and we attacked it.”
Of course, Rutgers can only improve so much in the weight room. The biggest impact the program will have as a member of the Big Ten is in recruiting. At least that is the hope for the program. Head coach Kyle Flood is focusing more on players that fit the traditional Big Ten mold that he will need on his roster to close the gap with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State (and Penn State and Michigan) in what could be a stacked Big Ten East Division in the years to come.
“I don’t focus on the weight, I focus on explosion,” Flood said to NJ.com. “That’s really what I’m looking for and if we get bigger in the process, that’s fine. We’re looking for explosive athletes, and I can only point to the results. When you break 19 all-time records, that tells me that we’re moving in the right direction as a program.”