Saturday was ugly for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the most damning had nothing to do with the standings. Syracuse’s offense was stagnant. Rutgers moved the ball enough and got a road victory. But the rebuild by Greg Schiano may have already surpassed the Syracuse program, buzzing by in the left lane.
The program Schiano inherited was a dumpster fire, a blazing inferno of trash in Central Jersey. The Scarlet Knights had entered the Big Ten and had lunches handed to them. Starting in ’15, Rutgers went 4-8, 2-10, 4-8, 1-11 and 2-10. That’s when Schiano got the call to return to Piscataway and rebuild the program.
Last season Rutgers went 3-6, but immediately showed life as a competitive team. They shocked Michigan State in the opener on the road, then lost one score games against Illinois, Michigan and Nebraska. It took the Wolverines three OTs to beat the Scarlet Knights, a far cry from the 60-70 point humiliations of previous years.
For the Class of ’21, Syracuse ranked 60th in the country, one of the worst of the Power 5. Rutgers claimed the 43rd spot, according to 247 Sports. The Knights had two 4-stars. The Orange had none. Rutgers has always existed in a far more fertile recruiting ground than SU, but during the Orange heyday they plucked great talent from the Garden State.
Four-star corner Alijah Clark from Camden, NJ and LB Khayri Banton from Newark were the head of the class for RU. Most of the Knights talent in the ’21 class came in-state. But they also landed kids from Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The concern has always been what if Rutgers had the resources to really invest in the program. If Boston College, Syracuse and Penn State weren’t able to get great talent from Jersey and it all stayed at RU, just how good could the Knights be? Forget that for a second. It’s not yet about Schiano keeping all the talent in the state. It’s about how the traditional recruiting battles for athletes in the tri-state area, specifically NJ, will all be advantage Rutgers.
Schiano may not be as fun and energetic as Dino Babers, but he’s clearly more effective. His decade at Rutgers ’01-’11 was miracle work, turning them into a perennial bowl team through smarts and toughness. He moved mountains. Now, he’s doing it again. Babers had a 4-year head start and he’s been passed in 18 months by Schiano. It’s notable that one of the few bright spots on this SU team is highly touted recruit Duce Chestnut. He’s a Camden, NJ product. Some of the best players SU can grab are from the Garden State. The worst thing in the world would be if all those kids who weighed SU vs. RU start going to the Knights.
SU will probably be one of the worst teams in the ACC 6 years into Babers tenure. Rutgers will probably be a middle-of-the-road team in the Big Ten, right around Illinois, Nebraska, Purdue and Maryland. They’ll also have a face-to-face win at the Carrier Dome. In other words, this does not bode well for the Orange. That didn’t take long.