2016 football schedule analysis: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

2016 football schedule analysis: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Rutgers is looking for a new start. And, it’s getting just that with the arrival of Chris Ash, who continues to put his stamp on the program after taking over for Kyle Flood.

[ MORE: Dienhart: Rutgers Scarlet Knights’ offseason to-do list ]

Ash has work to do after arriving from a gig as defensive coordinator at Ohio State. The Scarlet Knights need a lot of help, as Rutgers ranked No. 13 in the Big Ten in total defense in 2015 (462.0 ypg) and 12th in scoring (34.9 ppg) in 2015. The offense will be undergoing a scheme change, adding to the critical nature of this spring. One of the biggest position battles will come at quarterback between Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig. RU will use a “power spread” scheme that is similar to what Ohio State operates.

A challenging 2016 schedule looms in Ash’s debut.

Toughest non-conference game: at Washington, Sept.3. The opener will be a tough test for new coach Chris Ash. This will be the first meeting between the Scarlet Knights and Huskies, who are on the rise under Chris Petersen.

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Toughest conference game: at Ohio State, Oct. 1. There are many to choose from … Iowa on Sept. 24; at Ohio State on Oct. 1; Michigan on Oct. 8; at Michigan State on Nov. 12; Penn State on Nov. 19. But let’s go with the game in Columbus, as Chris Ash will take on his former boss in Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes have won the only two meetings in the series, taking a 56-17 decision at Ohio State in 2014 and a 49-7 win last year at Rutgers.

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Who they don’t play: Nebraska, Purdue, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

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Easiest game: vs, Howard, Sept. 10. The visit from this FCS foe will be as easy as it gets for the Scarlet Knights. Since victories may be difficult to come by, Rutgers needs to take care of business vs. the Bison.

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Toughest stretch: The start of Big Ten season will be daunting. Rutgers opens at home on Sept. 24 vs. Iowa, then travels to Ohio State before coming home to take on Michigan. Can the Scarlet Knights win any of those games?

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Best chance to be upset: vs. Illinois, Oct. 15. The Scarlet Knights need to be careful when Illinois comes to visit. The Fighting Illini are rebuilding under Lovie Smith. You know Illinois will be thinking it can topple Rutgers. And Illinois has some talent, especially on offense. Another reason why the Scarlet Knights should be worried: The visit from Illinois comes on the heels of RU’s aforementioned rugged three-game opening stint of Big Ten play. This will be the first meeting between these schools since a two-game series 10 years ago, as Illinois won 33-30 in Champaign in 2005 and Rutgers prevailed 33-0 in New Brunswick in 2006.

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Best chance to pull an upset: at Minnesota, Oct. 22. If Minnesota’s offense is struggling, Rutgers may be able to walk into Minneapolis and card a victory. A big key for the Scarlet Knights will be how well they have adapted to the new schemes on both sides of ball. If the go-go offense is clicking, RU may be able to tally a big win.

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Must win: vs. Indiana, Nov. 5. If Rutgers wants a shot at making it to a bowl, it needs to win its home games. And that means subduing Indiana. The Scarlet Knights will be rested, as they will be coming off their off week. RU has won the only two meetings with IU, winning 45-23 at home in 2014 and taking a wild 55-52 decision in Bloomington last year in which IU blew a 25-point lead.

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Bye week: This comes late after Rutgers has played eight games. And the off week comes between a game at Minnesota and a visit from Indiana. The late off week will allow RU a chance to catch its breath for the stretch run.

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Day Date Opponent Time TV Result
Sat. 9/3TBA at Washington TBA
Sat. 9/10TBA vs. Howard TBA
Sat. 9/17TBA vs. New Mexico TBA
Sat. 9/24TBA vs. 9 Iowa TBA
Sat. 10/112:00 PM ET at 4 Ohio State 12:00 PM ET
Sat. 10/8TBA vs. 12 Michigan TBA
Sat. 10/1512:00 PM ET vs. Illinois 12:00 PM ET
Sat. 10/2212:00 PM ET at Minnesota 12:00 PM ET
Sat. 11/5TBA vs. Indiana TBA
Sat. 11/12TBA at 6 Michigan State TBA
Sat. 11/198:00 PM ET vs. Penn State 8:00 PM ET  BTN/BTN2
Sat. 11/26TBA at Maryland TBA

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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