Coming off an unexpected 8-win season in their first go-round in the Big Ten, Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood is glancing warily ahead to the 2015 season. You might remember a period of success in the past decade punctuated by everyone pointing out how big of a jerk Greg Schiano was, but, by and large, this is a program that has been searching for its identity throughout its existence–and it’s been a long existence.
The Scarlet Knights played in the first ever college football game against Princeton. They won six goals to four, whatever the hell that means. A week later they lost at Princeton eight goals to none. They’ve been retroactively named co-1869 national champions. There were two teams.
And that is still the highlight of Rutgers’ being as a program. It took 109 years for them to make their first bowl appearance, a 34-18 loss to Arizona State in the Garden State Bowl. A little over 27 years later, in 2005, they played in their second postseason contest, another loss to Arizona State–this time in the Insight Bowl.
Over the course of the last decade, the Scarlet Knights have become bowl mainstays, making an appearance in all but two seasons–2007 and 2010. Yet, in an era where seemingly everyone makes a bowl (76 teams did last year), the names of the bowl games Rutgers is competing in seem to paint a picture of mediocrity–that Zelda doodle you did on the back of your speech notebook in sixth grade.
They’ve played in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, the St. Petersburg Bowl and the PapaJohns.com Bowl (not to be confused with the actual brick and mortar institution, this bowl served as an ode to the Fritos Pizza-makers esteemed web efforts), among others. Most recently, they defeated North Carolina for win No. 8 in the Quick Lane Bowl last December.
However, now, because they were surprisingly competitive in the Big Ten in their first season, there’s this expectation that Rutgers could evolve into something more than a team that routinely vacations in bowl destinations like Detroit or Birmingham. To do so, they’ll need the 25-man class that they signed last week to outperform their No. 55 ranking in 247Sports’ composite team rankings.
Because while Rutgers did manage to win a surprising number of games in 2014, they were also absolutely throttled by all the Big Ten teams that mattered. They’ll need guys like three-star Illinois offensive lineman Jack Shutack to prove to be recruiting oversights if they hope to cut into the 135-points they spotted Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State in their five conference losses last year.
According to the composites, Shutack was the fifth-highest rated recruit in Rutgers’ most recent signing class. The 6-6, 275 lb. tackle prospect played his high school football at Nazareth Academy in La Grange Park, IL, where he won a Class 6A state title this past fall.
Shutack picked up a handful of Power Five offers from the likes of Iowa State, Minnesota and North Carolina State early in the process before ultimately shutting things down to focus on his senior season. When he emerged on the other side of a 14-0 campaign having not given up a sack all season (his second consecutive season of doing so), his value didn’t seem to reflect those of your higher-profile recruits.
For starters, Shutack disregarded scholarship offers and pursued schools that he felt put his best interests at heart without regard to who was footing the bill.
“I said at the beginning of this recruiting experience, I was going to look at how these coaching staffs were viewed. I did my research on all the coaches individually,” Shutack said in an interview with Today’s U on the afternoon of National Signing Day.
Shutack’s decision ultimately came down to Rutgers and Tennessee, with Rutgers offering a scholarship opportunity and Tennessee issuing preferred walk-on status. The one thing those two schools had in common, in Shutack’s mind, was that both coaching staffs were focused not only on his skills as a football player but on his development as a young man.
“It comes down to the people you surround yourself with,” Shutack said. “Those are the people you eventually become. I just wanted to surround myself with the best possible people–people I felt had my best interest in mind–and that’s why I considered Tennessee. That’s why I decided on Rutgers.”
Shutack was also influenced by the Big Ten’s performance this bowl season and the encouraging season at Rutgers in 2014. And after an undefeated season as a high school senior, his expectations aren’t modest.
“The coaches at Rutgers were really transparent. They were very honest with me, and I feel like when you factor in the recruiting class that we have, we can win a Big Ten championship,” Shutack said.
Ultimately, with only 10 starters set to return in 2015, Rutgers is going to need immediate contributions from the Class of 2015. And while Shutack expects to redshirt and add weight to a frame that could easily hold 310 pounds or more, he and several other members of his recruiting class will have to outperform their star ratings if Rutgers is ever going to have more to hang their proverbial hats on than a 146-year old co-national championship.
All quotes were obtained first hand.