With spring practice officially underway in the Big Ten, we're taking a look at each Big Ten program, using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching, current and future personnel. The series will cover the East Division this week. Up next is Rutgers.
2015 record: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)
Three-year record: 18-20
Coaching situation: It's all new, under the direction of 42-year-old, first-time head coach Chris Ash, who came from Ohio State as defensive coordinator. Ash brings midwestern roots, with minimal experience as an assistant outside of his native region. But his staff has some diversity in its background, led by offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer, most recently at Houston, and former Northern Illinois defensive coordinator Jay Niemann. Ash also brought veteran assistant Bill Busch to coach the secondary and special teams coordinator Vince Okruch from Ohio State. The fresh perspective is welcomed at Rutgers, which endured a difficult season in 2015, marred by controversy off the field and under-performance on it.
Roster situation: The Scarlet Knights lose talented receiver Leonte Carroo, the offensive focal point when he was healthy last season, running back Paul James, left tackle Keith Lumpkin and all three starting linebackers -- headlined by Steve Longa. But several important pieces return. There are quarterbacks Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig, set to compete again this spring, ample skill at running back and the return from a knee injury of imposing defensive tackle Darius Hamilton. All of the production from a shaky secondary is back, too. Compared to the rest of the Big Ten East, Rutgers is behind. But its roster looks better than its record from last season.
Recruiting situation: This is where Ash and a young recruiting standout like Mehringer need to make up ground on their division mates. Rutgers struggled to win over prospects with short time before signing day last month -- and that's expected in a transitional time. It did flip QB Tylin Oden from Louisville and remained a factor in Florida. But the Scarlet Knights failed to sign a prospect ranked among New Jersey's top 20. Their class ranked 64th nationally and last in the Big Ten East. Eleven months from now, Rutgers' level of recruiting improvement will offer a barometer for success to come in the fall.
Trajectory: Up, for now, considering the 2015 spiral. The needle is going to move. And soon. But it's too early in the Ash era to get a definitive read on the direction. Early momentum, evident with nearly every regime change, pushes the Scarlet Knights forward. So far, the bulk of their progress has occurred on the watch of strength coach Kenny Parker, whom Ash considered a must-hire from Ohio State. Rutgers has experienced three losing seasons out of the past 10, and it has rebounded from the previous two with nine and eight wins, respectively, in 2011 and 2014. That level of success will be tough to duplicate in Ash's first season as the Scarlet Knights open at Washington and get Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan to start league play. Recruiting success and an eye toward 2017 may provide a better indication of the Scarlet Knights' trajectory.