By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Rutgers just doesn’t seem like the Big Ten’s type.
It doesn’t appear to be a good fit in a league where people label a whole state as nice (Minnesota), where ears of corn outnumber people (pretty much everywhere) and where children learn to dislike New York area sports teams before they’re big enough to ride in the front seat of the family SUV.
Rutgers is the boyfriend the parents hoped never became the son-in-law. The one who talked a little too loud, had a few too many tattoos and said, “I know that guy, that other guy and both those girls,” when MTV’s Jersey Shore came on the television screen.
But three years ago Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany extended an offer to Maryland and Rutgers to join the Big Ten and in 2014 they began playing in the conference.
Projecting the Big Ten into the New York and Washington D.C. markets is generally regarded as the biggest reason Rutgers and Maryland were invited into the Big Ten instead of schools that seemed to make more sense geographically, like Pittsburgh and Missouri.
Rutgers is near New York but it is not like the campus is right next door to the Empire State Building.
It is 35 miles from Rutgers’ campus in New Jersey to Manhattan and 21 miles to the closest New York City borough of Staten Island. And the last time Rutgers led the sportscasts on the local New York TV news was probably never.
Rutgers’ first few years in the Big Ten haven’t always gone smoothly. There have been a few rough edges.
In 2013, men’s basketball coach Mike Rice was fired after he was video taped verbally abusing a player and pushing him. Later that year, it came out that athletic director Julie Hermann had settled a lawsuit for $150,000 for comments she made about a fellow coach while at the University of Tennessee.
Earlier this football season, the Scarlet Knights’ star receiver, Leonte Carroo, was suspended for two games when he was accused of assault. The charges were dropped and he has returned to the field.
Also, this season, football coach Kyle Flood was suspended for three games for allegedly putting pressure on a professor about a player’s grade. Some people thought he might be fired.
None of this really matters to No. 1 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) when it goes to Rutgers (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) tonight.
The only trouble OSU is concerned about is the kind Rutgers could make on the field.
The Scarlet Knights were no problem at all for Ohio State last season when the Buckeyes rolled to a 56-17 win at Ohio Stadium.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett will be starting for the first time this season. Based on what he did against Rutgers last year (three passing touchdowns, two rushing TDs, 107 yards rushing), he couldn’t have picked a better opponent to return against.
Rutgers’ defense is another reason this is a good week to return for Barrett. The Scarlet Knights score 34.3 points a game, second only to Ohio State’s 37.0 points a game in the Big Ten. But only three Big Ten teams give up more than the 29.2 points a game they allow.
Now that Carroo is back on the field, he looks like the NFL might be in his future. He has caught three touchdown passes in three different games.
First-year starter at quarterback Chris Laviano (1,388 yards, 12 TDs) and a three-man running back rotation, along with Carroo, have powered the offense.
It might be worth remembering that Rutgers had a 5-1 record and some nice statistics coming into Ohio Stadium last year. The margin of victory might not be quite as big as last season. But the result will be the same.
The prediction: Ohio State 42, Rutgers 21.
Reach Jim Naveau at (567) 242-0414 or follow him on Twitter @Lima_Naveau.