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The Big Ten’s domination of Rutgers is the ultimate case study in lopsidedness

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The gap between any two teams in a conference can be huge. Here’s what it looks like when the gap between one team and everybody else is basically that big.

Chris Ash Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

The Big Ten added Rutgers in 2014 for purposes of TV money bolstering the conference’s robust football tradition. Rutgers’ “athletic excellence” was among the driving factors in adding the school, commissioner Jim Delany said at the time.

Since then, something disconcerting has happened to New York City’s one true college football team: Rutgers has lost 10 Big Ten shutouts in 49 Big Ten games. The Scarlet Knights have failed to score in a fifth of their conference games through their first five-plus years.

There are plenty of ways to parse that Rutgers gets the stuffing beaten out of it by conference opponents. My colleague Alex Kirshner has even used Rutgers to develop a name for lopsided Power 5 games that don’t even involve Rutgers. That exercise makes plain how wide a gap can exist between two given teams in any power conference.

But I have slightly darker ambitions. I aim to dive headfirst into the depths of Rutgersian despair. I want to zero in on the games in which the Scarlet Knights have been wiped off of the face of a football field on a given day. This is about how wide the gap can be between one team and the entire rest of its league when businesspeople put them together.

The numbers behind Rutgers’ run of shutouts are not for the feint of heart.

I publish these numbers now. They’ll change mildly with each game, but the spirit of the numbers may not change for some time:

  • In 10 Big Ten shutouts, Rutgers has given up 475 points.
  • The best of these games was 2019’s 30-0 loss to Iowa.
  • The worst was Michigan’s 78-0 dismantling in 2016. That was the second year in a row in which Jim Harbaugh went for two with a four-score lead against Rutgers.
  • Speaking of 2016, that’s the season Rutgers was shut out back-to-back weeks twice. Ohio State and Michigan did it in October. Michigan State and Penn State did it in November.
  • Both sides of the Big Ten’s most famous rivalry have multiple Rutgers shutouts. Michigan and Ohio State have each done it twice with combined margins of 130 and 114 respectively.
  • Indiana beat Rutgers 41-0 in 2017. That’s it. That’s the joke.

To paint a fuller picture of Rutgers’ ineptitude, I also wanted to take a stroll through games in which Rutgers has scored a touchdown or less. I like to think of these as spiritual shutouts because a token touchdown is almost as bad as no touchdowns at all.

That brings in another 13 games. In total, 10 different Big Ten teams (including Illinois!) have held Rutgers to seven or fewer points since 2014. The Knights have been held to seven or fewer in 23 of their 49 Big Ten games since joining the league.

But let’s go back to the shutouts, each one its own moment in time.

A time when Rutgers strapped it up and was beaten handily, that is. Here is one sentence or so describe each game, written at the time, so you get the gist.

2014: Wisconsin 37, Rutgers nil

“The shutout loss was the first for Rutgers (5-4, 1-4) since 2002 — a run of 147 games — and it stretched its losing streak to three games.”

2016: Michigan State 49, Rutgers N/A

“Rutgers never made it farther than the Michigan State 27-yard line -- and on that drive in the second quarter, the Scarlet Knights ended up punting from the 30.”

2016: Michigan 78, Rutgers null set

“This rout comes 100 years and one day after Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0. Rutgers did better, but only so much so.”

2016: Ohio State 58, Rutgers no

“Rutgers stops Joe Burrow and company on fourth and goal.” (I.e. it shoulda been worse).

2016: Penn State 39, Rutgers cero

“It was raining, but that’s part of the metaphor, too.”

2017: Ohio State 56, Rutgers sigh

“It also marked the first time former Rutgers coach and current Buckeyes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano returned to High Point Solutions Stadium for a game.”

2017: Indiana 41, Rutgers Nah

“The only thing that slowed down Indiana’s victory march was the 1-hour, 47-minute lightning delay that forced both teams to the locker room with the Hoosiers leading 34-0 and 2:31 left in the third.”

2019: Iowa 30, Rutgers: absolutely not

“[Rutgers] also threw for just 41 yards, the second-lowest total against Iowa in Ferentz’s 21 seasons in charge.”

2019: Michigan 52, Rutgers lmao

“In all, Harbaugh hopes [his] players who helped out in all three phases feel better about themselves and the team than they did a week ago.”

2019: Indiana 35, Rutgers I don’t think so

Indiana spent two minutes of this game with a win probability of less than 97.6%. It was 94.7% until a Rutgers three-and-out on the drive that came after Rutgers got the ball back following a strip/sack/fumble 10 seconds into the contest.

And I will leave you with this statistical index of agony.

Instead of posting basically the same box score 10 times, I have decided to combine them. What follows is a rough box score of Rutgers’ 10 shutouts at the hands of Big Ten foes:

The scale of Rutgers’ 10 shutout losses in 49 Big Ten games

Statistic Opponents Rutgers
Statistic Opponents Rutgers
Score 475 What do you think?
First downs 239 77
Third-down percentage 48.20% 18.31%
Total yards 5245 1281
Passing yards 2303 538
Rushing yards 2942 667
Yards per rush 6.44 2.02
Turnovers 8 13
Punts 38 101

For the future generations that stumble upon this post and wonder why it is Rutgers kept playing football after all of this, know that money drives everything in college sports.

We may or may not update this post by the time the Scarlet Knights start receiving their full share of Big Ten television money payouts. That is slated to be in 2027.