TOM CANAVAN, AP Sports Writer
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — If anyone wants to discuss the best college football teams in the country, just talk to Rutgers first-year coach Chris Ash.
By the end of this weekend, Ash can give a firsthand scouting report on three of the top five programs.
Rutgers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) opened the season at now-No. 5 Washington. A week ago, the Scarlet Knights spent a long Saturday in Columbus, facing No. 2 Ohio State.
Ash and his rebuilding team will get another crack at the big boys on Saturday night when No. 4 Michigan (5-0, 2-0) comes to High Point Solutions Stadium.
“Any program that plays three top-five schools in the first six weeks, that’s a challenging schedule,” Ash said. “I don’t know if there are a lot of coaches out there that would say: ‘Hey, I’d like to sign up for that. Let’s put that together.'”
If there has been a common factor in the games against Washington and Ohio State, it’s the contests have been decided early.
The Cougars, who were ranked No. 14 in that season opener, took a 24-0 first quarter lead en route to a 48-13 win. Ohio State turned a 30-0 halftime lead into a 58-0 rout.
Michigan is coming off a 14-7 win over then-No. 8 Wisconsin.
“It’s always fun to go into somebody’s house,” tight end Jake Butt said, “and you’re kind of backed up against the wall. You’ve got a lot of adversity because you’re going against their home crowd.”
The fun is silencing the home crowd with big plays. Two years ago, Michigan failed to do that and Rutgers fans stormed the field after the 26-24 win.
The Wolverines are probably going to remember that.
Here are some things to watch in the Michigan-Rutgers game.
WOLVERINES OFFENSE: Quarterback Wilton Speight had a bit of a learning experience against Wisconsin and its pass rush. The first-year starter threw a lot of balls into traffic a lot and was picked off for the first time since his first snap of the season.
“If you don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel on a play, sometimes the best play is to just throw the ball out of bounds, and that’s what I’ll do from here on out,” said Speight, who is 92 of 146 for 1,094 yards and 10 touchdowns.
RUTGERS WOES: The Scarlet Knights offense never got deeper than the Ohio State 38-yard line last week. Quarterback Chris Laviano was sacked three times and hit three passes for 33 yards. The offense finished with nine first downs, 116 yards in total offense and just over 21 minutes in time of possession.
MR. PEPPERS: Ash has a lot of respect for Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. The junior who left New Jersey to attend Michigan has played 12 positions on offense, defense and special teams for the Wolverines. He took snaps in the wildcat last week.
“He’s as good as there’s been,” Ash said. “He can do it all. He’s obviously got good size, freakish athletic ability, good ball skills. He’s tough, not afraid to hit you, when he’s on offense, runs the ball, he runs it hard. He can make you miss, run through you. My years of coaching, he’s as good as there is.”
UNIQUE DECOR: If you’re watching on television and the stadium seems striped. It is. Rutgers has asked fans to stripe the stadium.
Fans seated in odd numbered sections were asked to wear black and fans seated in even sections will wear scarlet. Rutgers students were asked to wear black to the game.
THE PRIZE: The AFCA Coaches’ Trophy, presented by Amway, will be at Rutgers from Thursday through Saturday. This will be the sixth stop of a 10-city tour for the trophy. Fans will have the opportunity to take photos with it.
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