Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Big Ten from a season ago — outside of the unpredictable title run from Ohio State – was the amount of success Rutgers enjoyed in its inaugural season in the conference.
Finishing the year at 8-5 with a bowl win over North Carolina surpassed expectations many had for Kyle Flood and his Scarlet Knights in 2014.
Much of that success could be attributed to senior quarterback Gary Nova, who threw for 2,851 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final season in Piscataway. He was especially exceptional in conference victories over Michigan and Maryland, combining for 751 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the two contests.
Looking ahead without its leader under center, Flood hopes to find a quarterback who can replicate the talent and experience Nova brought to the table during his stint.
This spring, Rutgers has two quarterbacks jockeying for position on the depth chart and a third who could be considered an underdog to take the starting role come next fall.
Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig are the two favorites to replace Nova for the 2015 campaign, with neither guy having a significant advantage over the other in the race.
Laviano, a redshirt sophomore, could have the slight edge for the position, having been with the program a season longer and taking some – albeit minimal – live snaps.
In 2014, Laviano threw 28 passes in five appearances, completing just 11 of those passes for 107 yards and an interception. Despite those low totals, it’s still more on-field experience than his counterpart, who has yet to take a snap.
Rettig is an LSU-transfer who wanted the opportunity to play in a system that allowed him to pass the football a little more than Les Miles’s traditional ground and pound style. Rettig, who was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, was sidelined last season due to NCAA transfer rules but is ready to compete this spring.
The final candidate and dark horse to take over the offense is Giovanni Rescigno, who redshirted his freshman season.
Without little to no game experience for all of these quarterbacks, it’s difficult to judge who the favorite will be to fill the void that Nova leaves open. At this point, nobody has separated themselves from the pack, meaning it could be August before anyone knows who will see the first snaps under center in 2015 for the Scarlet Knights.
For Flood and the coaching staff, the tight race could prove to be a benefit in the long run. Competing so intensely for the starting job in spring practice and transferring over to the summer and fall could improve the abilities of all three quarterbacks ahead of schedule.
The potential to interchange guys throughout the season if someone is struggling could be of value as well.
Nova’s accountability for so much of Rutgers’ offense last season leaves some big shoes to fill for whoever takes over the spot next year. The passing attack has been an essential aspect of success in Piscataway, and it will have to be in 2015, too.
One of the conference’s leading receivers, Leonte Carroo, will return for his final season at Rutgers, giving any of the three a reliable and dependable target. His presence should make life a little bit easier for whichever inexperienced passer takes the field.
Whether it’s Laviano, Rettig or the dark horse Resicgno, someone’s going to have to grow up quickly to help Rutgers mirror the success it saw in 2014.