Rutgers-Maryland prediction


The Daily Targum’s sports desk predicts the outcome of Saturday’s noon game between Rutgers (4-7, 1-6) and Maryland (2-9, 0-7) on Senior Day at High Point Solutions Stadium.

Sports Editor Garrett Stepien

It’s been a long season.

The honeymoon of Rutgers’ inaugural season in the Big Ten — one with an 8-5 overall record and 3-5 mark in conference play — was over from the moment 2015 began.

Seemingly in all facets of the game — on and off the field — the Scarlet Knights have struggled mightily to build off their surprising momentum sustained from 2014.

A whirlwind of arrests, suspensions and injuries plagued Rutgers to this point. The program couldn’t even avoid negativity heading into the open day where it’s set to honor its senior class, as an NJ Advance Media report cited how embattled head coach Kyle Flood and Athletic Director Julie Hermann were both fighting for their jobs entering the weekend.

But as far as everything is concerned on the field, the Knights should remain focused on a Maryland team that can easily drop them even lower than their current state.

Despite a seven-game losing streak in a season where they’ve lost their own head coach when Randy Edsall was fired midseason after a 49-28 pummeling at Ohio State, the Terrapins still pose a threat to spoil Senior Day.

It’s highly unlikely they’ve forgotten how Rutgers mounted a 25-point comeback — a 41-38 thriller — in last year’s regular season finale on Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

So understanding the talent gap still isn’t very much different, I expect Maryland to come out swinging.

Along a shaky offensive line that headlines a depth chart depleted by injuries, the Knights should have their hands full containing a Terps pass rush led by Yannick Ngakoue, who is the single-season sacks leader in College Park now and second in the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks on the year.

Rutgers, which seems to only thrive on offense only when it can sustain the proper running attack to aid inconsistent sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano, needs to get the push necessary to set the tone on the ground against a front seven yielding 3.73 yards per carry.

The Knights’ running backs should be ready, but it remains to be seen how the carries will be split.

Senior Paul James ran for a season-high three touchdowns and 116 yards on 18 touches last week at Army — and should have some extra juice ready in the fifth-year’s final home game — but how will sophomore Josh Hicks’s return to the backfield alter that?

I can easily see a scenario where Rutgers folds … in front of its home crowd … on Senior Day. At this point, nothing surprises me.

But I’ll give the Knights the benefit of the doubt. Senior Leonte Carroo (probable, lower body) said he’d “definitely play,” and sounds determined to go out with a bang as he takes a bow on the Banks.

Altogether, it should be enough to stifle the Terps in back-to-back years and end the season on (somewhat) of a high note.

Rutgers 30, Maryland 24


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Rutgers-Army football predictions

The Daily Targum sports desk offers its predictions for the Rutgers football team’s 11th game of the season as the Scarlet Knights (3-7, 1-6) head up to West Point to take on the Army Black Knights (2-8).

Sports Editor Garrett Stepien

Unfortunately, I won’t be making the trip up to West Point to cover this one for The Daily Targum.

And that’s a shame, because I’m actually anticipating the first win for the Rutgers football team in over a month.

The Scarlet Knights (3-7, 1-6) hit rock bottom with their 31-14 defeat last week to Nebraska at High Point Solutions Stadium. Fans rained Kyle Flood in boos when the fourth-year head coach appeared on the jumbo-tron in the south end zone for a drunk driving PSA in the first half.

So it’s safe to say things are … well, not good in Piscataway right now.

But the best (and only good) thing about hitting rock bottom is that there isn’t anywhere to go except up.

Rutgers completed what felt like a never-ending run on a treadmill through the grueling gauntlet of the Big Ten and came out of it with four lopsided losses where it was blown out by an average of 44.25-11.75.

The struggles were well-documented on both sides of the ball, from sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano’s nosedive since a career game Oct. 17 at Indiana — the Scarlet Knights’ last win — to the nonexistent defense and a depth chart dropping like flies.

But things should change Saturday along the Hudson River.

It won’t be easy. Army (2-8) boasts the No. 9 rush offense at 253.3 yards per game, and the Black Knights do it in confusing looks out of a unique triple-option attack.

Flood knows Army and head coach Jeff Monken’s offensive schemes will try to hit the Scarlet Knights’ defense with an option that they haven’t seen since Sept. 20 of last year when Rutgers pulled out a 31-24 win at Navy.

And Flood also said the secondary will remain honest for the Black Knights’ lesser-known passing game that gets yards in chunks through the air — Army ranks 125th out of 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 78 yards per game — but let’s face it, a young and thinning defensive backfield has to be looking forward to a bit of a break here.

Rutgers’ bowl hopes (because, yes, somehow the Scarlet Knights could still sneak into a bowl game despite a 5-7 record due to their high APR and 80 teams in the mix for 40 postseason games) ride on this game. Against a lesser talent — and a team going through far more struggles facing lesser competition — there is no excuse here.

Rutgers 31, Army 17


While he said during the week that he doesn’t feel like he’s coaching for his job this weekend, head coach Kyle Flood knows Rutgers needs to get back in the win column against a 2-8 Army team.

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Rutgers-No. 16 Michigan game predictions

Sports editor and Rutgers football beat writer Garrett Stepien preview and predict the outcome of Saturday’s game between the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-5, 1-4) and No. 16 Michigan Wolverines (6-2, 3-1) at Michigan Stadium.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As I sit here from this luxurious press box at Michigan Stadium, I can only imagine what the empty aluminum bleachers in front of me will look like when the Rutgers football team meets Michigan down on the turf less than a couple of hours from now at 3:30 p.m.

Packing a capacity crowd of 109,901, there’s a reason why they call this place “The Big House.” And I expect it to fill to the brim with the Maize and Blue.

Similar to the past Big Ten venues the Scarlet Knights have played in since joining the conference last year — namely with Ohio Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium — it’s in a different stratosphere from High Point Solutions Stadium back in Piscataway.

In the five games it has played in Big Ten road venues holding capacity crowds of 75,000 or more, Rutgers is winless, getting outscored by a walloping average margin of 45.8-11.4.

So why should this time be any different?

Given the state of the program right now, the only question is how much sign of life can the Knights show — and for how long.

Rutgers (3-5, 1-4) limps into Ann Arbor having given up an average of 49.7 points in its past three games. The past two have been blowouts.

Its star wide receiver and straw that stirs the drink on offense, senior Leonte Carroo, is out as he continues to nurse a low body injury. The next man up, 6-foot-6 junior Carlton Agudosi (lower body) is questionable as well.

Chris Laviano’s numbers in his past two times out (14-of-34, two interceptions and a fumble) have been the worst of his young career. Those stats plummet even deeper without Carroo or Agudosi on the field.

It doesn’t matter how good the Knights run the ball with their deep rotation if they can’t rely on Laviano to help bear the load in the passing game. And with how high the No. 16 Wolverines (6-2, 3-1) rank in all facets of their swarming defense, how can anyone reasonably expect Rutgers to have a shot in this one — let alone get on the board?

Expect a heavy load of 3-and-outs, which should only wear down the Knights on a defense, a unit that ranks among the worst in the country to begin with.

It’s all just too much for Rutgers. The setting, the opponent, the obstacles — everything.

No. 16 Michigan 34, Rutgers 0

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Rutgers-Wisconsin predictions


Sports Editor Garrett Stepien

MADISON, Wisc. — From my view in the press box here at Camp Randall Stadium, it’s hard for me to not imagine a raucous site of 80,000-plus on hand for today’s Halloween matchup between the Rutgers football team and Wisconsin.

The Scarlet Knights (3-4, 1-3) already backpedal into their latest Big Ten game after last week’s 49-7 beatdown in ABC’s primetime game of the week against No. 1 Ohio State.

While head coach Kyle Flood & Co. assure that they’ve put the Buckeyes behind them entirely, the Badgers (6-2, 3-1) present the latest challenge for Rutgers at the midway point of its conference gauntlet.

But given the circumstances surrounding today’s contest, I can’t imagine a likely situation where the Knights return to Piscataway with a win to even up their record at .500.

As bruised and injured as Wisconsin might be, the Badgers are still a team that I believe belongs in the AP Top 25. Head coach Paul Chryst’s roster is loaded with talent, and his program’s resilience to grit and grind through the adversity with a next-man-up mentality tells me that Wisconsin has more than enough to take care of the Knights.

This Rutgers offense goes as Leonte Carroo (questionable, lower body) goes. Without the senior wide receiver, the Knights are 1-2 — a 28-3 loss at Penn State and last week’s defeat to Ohio State, the only win coming over a winless Kansas program that sits at the bottom of the FBS — and it hasn’t been a secret that sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano hasn’t been the same without his go-to guy in the star wideout.

In those two losses, Rutgers managed a meager total of 10 points. Laviano has three interceptions to zero touchdowns, struggling to sustain drives without Carroo on the field aside from the fourth quarter of the 55-52 comeback victory against Indiana. It took a late Hayden Rettig touchdown pass to get the Knights on the board and prevent the shutout against the Buckeyes while Laviano managed to get Rutgers a field goal in a sloppy performance at PSU.

So I’m curious about his availability. If he can’t give it a go, the chances for a return to the Banks with a win slims tremendously.

The Badgers’ defense presents a scheme that the Knights’ offensive line and Laviano haven’t seen all year. The blitz schemes Wisconsin can throw, on top of the athletes they have at outside linebacker in Vince Biegel (9 sacks) and Joe Schobert (13 sacks) with two-way athlete Tanner McEvoy lurking behind at safety.

And while Wisconsin doesn’t light it up on the opposite side of the ball, senior quarterback Joel Stave (27-9) just gets it done for the Badgers. After passing concussion protocol earlier in the week, he was cleared to play and it he’s listed as the starter on the two-deep depth chart today.

Star running back Corey Clement (questionable, groin) hasn’t played since the opener against Alabama and isn’t listed here on the two-deep, but Wisconsin still has enough weapons on offense to live without him against Rutgers.

Kickoff conditions look dreary at 46 degrees and a 90-percent chance of precipitation. Between the showers, lack of momentum and task at hand in a top-ranked defense, I see something very similar to last year’s sloppy 37-0 shutout back at High Point Solutions Stadium.

Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Rutgers 3.


Associate Sports Editor Kevin Xavier

Although the setting has changed, the scene is familiar.

Last season Rutgers welcomed Wisconsin for Homecoming and the Badgers ran roughshod over the Knights in a 37-0 whitewash. This year’s version should be a little more competitive. Wisconsin is down in 2015, suffering through injuries and inexperience along the offensive line.

And with Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo’s health still in question an hour before kickoff, the outlook for the Knights is as bleak as the forecast at Camp Randall–dark, bleak and periods of rain.

Sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano was taught a lesson last week against No. 1 Ohio State. After silencing his critics with impressive performances in consecutive games (at home vs. then-No. 4 Michigan State and on the road at Indiana), Laviano regressed against the Buckeyes, going 10-of-20, for a measly 117 yards and a pick.

If the lifelong Long Islander wants any chance at keeping this game close, the Rutgers line will need to provide a clean pocket, which is easier said then done. Wisconsin linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel are two of the premier pass rushers in the country, let alone the Big Ten Conference. The duo could spell trouble for the Knights as a crowd of 80,000-plus will be cheering them on, making it difficult for Rutgers to get the play calls.

Knights’ linebacker Steve Longa will get his usual 10-15 tackles, but he’d need over 20 to contain a Wisconsin offense that puts up over 400 yards of offense per game.

If Carroo can play, Rutgers has a shot to keep it close, but if not, the outcome could rival the Buckeyes 49-7 rout of the Knights last Saturday. Either way, I’m anticipating a long day for Rutgers.

Prediction: Wisconsin 38, Rutgers 13

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Why suspension of Quarterback Chris Laviano and others is actually a blessing in disguise for Flood, Rutgers

Entering spring camp back in April, the head coach of the Rutgers football team was faced with a difficult decision, a challenge never before seen in his previous three years in Piscataway.

Sophomore quarterbacks Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano were competing for the starting position left vacant by four-year starter Gary Nova and they were neck-and-neck throughout the spring, forcing Kyle Flood, entering his fourth year at the helm for the Scarlet Knights, to push his decision on who would take snaps from center back until training camp in August.

When camp opened Aug. 9, Flood told reporters he would have a decision on the starting quarterback roughly “7-10 days into camp.”

That window came and went without the announcement he was expecting to make.

Instead, it came today, amid controversy that included the suspension of Laviano and preseason All-Big Ten wide receiver Leonte Carroo for the first half of the season opener Sept. 5 against Norfolk State, paving the way for Rettig to get the nod as the starting signal caller.

Senior punter Tim Gleeson — listed as the co-starter on Flood’s training camp depth chart — along with junior backup linebacker Kevin Marquez and junior cornerback Ruhann Peele, were also suspended for the first half when the curtain comes up on the Knights’ 2015 season against the Spartans, reportedly for a violation of the team’s curfew policy.            (Note: Carroo also reportedly broke curfew.)

Although Rutgers will be missing five players for the first 30 minutes of its second season in the Big Ten Conference, including two starters and a possible starting quarterback, believe it or not, Kyle Flood actually lucked out.

Let me tell you why.

Laviano and Rettig were nearly inseparable when it came to their performance since the spring began with Laviano, who played in three games last season (11-for-28 , 107 yards, INT,) dazzling Rutgers fans at the Scarlet-White game going 8-for-10 for 140 yards and two touchdowns. In the same game, Rettig was a quiet 4-of-7 for 37 yards.

Rettig flipped the script in the summer’s first scrimmage Aug. 17, converting 8-of-11 throws for 124 yards and three scores while Laviano was less efficient, going 9-for-16 for 136 yards and three touchdowns of his own. But both put together solid performances in the Knights’ second scrimmage of training camp Aug. 22 (Laviano: 10-for-15, 124 yards, three touchdowns. Rettig: 10-for-17 144, one touchdown.)

After the latest scrimmage Flood remained unsure of whom he wanted to lead his team into 2015, just two weeks prior to the opener.

That is exactly why Laviano’s suspension, for use of a fake I.D., according to Flood, was a blessing in disguise for the head coach from Queens, New York.

Let’s break this down logically.

Flood couldn’t make up his mind after the spring, nor had he come to a conclusion during the window of training camp he projected he would have an answer. When it came time to scrimmage Flood balked at the question again.

Are you getting the message here people? He COULDN’T make up his mind.

And here’s the rub, now he doesn’t have to pick.

Flood put added pressure on himself when he told reporters in the spring that he wanted to let one player grow into the quarterback position. He compounded that midway through summer camp when he said wasn’t interested in letting the quarterback competition sort itself out on the field in the season opener against a Division 1-AA opponent in Norfolk State.

Now the pressure has subsided.

Laviano is eligible to play the second half of game one and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he does, especially if Rettig shows any sign of struggle.

In that scenario, Flood would be absolved of criticism for not starting Laviano to begin with because he demonstrated no one player is above the team when it comes to discipline.

Laviano can be reprimanded to Flood’s doghouse in the interim, leaving open the possibility the Glen Head, New York, native could ascend to the penthouse if Rettig is unable to run the Rutgers offense to Flood or offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels’ liking.

Not to mention, with reports swirling about Flood’s alleged communication with a Rutgers faculty member regarding the academic eligibility of junior cornerback Nadir Barnwell, this is an opportunity for the head coach to show his mettle as a disciplinarian.

In other words, this is a win-win for Flood.

And that is the reason why Rutgers is actually set up to benefit from the misgivings of the most experienced quarterback on its roster.

Not a conspiracy theory, just my observation.

Whether he is willing to admit it or not, right now, Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood is as pleased as frat party punch.
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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Rutgers football training camp scrimmage No. 2: What to watch for

With training camp reaching its dog days as the second week of practice from Piscataway comes to a close, the Rutgers football team enters its second scrimmage of August.

As the offense continues to progress in its installs under first-year offensive coordinator Ben McDaniels, that side of the ball is only the beginning to a multitude of ongoing position battles taking place since the spring camp in April.

But now, with the Saturday night lights at High Point Solutions Stadium setting the stage for an 8 p.m. closed scrimmage to close out week two of camp, the window is closing on some of those depth chart competitions.

With that, sports editor and lead Rutgers football beat writer Garrett Stepien breaks down some of the things he’ll be looking for when the Scarlet Knights take the field tonight.


Quarterbacks: Who wants it more?

After last Monday’s Aug. 17 scrimmage inside the stadium —the first of its kind since the Scarlet-White spring game back on April 24 — didn’t convince head coach Kyle Flood to name his starting quarterback this past week, Saturday night is the night that erases all doubt.

Rutgers takes off on Sunday, resuming practice on Monday to embark on its home stretch of training camp in week three. I thought we might see a starter named earlier this week on Tuesday after Flood evaluated the film with McDaniels and the rest of his staff, but that wasn’t enough to yield a decision.

Now, though, there’s no doubt in my mind — and I’m sure everyone else agrees — that Saturday’s scrimmage is the turning point.

Flood, who gave a 7-10 day timetable to name the starter when the Knights reported to camp on Aug. 9, hasn’t tipped which way he’s leaning. In practice and in the first scrimmage, sophomores Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig have split equal reps with the first team and have both looked sharp in their own ways.

When I went into my quarterback prediction earlier in the week here, I said that Rettig would win the job. I won’t break down all of the stats here again, but I saw him beat out Laviano in Monday’s scrimmage to ultimately prove he has the greater upside and potential to do some special things with this offense the more he gets acclimated.

All of that being said, I’m looking for a couple of things on Saturday night from both of these guys.

With Rettig, first things first, I want to see how bad he truly wants this. He was groomed as the golden boy from SoCal, a four-star Army All-American. He went on to play SEC ball at LSU until deciding to transfer out. He came to Rutgers and ran the scout team all of last year. He was, by far, outplayed by Laviano on the biggest stage to end the spring.

But he came back into camp rejuvenated. He’s surged all the way back to take the edge in the competition after going an unofficial 8-for-11 with 123 yards and three touchdowns through the air in the first scrimmage where he flashed that big arm, the pinpoint accuracy and the red zone guts on back-to-back scoring strikes.

So, where does he go from here? How bad does he want this?

I’m expecting to see Rettig leave no doubt tonight. Unless he knows something we don’t know, he needs to prove once and for all that he is the guy to lead this offense. He doesn’t need to complete every single pass he drops back to throw, but he does have to outdo Laviano once again.

I’m just curious to see how bad he wants that.

For Laviano, on the other hand, he’s still right there.

Sure, Rettig has taken the advantage as of late, but I’m sure Laviano still feels confident knowing that this thing isn’t based off of a performance in one scrimmage — if it was, he’d have been crowned the starter directly after he put on a show completing 8-of-10 passes for 140 yards and two scores in the spring game.

Dating back to the beginning of spring camp, Laviano has had the more consistent body of work. That, coupled with his bits of game experience and extended time in the system now with two-plus years, has kept him afloat. And by all means, he’s continued to look sharp.

But now, I’m sure Laviano has to know that this is almost do-or-die. Flood shot down the idea of a two-quarterback system, even for opening day when Rutgers hosts Division I-AA Norfolk State. He’s made it clear that whoever the Knights do name the starter is the one they’re riding with.

For Laviano, how much is he willing to do to take back the momentum? In Monday’s scrimmage, he sure opened up with the flare starting with a 60-yard bomb to junior wide receiver Andre Patton. He marched down the field on a nine-play, 70-yard drive capped by a seven-yard fling to senior wide out Leonte Carroo. Like I said, he’s looked just as good.

But after going cold in the red zone the first time around, how will he react this time? After stalling with a 1-for-5 performance with 0 yards, a sack and a pick combined between one series inside the 40 before moving inside the 20, what can he do to match Rettig?

As I said before, Laviano’s consistency from April to now has been a huge plus for him. He’s looked polished — like a starting quarterback should be.

But the window is certainly closing. With Rettig’s upside growing more obvious with each snap he takes in that offense, it doesn’t matter how much longer Laviano’s been around.

When the lights turn on, the Big Ten officials enter and it’s his turn to take the field, he has to answer the call with more than just a hot start. He has to want it bad enough to take this thing back.

Offensive line: Filling in the holes

Replacing Taj Alexander, Betim Bujari and Kaleb Johnson has arguably been the biggest challenge for Flood next to quarterback. Regardless of who he picks to succeed Gary Nova, it won’t matter if he’s only relying on his two returning linemen to do the work of five.

But Flood’s been open about how much the youth on the line has impressed him through two weeks of training camp. It doesn’t have experience, but it does have the versatility with multiple Knights flexible enough to play multiple positions.

First, with center, who’s getting the bulk of the reps? Since the spring, juniors Chris Muller and Derrick Nelson have seen the most of the snaps there. Flood’s also been vocal about the job that sophomore Dorian Miller’s been able to do, sliding from center to guard on either side of the line.

Here, it likely comes down to Muller and Nelson. As far as the depth chart goes, they’re both listed as co-starters at center with Muller also listed as the starter at right guard.

But when the second scrimmage of camp takes place tonight, I’m anxious to see how the two perform in their time at center. When Nelson’s there, Muller can be expected to line up right by his side at right guard. And how much does that impact the handout in reps between the two as the night goes on?

Muller and Miller present a huge weapon of versatility here with their seamless abilities to slide from guard to center. But if they solidify both guard spots and Nelson continues to perform well between the two at center, some questions might have answers soon enough.

Earlier in the week, Flood also mentioned the growth of redshirt-freshmen Marcus Applefield and Tariq Cole when citing his pleasure with the offensive line’s development.

Noting that he foresees a rotation of seven Knights in the trenches on offense, continuing to keep an eye on the pair of rookie guards — Cole entered camp listed as the co-starter at left guard with Miller and Applefield as the backup at right guard to Muller — could have big implications on where the rest of the dominoes fall there.

Linebackers: Who’s in the middle?

With Kaiwan Lewis’ upgrade to work with the first team at middle linebacker this past week, the South Carolina graduate transfer looked like he was ready to lock down the position for good. 

Between defensive coordinator Joe Rossi and Flood, the input sounded like Lewis had caught on quick. As he continues to get acclimated in the defense — he’s only been here since Aug. 11 — it’s expected he’ll embrace the starting slot at middle linebacker.

But when Flood went on to talk about some of the performances that impressed him in week two of camp, he raved about the effort of Isaiah Johnson. The junior college transfer from Oakland, California, strung together a solid spring when he enrolled early and entered camp as the co-starter with Lewis.

Reps have been split between the two, but Lewis’ expected emergence hinted that the position’s battle was beginning to wind down. Johnson, though, has made it clear he’s not going down without a fight.

I expect Lewis to take the lion share of the reps with the first team tonight, but I’ll be keeping an eye on Johnson. Is he taking first team reps? How does he perform there in comparison to Lewis? As I said before, Lewis looks like he’s closing in. But depending on his performance tonight, Johnson could extend the timeline for a clear-cut decision.

Secondary: Who’s where?

Similar to the rotation on the offensive line, Flood said at the beginning of camp that he could see Rutgers rotating 6-7 defensive backs throughout the season.

For now, though, the question remains: who and where?

At corner, with junior Nadir Barnwell in question both academically and per the injury report, sophomore Dre Boggs and true freshman Blessuan Austin have been trotting out to start with the first team. From there, junior Ruhan Peele and redshirt-freshman Isaiah Wharton have also split the reps.

Behind them, juniors Anthony Cioffi and Delon Stephenson remain co-starters at free safety and the same goes with a pair of former DePaul Catholic (New Jersey) teammates in junior Davon Jacobs and redshirt-freshman Kiy Hester at strong safety.

Despite the fact that there isn’t a clear starter at any of the aforementioned positions just yet, I’m anxious to see first how the unit responds to how it was lit up in the first scrimmage by Laviano and Rettig.

Aside from keeping an eye on the split in reps between the bunch of them, how do they complement each other this time around? As the unit settles in with Cioffi sliding back to safety and the youth opening up on the corners, accompanied by Peele’s transition from wide receiver, the unit has a ton of potential and athleticism down the road.

But going up against a wide receiving corps that features weapons ranging from a 6-foot-6, 220-pounder in junior Carlton Agudosi to a shifty speedster junior Janarion Grant to a First Team All-Big Ten talent in senior Leonte Carroo — with the likes of junior Andre Patton and his four receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown from the last scrimmage — how does this defensive backfield respond?

When I mention the athleticism of the unit, what stands out to me is the physicality on the corners with a pair of 6-foot-1 freshmen in Austin and Wharton to go with a pair of scrappy ballhawks in Boggs and Peele. For the most part, they were torched by Laviano, Rettig and the wide outs. What do they show this time out?

As for the safeties, it’s expected they’ll split the reps. Outside of that, the use of Cioffi and/or Stephenson at the nickel corner has been an intriguing topic of discussion dating back to the spring. Regardless of who lines up as the starter at free safety, when it comes to the nickel packages either of the two can surely line it up there.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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Rutgers football 2015 quarterback predictions

From the final pass Gary Nova threw in the Rutgers football team’s 40-21 win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl last December, all eyes have been glued on the four-year starter’s two potential successors.

After months of evaluation, head coach Kyle Flood and his coaching staff still have yet to make a decision on who will replace Nova in the 2015 season. As of the time and date this article was published, sophomores Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig both remain neck-and-neck in the thick of the starting quarterback race.

But all signs point to an announcement coming soon. When the Scarlet Knights opened training camp Aug. 9, Flood gave a 7-10 day window for naming the starter. After the first scrimmage of camp on Aug. 17 at High Point Solutions Stadium, he said he was “a couple of days away.”

With Flood mentioning that the live offensive situations in practice will not resume until Saturday night’s scrimmage, that gives reason to believe that the process will extend well into the weekend.

From there, after further evaluation of the scrimmage on film, Flood could name the starter as early as Monday of next week.

In the meantime, Targum Sports editors and Rutgers football beat writers Garrett Stepien and Kevin Xavier dive into their predictions on whose name we can expect to hear when Flood comes to that decision.

Sports Editor: Garrett Stepien

When Hayden Rettig announced his transfer to Rutgers in June of last year, everyone had already crowned him as the future of the program for the years to come.

From then until now, boy, have Rutgers fans waited a long time for this day to come.

Because of the hype that has surrounded the LSU transfer from the moment he descended upon Piscataway — with every snap, drop-back and pass he threw on the scout team in 2014 building buzz about the big-armed Southern California kid — it placed his spring camp under a severe magnifying glass.

Each and every Rutgers spring practice I attended. I wanted to see this golden arm in action. I wanted to see and believe in the hype that the former four-star Army All-American was supposedly all about.

But I never did — at least not consistently.

To me, Rettig under-performed in the spring and it caught me by a big surprise. Outside of Laviano’s small sample size from the 2014 season as Nova’s backup (all 11-for-28, 107 yards and one interception of it), I saw these two entering camp equal and I expected Rettig to at least show me some separation as he continued to learn the offense.

But he never really did. Too many times I’d see him look clueless. It seemed as if for every beautiful throw he’d make in unimaginably tight spaces with rocket velocity and pinpoint accuracy, there were another five incompletions with a pick mixed somewhere in between.

By the end of camp, after Laviano’s sensational Scarlet-White spring game performance where he lit it up (8-for-10, 140 yards and two touchdowns) and completely stole the show, Rettig’s quiet 4-for-7 night with 37 yards made me realize that this thing was going to be tight in August.

Months later, here we are. Throughout the first week of camp, the two were even. Rettig had his moments, but Laviano just looked so much more polished, so much crisper. He looked like a starting quarterback — and I thought he could be if he stole the show in the first scrimmage.

But instead, that was Rettig. And he made me a believer that he deserves to be the starting quarterback from opening day and beyond.

On his first pass of the scrimmage, Laviano fired a 60-yard bomb to junior wide receiver Andre Patton. For the day, I recorded him completing 9-of-16 passes for 136 yards and three scores with one interception.

Rettig, meanwhile, was a bit more polished in the stat book. From my records, he went 8-for-11 with 123 yards and three scores.

But what separated Rettig from Laviano, in my eyes, was the red zone efficiency that your quarterback absolutely needs to have.

Truth be told, Laviano did sustain a 70-yard, nine-play drive on one series early on where he completed all four passes for 45 yards, culminated by a seven-yard strike to senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo.

But in situations designed specifically for the red zone, he completely froze up. After opening up 5-of-6 for 105 yards when taking the strike to Patton into consideration, Laviano was off the mark.

On his first red zone play, he was intercepted. Until the ball moved inside the 10-yard line, he had gone 1-for-5 with 0 yards and a sack.

None of that would have mattered too much — these are stats and analysis from the first scrimmage since the Scarlet-White game — but what Rettig did inside the red zone showed me how much untapped potential there truly is in this kid.

After opening up the scrimmage solid, Rettig completely took over when it came time to get big — when it came time to put points on the board.

On back-to-back passing plays, he found junior wide receivers Janarion Grant and Vance Matthews, respectively, on a pair of rocket passes where he threaded the needle to perfection.

Then, even after a snap went over his head and dropped the offense back 14 yards, that still didn’t faze him.

He coolly slipped a pass to junior running back Justin Goodwin for his third touchdown pass of the day, eventually capping a day where he truly and finally separated himself in the race.

To be clear, I am not judging this quarterback decision off of some stats scrounged up from one August scrimmage.

What I am saying is this: Rettig does have the arm. He does have the potential. What did become clear to me was how much room he still has to grow in this offense.

Rutgers opens up the season against one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the country. The Knights begin the season with Division I-AA Norfolk State before taking on Washington State, Kansas and eventually Army. Those teams combined to go 12-34 last year.

Of course, the schedule tightens up with the Big Ten east’s powerhouses spaced out on the schedule. But when Laviano and Rettig are this close in the battle, you have to hand the keys over to the guy who’s in for the long haul.

Based off of his recent surge, I think Rettig’s finally starting to turn the corner. I think he’s ready for the cross-country drive across the Big Ten and beyond.

He’s ready to take on the role of starting quarterback for Rutgers. And Flood, who’s shown he’s more than ready to commit and stand by a quarterback through the highs and lows of his career (Re: Gary Nova), probably agrees.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.

Associate Sports Editor: Kevin Xavier

The moment sophomore Hayden Rettig bolted the bayou for the banks last year, Rutgers fans clamored for the blue chip prospect to take over the reins of the offense in place of departed four-year starter Gary Nova.

Rettig, the Army All-American out of Cathedral High School in Southern California, represented progress on the recruiting trail for the Knights.

Rutgers’ fan base salivated over the possibility the Scarlet Knights offense could stretch the field in 2015, relying on Rettig’s powerful right arm, one as highly-touted coming out of high school as the JT Barrett’s and Conor Cook’s of the Big Ten’s east division.

In fact, Rettig was a higher ranked recruit than even Nova, one of the most polished quarterbacks produced in Piscataway.

His counterpart, sophomore Chris Laviano didn’t get nearly the amount of pub that Rettig received (3-star recruit according to out of Holy Trinity on Long Island) but Laviano has experience on his side, all be it a small sampling (five games, 11-for-28 for 107 yards and a pick).

In Rutgers spring game, Laviano announced his arrival with a near spotless performance, completing 80 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions. In the same game Rettig fared ok (4-for-7 for 37 yards).

Both have looked impressive and both have looked paltry at times over the course of the summer, but in the Knights first scrimmage of training camp Rettig registered an efficient 8-for-11 passing for 123 yards and three TDs, according to @GarrettStepien and his unofficial tally.

Laviano also threw for three scores and sustained a 70-yard drive but was less accurate (9-for-16) and threw an INT.

Both have shown poise in the pocket and both are listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. But Rettig is more wiry and lanky, (think Ken Dorsey) whereas Laviano is thicker and appears, to me at least, to be stronger (think Gary Nova).

So that’s the background, here’s my take.

When comparing the two quarterbacks it is vital to account for all the necessary metrics and measureables. And in order to properly break those down I’m employing the point system inspired by FXX’s The League.

Rettig is playing his first active season in two years after not seeing action in Baton Rouge at LSU and then being forced to sit out one year due to NCAA transfer rules (minus-1).

Laviano has been active in this offense since arriving on the banks three years ago and he has had more time to develop a rapport with star wideout Leonte Carroo and the rest of the receiving corps (plus-1).

Laviano has developed a special connection with junior wide receiver Carlton Agudosi who is poised to reach the potential of his 6-foot-6 frame this fall. (plus-1. Note: Watch out for Agudosi this year as a sleeper pick for ALL-Big Ten, but that’s for another time.)

Rettig has a rocket-launcher in place of his right arm. The type of arm talent NFL scouts drool over and sportstalk radio buzzes about (plus-1). Laviano’s arm is strong, stronger than I thought frankly, but I’ve yet to see it on a consistent basis (minus-1).

They may be identical heights and weights, but Laviano’s frame appears stronger and in the bruising Big Ten, with Shilique Calhoun crushing quarterbacks at Michigan State and Joey Bosa bull-rushing them at Ohio State, I would consider him more durable (plus-1).

Rettig is the sexy choice the fanbase wants, regardless of the fact they have never seen him throw a football at the college level (plus-1). He also has the pedigree, with older brother Chase having starred at quarterback for Boston College (plus-1).

Rettig has that ‘SoCal’ swagg too. The blonde hair with auburn flecks and the ladies love him (plus-1), eventhough Chris Laviano sounds more like a Jersey/Rutgers guy than Hayden Rettig (plus-1 Laviano).

But the Big Ten is not about flash.

As explained by former Southeastern Conference middle linebacker and graduate transfer Kaiwan Lewis “(The Big Ten) is a downhill league, blue-collar, just strap-up type thing.” So I don’t mind if Laviano is more of a game-manager.

Rutgers needs to maintain possession of the football and take a shot when it presents itself, not try to light up the scoreboard for 40 points and still lose by three TDs because the defense is gassed.

The Knights have a stable of running backs, trust them. And when the nine route opens up Laviano has shown the ability to find Carroo or Agudosi deep (plus-1).

So there you have the case for Chris Laviano, by the smallest of margins using less than scientific methods, he is my choice to quarterback the Scarlet Knights in 2015.

With that being said, for all the reasons above, I think head coach Kyle Flood will get swept up in the excitement of Rettig’s ruby locks and laser arm and when the decision is finally made, he’ll choose the transfer.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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