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 rivals.com 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.