The Rutgers Scarlet Knights’ starting quarterback situation seems to have worked itself out, but head coach Kyle Flood still isn’t out of the woods.
On Tuesday, redshirt sophomore Chris Laviano, who was in a very close competition with fellow redshirt sophomore Hayden Rettig, was suspended for the first half of Rutgers’ season opener against Norfolk State, making Rettig the game’s starter. While Laviano could still see game action in the second half, his poor choice of decision-making and timing seems to have made Flood’s decision easier to make.
The 20-year-old Laviano, last season’s backup to graduated starter Gary Nova, was suspended, along with several teammates, for missing curfew and using a fake ID, according to Flood.
The ruling is an unfitting end to a neck-and-neck race between the two QBs, as Flood had yet to make a decision on the starter this past weekend after strong performances from both signal-callers in the team’s final camp scrimmage. Laviano started the spring as the competition’s leader due to the experience he earned as the no. 2 QB last season, which Rettig sat out after transferring from LSU. However, recent reports indicated that Rettig, a former four-star recruit with a big arm, had closed the gap between the two after getting more comfortable with the playbook.
Flood declined to say whether Rettig would have been named the starter even if Laviano wasn’t suspended — a move that will help protect him if Rettig turns out to be the wrong choice. That said, he’ll still be in hot water if the Knights have a bad season in 2015.
While Flood has been a winner (23-16) in his first stint as a college head coach at Rutgers, Scarlet Knights fans are hungry for more success. Despite holding the distinction of playing in the first college football game ever, RU has not enjoyed much success, owning the sixth-most losses of any FBS program. Under former head coach Greg Schiano, the Knights finally got the ball moving in the right direction, winning their first bowl game and starting a streak of nine bowls in ten years. While Flood has continued this success, Rutgers fans are an impatient bunch. The Knights landed safely in the Big Ten following the last wave of conference expansion, but that isn’t going to stop Rutgers faithful from pleading for a major conference championship (of which they have none) and more now that they’ve had a taste of big-time college football.
Plus, while Flood is winning games, he has not recruited well, landing classes ranked 55th, 53rd and 50th nationally in his first three full recruiting cycles, according to 247Sports Composite. Furthermore, he has not picked up any major recruiting wins in-state with the 2016 class, which is being pegged as one of the best in New Jersey in recent years.
Couple this with Tuesday’s NJ Advance Media report that Rutgers is investigating Flood for a potential rules violation about impermissible contact with a university faculty member regarding the academic status of one of his players, and you can see why his coaching seat is much hotter than his record suggests.
If Flood isn’t fired for the alleged rules violation, the final outcome of this quarterback competition could make-or-break him. Rutgers has enjoyed a recent string of success on the gridiron, but it can’t afford to take a step back and have a couple of losing seasons — even if the competition level is much better in the Big Ten than it was in the Big East and American Athletic Conference. Flood will need to walk the fine line of letting Rettig learn from his mistakes without keeping an unproductive quarterback under center for so long that it ruins their season. If Laviano was the right guy, but just made a mistake, Flood will need to give him a chance to redeem himself, too. Considering both players are only redshirt sophomores, the way the situation is handled will not only affect this season, but potentially the next two, as well.
Fair or not, the flood gates will be opened if Rutgers doesn’t find the right quarterback for its future.