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Tom Savage, Casey Turner transferring from Rutgers

The Rutgers athletic department announced this afternoon that quarterback Tom Savage and running back Casey Turner are leaving the football program.

Tom Savage's transfer, of course, looks very bad on paper. Rutgers only has two other scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, one of whom did not play in 2010 because of a shoulder injury. Not only will the team's thin depth chart at the position continue into 2011, but Savage otherwise would have stood a fair shot of starting in 2011. Worse still is the harsh psychological blow of losing a one-time blue chip, program-defining recruit. This transfer is not a program killer for Schiano as all of the basketball transfers seemed to be for Fred Hill Jr., but there's no getting around the strong negative symbolism. Like his older brother Bryan at Wisconsin, Tom is heading for the door. The early returns for 2009's big recruiting class have not lived up to expectations.

Savage struggled in 2010 with injuries and ineffectiveness behind a porous offensive line, as Rutgers used more of a spread offense under (now-deposed) play caller Kirk Ciarrocca. Chas Dodd played only marginally better, and in fairness all 2010 results will probably need to be tossed out the door for a completely clean slate in the spring. Personally, I think Frank Cignetti's offense was an ideal fit for Savage, and doubt he will find a more favorable situation elsewhere in terms of factors like the depth chart. It's easy to assume that last year's adversity just opened deep, fresh wounds in the program that will take time to heal. There's no sense in crying over spilled milk now though.

Casey Turner's transfer is not as significant as Savage's symbolically, although it may be worse in practice. He was a touted back out of Florida last season that stood a fair chance at starting last fall before being felled by a training camp injury. The oddest thing about Turner leaving was that even though he publicly announced on Facebook last month that he was transferring to Florida A&M, multiple media members indicated that he was likely to stay. That stood in stark contrast to the conspicuous silence regarding Savage. As you may recall, Turner made four separate verbal commitments last year during his initial recruitment. Apparently he has once again decided to change courses.

Now Rutgers football fans are left to wonder what direction the program will take now. Beyond internal options at each position, everyone's immediate focus will likely shift to recruiting (which is going in a dead period again from tomorrow through Thursday because of the AFCA coaching convention). Turner, despite his strong talent, should be easier to replace by virtue of playing running back. For one thing, Rutgers arguably already has capable backs left on the roster. The bigger concerns going forward will be fixing the line and transitioning back to a standard offensive scheme.

Clearly there will now be even more pressure for Rutgers to keep star St. Peter's Prep tailback Savon Huggins home in New Jersey. Huggins is capable of making a Ray Rice/LeSean McCoy-type impact as a true freshman, although most freshmen backs typically struggle with secondary skills like receiving and pass protection. Huggins isn't a sure thing, but Rutgers is thought to have led for his services throughout the entire recruiting process. Today's relatively muted reaction to this news would probably be far louder if most fans weren't already anticipating Huggins in Scarlet, which only creates even more pressure on the coaching staff to nail down his recruitment.

Quarterback is trickier. Rutgers has had a great deal of trouble recruiting at the position over the past two years, ironically in part due to the perception that Tom Savage had an ironclad lock on a starting job. After initially missing out this year on Kevin Hogan (Stanford) and Gary Nova (Pittsburgh), the two best quarterbacks in the northeast this year, the coaching staff brought in most of the other regional arms to their June recruiting camp. Manalapan's Mike Bimonte outplayed all competitors in attendance and earned a spot on this year's class. Bimonte has good measurables and long-term potential, but will probably need a year or two on the bench before being a realistic option to start.

The program's focus (specifically, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and North Jersey recruiter Jeff Hafley) now turns to Don Bosco quarterback Gary Nova, who pulled back from Pittsburgh after their recent coaching turmoil. Nova has led a loaded Bosco team to a 24-0 record over the past two seasons. From what I've seen DBP runs more of a horizontal spread (as opposed to the "wreee, let's chuck it downfield on every play as the QB gets leveled" Rutgers approach from the past two years). Nova's accuracy and mobility are a good fit for that scheme. He reminds me a bit of pre-injury Dom Natale. Presumably if Rutgers were to sign Nova, he'd at least have some chance of overtaking Chas Dodd next year. Frank Cignetti could implement a run-heavy offense ala what he did at Pittsburgh, with Nova a reasonable facsimile of Bill Stull. Dodd would definitely be the odds-on favorite to start however.