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Rutgers Football: Previewing the 2015 QB battle

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With Gary Nova's departure, a pair of sophomores, Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig, are battling to be Rutgers' starting quarterback in 2015.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

After the expected (but still devastating) news on Friday was healed a bit by Anthony Russo's commitment on Monday, the Rutgers quarterback talk shifts from the future to the present.  With Gary Nova gone, the big question is who will be under center in 2015?

Head coach Kyle Flood has stated the battle is a two-horse race between a pair of red-shirt sophomores: Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig.  Following the spring game, in which Laviano threw for 140 yards and two touchdowns, Flood stated Laviano had the edge, but that the contest still remains wide open.

With a big-time quarterback competition ahead, here is everything you need to know about the two gunslingers.

The Measurables

Chris Laviano Hayden Rettig
RS Sophomore Year RS Sophomore
6-3 / 210 Height / Weight 6-3 / 205
Glen Head, N.Y. Hometown Los Angeles, Calif.
11-27, 108 yds, 0 td, 1 int, 69 rush yds 2014 Stats Sat out due to transfer rules
Rivals: 3-star / ESPN: 4-star Recruiting Rankings Rivals: 4-star / ESPN: 4-star
8-10, 140 yds, 2 tds Spring Game Stats 4-7, 37 yds

The Spring Game

With limited game experience for both Laviano and Rettig, all eyes were on the spring game to see who the lead candidate would be for the starting job.  Laviano came out and completed eight of his ten passes and tossed as many touchdowns (2) as incompletions, outperforming Rettig, who managed to throw for just 37 yards.

Laviano looked comfortable in the pocket and displayed a quick release, while also proving he can make every throw on the field, evidenced by this deep ball to Carlton Agudosi that went for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Laviano-to-Agudosi touchdown shown above was the second of the game for the QB-WR duo.  The first touchdown came in the opening quarter, but was not quite as pretty as the second.

On a play-action pass, Laviano found Agudosi open in the corner of the endzone.  However, rather than putting some air under the ball to give the 6-6 Agudosi a chance to go up and get it, Laviano zipped a frozen rope in between the fingertips of two defenders.

The pass looks incredible at first, but a closer look reveals it was a risky throw by Laviano.  The play did go for a touchdown, but Laviano was fortunate the pass was not deflected or even intercepted.  Agudosi, himself, seemed surprised the pass made it through the defense.  Forcing throws is a bad habit for young quarterbacks and something that Laviano will not be able to get away with in the Big Ten.

All-in-all, Laviano went 8-for-10 with 140 yards and two touchdowns, showing great accuracy and a clear understanding of the offense.  The forced throws issue could simply be nitpicking, but may be a problem moving forward.

On the other hand, Rettig's spring game performance was a very pedestrian 4-for-7 for 37 yards and no touchdowns.  Rettig did not display the accuracy that Laviano did, but he did show off his highly-touted arm strength.  As opposed to Laviano, who got the ball out quickly to his first reads, Rettig did a nice job of staying calm, standing tall in the pocket and waiting for his receivers to get open, like the play below.

However, after two years of playing on scout team offenses, Rettig did appear to be trying to do much in his first taste of a starting gig.  Back to that heralded arm strength, Rettig showed it on this back-foot throw that he soared out of bounds.

With pressure bearing down on him, he let one go without setting his feet, rather than moving up into the pocket.  To excel against some of the Big Ten's top defenses, Rettig will have to improve his footwork and technique, rather than relying on his big arm.

Laviano is clearly the leading candidate after the spring game and his performance is a big reason why.

Another note, one positive takeaway for both players is that neither through an interception, which is music to the ears of Rutgers fans, after Nova tossed 42 picks over the last three years.

The Backgrounds

After redshirting his first year on campus in 2013, Laviano backed up Gary Nova for the 2014 season and saw game action on five different occasions.  Laviano, from Glen Head, New York, attended Holy Trinity High School, where he was a four-year starter.  In his junior and senior years combined, Laviano threw for 3,189 yards and and 25 touchdowns.

For Rettig, his college experience does not go farther than the practice field.  Last year, he ran the scout team offense as he was ineligible due to transfer rules after coming to Piscataway from LSU.  In comparison to Laviano, the California native shredded high school secondaries on his way to becoming one of the nation's top pro-style recruits.  Rettig, who attended Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, threw for 3,424 yards and 40 touchdowns in his senior year alone.

While Rettig may not have any college experience yet, he has been working with and learning from his older brother, Chase, a three-year starter at Boston College.

Out of high school, Rettig was the higher-rated prospect, earning four stars from Rivals, ESPN and 247, while Laviano garnered four from ESPN and three from Rivals and 247.  Dating back to Ryan Hart's (starter from 2002-05) tenure, Rettig and Laviano rank as two of the top quarterback recruits to come to Rutgers.

The chart below details the recruiting history of Rutgers starting quarterbacks and how they were rated coming out of high school, using their Rivals rating (blue) and 247's composite rating (red).  By the numbers, Rettig compares most to Savage, while Laviano is similar to Nova.

A look at where the quarterbacks ranked position-wise shows that Rettig may possess the highest ceiling of any quarterback to step foot on the Rutgers campus, even more than Tom Savage.  In this graph, the smaller the bars, the better.
In Rivals' 2013 Pro-Style Quarterback rankings, Rettig was third, behind five-star recruits Max Browne (USC) and Christian Hackenberg (ttfp).  On that same list, Laviano is 35th, behind names like Corwin Cutler, Sefo Liufau and Eddie Printz.  However, Laviano came in much higher in ESPN's rankings (not shown in the graph), at 14th, three spots ahead of Rettig at 17th.

These charts and rankings, in no way, project how Laviano and Rettig will perform at Rutgers, but they do show that Knights' quarterback position is in good shape for the next few years, despite what fans may think after Haskins chose Maryland.

Laviano and Rettig are two of the top quarterback prospects, based on recruiting, in Rutgers history.  Either way, the Knights should not miss a beat with the departure of Nova.  Let's just hope Flood handles his four-star quarterbacks better than Greg Schiano did.

The Conclusion

The competition comes down to Laviano's experience versus Rettig's ceiling.  Laviano may have the edge, but expect a back-and-forth battle throughout the spring that is not decided until late summer.

Stay tuned for more commentary and updates about the quarterback situation.