As we move from Spring into Summer to prepare for the 2017 Rutgers football season, it would not be Rutgers football if we didn’t have two things that have become constants: a new offensive coordinator, and a quarterback controversy. The two are intertwined for so many reasons.
We often have a quarterback controversy because we have a new offensive coordinator, and we have a new offensive coordinator because there is no single clear starting quarterback! It really is a “chicken and the egg”-type scenario, but it has (unfortunately) become normal at Rutgers.
First, here are the offensive coordinators for the past ten years. In that time, there have been nine changes in the offensive coordinator position. More than that, the last time an OC lasted more than a season was 2010, when the position was split between Kirk Ciarocca and Kyle Flood. Let’s first review the last ten years of both positions. The coordinators names are italicized:
Offensive Coordinator Quarterbacks Competing to Start
2008: John McNulty: Mike Teel
2009: Kirk Ciarocca/Kyle Flood: Tom Savage/Jabu Lovelace
2010: Kirk Ciarocca/Kyle Flood: Tom Savage/Chas Dodd
2011: Frank Cignetti, Jr.: Chas Dodd/Gary Nova
2012: Dave Brock: Gary Nova/Chas Dodd
2013: Ron Prince: Gary Nova/Chas Dodd
2014: Ralph Friedgen: Gary Nova
2015: Ben McDaniels: Chris Laviano/Hayden Rettig
2016: Drew Mehringer: Chris Laviano/Gio Rescigno/Tylin Oden/ Zach Allen/Hayden Rettig
2017: Jerry Kill: Gio Rescigno/Kyle Bolin/
Tylin Oden/Zach Allen/Tommy Wyatt/Ron Nittolo/Jonathan Lewis
You need to realize that part of the issue with the revolving cast of quarterbacks is the revolving cast of offensive coordinators. Each coordinator has their own likes and dislikes for an offense, and the ability to have a quarterback that matches the desires of the OC will mean changes in who is a leading candidate for the job. With a new coordinator each year, the battle for starter changed each time. As you can see, only two times in the past 10 years was the starting job never in question, and that was back when Mike Teel was a senior in 2010, and the one year we had a successful football team in the Big Ten. That was 2014 with a great combo of Ralph Friedgen and Gary Nova’s senior year. Coincidence? I think not.
Kyle Flood tried to avoid a controversy in 2015 by announcing early on that Chris Laviano was the starter and there would be no further discussion. However, throughout the season a continual outcry about the sometimes erratic job by Laviano led many fans to create a QB controversy of their own with the availability of LSU transfer Hayden Rettig. Social media even had a hashtag #freeRettig.
Last season, then-new head coach Chris Ash said it was an open competition, and I believe it was. However, having an open competition did not stop grumbles from the Rutgers faithful. Chris Laviano again started, but was benched halfway through the season as Coach Ash gave the other three QBs a chance. Gio Rescigno came from nowhere to get the starting nod, but a hamstring strain made being the mobile QB that the coaches were looking for difficult at best. Tylin Oden showed good speed, but body size and a lack of a throwing arm (and that is being generous with both comments) made him questionable, even with Gio’s bad hammy. Zach Allen was not given a large opportunity, but what time he got was largely ineffective. The end result of a season that featured no conference wins, and only two wins altogether.
Here we come into 2017. New offensive coordinator (and former Minnesota Head Coach) Jerry Kill seems to have a good mindset and a clear expectation of what he’s looking for in a QB. Back in March he shared his thoughts on the position, though since that time of the three quarterbacks (Rescigno, Oden, Allen) on the roster, only one is available headed into the summer. Zach Allen suffered a (probably) season-ending injury, and Tylin Oden was unexpectedly dismissed in early April, prior to the spring game.
Since that time, the coaches have been busy, adding several new faces for this fall. First of course, is Johnathan Lewis, the incoming freshmen whom some hope will make an immediate impression, and most see as Rutgers’ quarterback of the future. Immediately after Oden departed, the staff added walk-on Tommy Wyatt. Walking on makes Wyatt immediately eligible to play this fall, and has four seasons of eligibility. Quickly following Wyatt was graduate transfer Rob Nittolo, who has two years eligibility remaining, and finally the biggest “get,” Kyle Bolin, who is a graduate transfer from Louisville.
Bolin is the only one of the new group with Power 5 experience, having started many regular, conference, and even a bowl game. It immediately puts Bolin in competition with, if not sitting above, last year’s starter Gio Rescigno.
So, Rutgers’ quarterback situation is completely fluid at this point, with three new untested (at RU) players, but the Scarlet Knights now have three quarterbacks (Rescigno, Allen, Bolin) who have played as a Power 5 quarterback, though one is questionable to play this season. It is still more than two months until players officially begin practice for the 2017 season, but with five or even six quarterbacks on the roster, it will make for interesting times this July and August on the practice field.