Rutgers Football's Bowl Chances Rest On Gary Nova's Arm

By Michael Briggs


Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports
Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Just as Gary Nova‘s nickname suggests, “Super Nova’s” Rutgers Scarlet Knights career has been defined by extremes: he either stars as the brightest light on the field or is entirely missing in action.

After starting 23 consecutive games under center for the Scarlet Knights, Nova was pulled from the final three games of Rutgers’ 2013 season for poor decision making fans of the Big Ten newcomer have become far too accustomed to. The problem, however, isn’t so much with Nova’s poor play as it is with his annual flirtations with big-time success.

Last season, Nova tossed 13 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in his first five games, leading the Scarlet Knights to a 4-1 record. Rutgers’ fourth win came over the Arkansas Razorbacks in a statement game that seemingly appeared to give the Scarlet Knights all of the momentum necessary to ensure their first BCS bowl game appearance.

Instead, Nova and Rutgers imploded, losing their next two games and five out of the next six. The QB who dazzled in big moments against Arkansas and on the road against the SMU Mustangs disappeared in the Knights’ next game, throwing four interceptions on the road against the Louisville Cardinals. There was no true bounce back effort either, as Nova threw six interceptions and four touchdowns in his final four games, with the only bright spot coming on a game-winning touchdown pass against the 1-8 Temple Owls.

The 2013 rise and fall of Nova was even more troubling considering he endured a similar collapse at the end of the 2012 season, which included a six-interception effort against the Kent State Golden Flashes, two crippling picks against Louisville with a BCS bowl game on the line and a dismal performance in the Scarlet Knights’ bowl game against the Virginia Tech Hokies, which saw Nova complete 17 of 40 passes with one interception and no touchdowns.

All this coming from a New Jersey high school legend who never lost a game while leading Don Bosco Prep to two state championships and a national title.

Though he didn’t take a snap for Rutgers down the stretch last year, Nova is the leading candidate to take over the starting position in Week 1 against the Washington State Cougars. This, of course, is expected considering the other two quarterbacks competing with Nova, redshirt junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano, offer a combined zero college snaps at QB.

While it would appear Rutgers has no option but to ride Nova’s arm, it’s not because he offers the most experience. The Scarlet Knights will not win games in the Big Ten with a QB simply taking the field to manage, whether that is Nova or someone else. The Scarlet Knights, coming off three consecutive bowl games, are not looking to manage their expectations following their move to the Big Ten. Gary Nova is going to be Rutgers’ starting quarterback because he is, by far, the most lethal signal-caller on the roster with the ball in his hands.

To understand this, all one needs to do is look at the stats, which show that Rutgers rarely loses when Nova plays to his abilities. Since becoming a starter in 2011, when Nova finishes a game with a passer rating of 100 or better, the Scarlet Knights have lost just three times: once in 2011, once in 2012 and once in 2013.

To help Nova become a more consistent QB, Rutgers brought in ex-Rutgers QB and Don Bosco graduate Mike Teel and former Maryland Terrapins head coach Ralph Friedgen. The 67-year-old Friedgen, who will also serve as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator, has been dubbed as a quarterback guru of sorts, with his most notable disciple being Boomer Esiason. However, coaching up Nova may have just as much to do with getting his head on straight as improving mechanics. The 2014 schedule will be daunting for Rutgers, and one bad game cannot send the Scarlet Knights into similar downslides if they wish to keep their bowl streak alive.

Nova is still one of Rutgers’ featured faces, as his image on the front of Hale football center suggests, but the team’s final record will surely be indicative of the expressions of its quarterback, who must learn to shine brightly through the night or fade into obscurity.

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