Rutgers kicks off their 2015 campaign under mass scrutiny after a late August internal investigation involving head coach Kyle Flood, and the suspension of five players for the first half of their opener against Norfolk State. If nothing else, Rutgers must come out with a bang against their season-opening FCS opponent, who’s coming off a 4-8 season and heads into 2015 with a new head coach in Latrell Scott, who went 29-5 during his three seasons at Virginia State.
Flood and the Scarlet Knights will be without leading receiver and team captain Leonte Carroo, who will sit out the first half while serving a suspension for breaking a team curfew rule. Joining him is linebacker Kevin Marquez, punter Tim Gleeson, cornerback Ruhaan Peele, and quarterback Chris Laviano. Laviano, unlike the four joining him on the sideline for curfew violations, was caught attempting to enter an establishment with a fake ID. In light of Laviano’s suspension, LSU transfer Hayden Rettig gets the nod under center to start the 2015 campaign.
While Flood would not commit to Rettig beyond the first half, many have given him the nod as the better quarterback. Laviano has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, having thrown 11 passes in his collegiate career. Carroo, the aforementioned team captain, and team’s leading receiver will be the biggest loss to a team looking to follow the momentum gained from an unexpected 8-5 debut Big Ten campaign from 2014.
As for Norfolk State, they’re returning nine offensive starters, and five defensively from their 4-8 2014 squad. Florida Atlantic junior quarterback transfer Greg Hankerson gets the nod as the team’s starting quarterback after two seasons in Conference USA. Hankerson’s most notable accomplishment under center to date is his 12-19 for 88 yard performance against Alabama last season, a game Florida Atlantic lost 41-0.
Defensive captain linebacker Deon King returns for the Spartans after a stellar 2014 season where he tallied 104 total tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and a lone interception. Joining him are four fellow returning starters, including linebacker Lamar Neal (85 tackles, 35 TFL, 1 sack) and cornerback Brandon Walker, a cornerback who totaled 43 tackles last season.
Norfolk State at Rutgers
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Location: Highpoints Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Three Things to Watch
1. Hayden Rettig’s Scarlet Knights debut
Rettig, a 2014 transfer, has yet to throw a pass at the collegiate level after signing with the Tigers as a four-star recruit in 2013. He hopes to get his chance to prove to head coach Kyle Flood that he’s the quarterback to lead this team down the stretch through the 2015 season — one crucial for the entire program, especially Flood after the summer’s end he’s endured. Rettig will be without Leonte Carroo, who we mentioned will serve a first-half suspension. If Flood chooses to pull Rettig at halftime, we may not know what he could have done with a playmaker like Carroo on the field.
2. Defensive Efficiency
Rutgers has never allowed a single point against Norfolk State in any of the three contests they faced off in. Defense is going to need to show as a strong point for Rutgers if they’re going to compete at a high level in the Big Ten in 2015. The Scarlet Knights are in a good position against the Spartans, whose starting quarterback wasn’t on the team last season, and the team’s leading rusher from last season totaled 114 yards on the ground — good news for the nation’s 102nd-ranked defense from a year ago.
3. Greg Hankerson
Hankerson, as mentioned before, is a former FBS quarterback who transferred to an FCS school to avoid having to sit out an entire season after losing the quarterback battle with the Owls. Hankerson showed solid efficiency during his time at FAU, and completed nearly 67 percent of his passes against Alabama in a game that was over in the first quarter. If Hankerson can move the ball quickly and accurately, he could have Rutgers on their heels early, forcing them to play out of their comfort on their own side of the field.
Rutgers has outscored Norfolk State 139-0 in the three contests they've faced off in. Rettig's first half could go either way for the inexperienced LSU transfer, but not bad enough to where the Scarlet Knights will be on heels on the verge of an upset. Rutgers has handled the Spartans with ease in the past, and this should be no different.
Prediction: Rutgers 35, Norfolk State 9
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.