The move was widely expected because Nova is the only experienced quarterback on the roster and clearly outpaced his peers in an open competition this spring. By going ahead and letting everyone know now, Scarlet Knights head coach Kyle Flood can remove all suspense and have the team move forward with its on-field leader before the opener against Washington State in Seattle on Thursday, Aug. 28.
Gary Nova will be Rutgers' Game 1 starting quarterback for the third year in a row.
Nova will be starting his third straight season-opener and needs only nine more touchdown passes to set the school career record. But he has struggled with his accuracy and was benched last season after throwing 14 interceptions. He has 39 career picks.
"I think he’s learned from his experiences the past few years," Flood told me at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, last week. "Remember, he's playing for his fourth offensive coordinator in the last four years."
Nova's new playcaller is Ralph Friedgen, a guy known for developing quarterbacks throughout his career. The relationship appears to have clicked so far, and Flood said he liked what he saw from Nova as a team leader this summer. Now he has to cut down on his mistakes.
"He's doing a better job being a decisive decision-maker," Flood said. "Knowing when the time is right to be aggressive and when the time is right to check the ball down.
"He can make every throw on the field and he’s played some spectacular games for us. We just need him to be a little bit better game manager. Ralph and I have told him at times, 'We know you can make that throw, but there's a time and a place for it. Sometimes you don’t have to take that chance. If a receiver didn’t run the route perfectly, don’t try to make it right and fit the ball in there. Check it down.'"
Obviously, this is a critical season for the Scarlet Knights as they enter the Big Ten and face a difficult schedule. Consistent quarterback play has been one area that's held the program back from winning conference titles in the past several seasons. Rutgers could find itself in a shootout in Week 1 against Mike Leach's Air Raid attack on the West Coast, so Nova will need to come out of the gate firing.
Junior Mike Bimonte and redshirt freshman Chris Laviano will be the backups, and neither has taken a snap in an FBS game. Both made some strides this offseason. Will Nova's leash be short, considering all that's at stake for the team? What if he throws a few picks in the first couple of weeks?
Flood says he doesn't want his senior looking over his shoulder.
"I believe that when you commit to a quarterback, you commit to him," he said. "We want him to learn from his mistakes. We don’t expect him to be perfect."
But the Scarlet Knights do expect Nova to be better than he was a year ago.