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Big Ten Football Preview 2015: Rutgers' season outlook

Fresh off an 8-win debut in the Big Ten, Rutgers has the challenge of replacing Gary Nova and improving a defense.

Rutgers has to replace four-year starter Gary Nova in 2015.
Rutgers has to replace four-year starter Gary Nova in 2015.
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers won eight games for a solid debut in the Big Ten, but now has the difficult task of replacing four-year starter Gary Nova at quarterback.

Can the Scarlet Knights improve upon a 8-5 record with a new signal caller this season?

This week, we take a look at them in our 2015 Big Ten season outlook series.

Quarterback battle

Replacing a four-year starter at quarterback is never easy, something Rutgers and Kyle Flood will learn this season.

Chris Laviano and Hayden Rettig will duke it out for the starting gig. And with a strong performance in three intrasquad scrimmages, it looks like Laviano is the leader.

He went 30-for-42 passing with 412 yards and four touchdowns in the three games, according to

A redshirt sophomore, Laviano was a three-star quarterback coming out of high school in 2013. He received limited action last season as Nova's packup.

Rettig transferred from LSU to Rutgers last year and redshirted the 2014 season. He was the third-ranked quarterback (Rivals) in the Class of 2013.

However the Scarlet Knights' quarterback battle is decided, it'll be an interesting one.

Key returnees

Rutgers is tied with Maryland for the fewest returnees in 2015, but its headlined by two dynamic senior playmakers.

Leonte Carroo, a wide receiver, totaled 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns on 55 receptions last season. He earned first-team Big Ten honors (media) and was named to the Maxwell watch list Tuesday. Carroo will be a tremendous target for whomever takes snaps for Rutgers in 2015.

Darius Hamilton was named to the Bednarik watch list Tuesday. He made six sacks and 45 tackles at defensive tackle last season, and his 11.5 tackles for loss were a team high.

Although Rutgers' quarterback situation is up in the air, it boasts a solid group of running backs.

Led by redshirt junior Desmon Peoples, the Scarlet Knights have five running backs that totaled at least 300 yards (sophomores Josh Hicks and Robert Martin surpassed 400 yards).

A sophomore last season, Steve Longa Jr. was a bright spot on a subpar defense. He led Rutgers with 102 tackles; the second-ranked tackler, Quentin Gause, posted 72 tackles.

To-do list

After a poor showing last season, Rutgers' defense has to improve in 2015.

The Scarlet Knights could not keep opponents out of the end zone. They were overmatched against top-flight offensive talent, allowing a combined 180 points against Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State. To make matters worse, a 3-win Washington State squad dropped 38 points on Rutgers.

Limiting total yardage (allowed 442.8 per game last season) will help Rutgers. Hamilton and Longa Jr. returning will, too.

The schedule

Sept. 5 vs. Norfolk State
Sept. 12 vs. Washington State
Sept. 19 at Penn State
Sept. 26 vs. Kansas (Homecoming)
Oct. 10 vs. Michigan State
Oct. 17 at Indiana
Oct. 24 vs. Ohio State
Oct. 31 at Wisconsin
Nov. 7 at Michigan
Nov. 14 vs. Nebraska
Nov. 21 at Army
Nov. 28 vs. Maryland

Rutgers' lone marquee win last season was against an awful Michigan team. It'll have to win its big games — the Scarlet Knights play Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin again in 2015 —  in order to make its presence felt in the conference.

A weak non-conference schedule should benefit Rutgers. It'll face Penn State and Indiana on the road and host Maryland to end the season.

Rutgers should be able to become bowl eligible for the 10th time since 2005. Anything else will depend upon its defense, quarterback play and performance in big games.

Wins: Norfolk State, Washington State, Kansas, Indiana, Army, Maryland

Losses: Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan

Toss-ups: Nebraska