Time:4:30 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
TV/Radio: ESPN, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR
Series: Series tied 3-3
Last meeting: Sept. 10, 2011, North Carolina won, 24-22
Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (3rd season, 22-16); North Carolina – Larry Fedora (7th season, 55-35, 3rd at North Carolina, 21-16)
- The End of an Era -- Friday is the 41st and final start of Gary Nova’s time on the Banks. The school’s all-time passing touchdown leader says goodbye and passes the torch to Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano after the Quicklane Bowl. Nova has as many infamous moments as famous ones, but he goes down as one of the best in 145 years of Rutgers football. He completed a career-best 58 percent of his passes as a senior with two mentions as Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
- Should I Stay or Should I Go? -- Eyes quickly fall on wide receiver Leonte Carroo and tight end Tyler Kroft after the conclusion of the Detroit Quicklane Bowl. Both are NFL draft eligible and considering their options. Carroo sits one touchdown away from Tim Brown’s all-time Rutgers record, and became Flood’s first 1,000-yard receiver in the comeback victory over Maryland. Kroft saw a decreased role in Ralph Friedgen’s offense, but put in for NFL evaluation as a fourth-year junior.
- Is the Third Time the Charm? -- Flood came out on the losing side in his first two bowl games as a head coach. Losing to Virginia Tech in year one and Notre Dame in the Bronx last season, Flood looks for his first bowl victory as a head coach and first for Rutgers since 2011 in the Detroit Quicklane Bowl. It would also be the first bowl victory with Nova as a starting quarterback – Greg Schiano benched him for Chas Dodd against Iowa State.
Rutgers linebackers vs. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams
This is a battle of two statistically bad defenses, and whichever one shows slight improvement takes a significant advantage. For Rutgers, the linebackers are healthier and have three weeks of bowl work in preparation for a true, dual-threat quarterback. Williams leads Carolina in rushing as well as what he does through the air, and that creates a dangerous threat for Rutgers at the linebacker level. Rutgers can’t afford free first downs in scrambling situations in what already projects as a shootout.
Super Nova Shines -- The good Gary Nova is hard to beat, and he tends to show up against already struggling defenses. This game is about which offense gets it done, and this matches Nova up against a team that gave up 70 points to ECU and Shane Carden this season. He may not have Calvin Johnson as an option, but Nova has enough skill players to make something happen at Ford Field. Dr. Jeckyll showed up against Maryland with 347 yards and four touchdowns. He hopes Mr. Hyde stays at bay against the Heels.
Disch Serves it Cold -- New defensive play-caller Dan Disch could be the wake-up slap UNC needs. Don’t expect wholesale changes from the Tar Heels, but things can only get better from the weaknesses displayed in losses like ECU, Clemson and Miami. The Rutgers offense is not exactly a juggernaut, nor is Nova known for his ability to protect the football.
QB Gary Nova – Who else? Rutgers often goes as Nova goes, and the bowl game is no different. Nova made all of the throws in a historic comeback victory over Maryland. An all-out leader, he’ll do everything he can to go out on top. Nova’s senior season includes 20 touchdown passes, 2,667 yards, 12 interceptions and three rushing touchdowns. Nova sat behind Chas Dodd the last time Rutgers faced North Carolina, and gets his own shot at the Tar Heels in his final college game.
Something to Prove
CB Nadir Barnwell – Barnwell was so close to the next step when an apparent shoulder injury shut him down. Back in bowl practice, the sophomore starting cornerback faces a unique offensive look. The former Scout four-star and Semper-Fi MVP is a part of the future in the Rutgers secondary, and cannot lose momentum because of a late-season injury.
Looking to Build
WR Janarion Grant – Did Grant finally step forward? Maryland felt his impact in the regular-season finale. Grant found space all afternoon underneath the safeties, and exploded on special teams for 317 all-purpose yards. UNC is even worse statistically on defense, and vulnerable to a weapon like Grant if the consistency remains.
Freshman to Watch
RB Robert Martin – The ever-evolving running game for Rutgers includes a significant bowl role for Martin. The true freshman from Harrisburg (Pa.) started his first game against Maryland, and is the most consistent producer since Paul James’ torn ACL. Martin ties James with five rushing touchdowns in 2014, and joins classmate Josh Hicks as the two-headed Rutgers monster this afternoon in Detroit.