As 2014 comes to a close, Scarlet Report looks back at the top 10 moments for Rutgers athletics during its inaugural year in the Big Ten. Before we toast to a new year, let’s remember some of the historic events that transpired in 2014.
Talk about a home run hire. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood names former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen as his offensive coordinator in the final weekend before National Signing Day. Though late when it came to the class of 2015, Friedgen made an immediate impact both on the field and from within the Hale Center. Friedgen’s offense built Gary Nova into a dangerous Big Ten quarterback, and created four separate 100-yard rushers in his first season “on the Banks.” The beginning of Friedgen’s 2015 comes with a decision – complete the second year of his contract or return to retirement. Flood expects him back, but awaits a final decision.
With a 56-54 victory over Texas El-Paso, Hall of Famer C. Vivian Stringer won her first post-season tournament in 43 years as a head coach. Stringer, who re-signed with Rutgers in the offseason, enters 2015 as the No. 16 team in the country in building off a WNIT win.
Not only the biggest moment of the year, July 1 was perhaps the biggest moment in Rutgers athletics since kickoff in 1869. Rutgers University, led by then-athletic director Tim Pernetti and president Robert Barchi, accepted Jim Delany’s invitation in late 2012. After a long wait, the celebration officially began in Piscataway led by Flood and new athletic director Julie Hermann.
It became the year of Gary Nova in many ways, as Rutgers succeeded and failed alongside him. Nova, for the third straight season, won a legitimate offseason quarterback battle. This time, he beat out Chris Laviano and Mike Bimonte after he lost his job to Chas Dodd in late 2013. Nova finished his senior season as the best statistical quarterback in the Northeast – 2,851 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His 2015 begins with an NFL audition.
Yes, Penn State was the better team that day. Yes, Christian Hackenberg led a stellar fourth quarter and broke Rutgers fans’ hearts. But this was a defining moment for Rutgers football. Fans created an electric atmosphere, and Rutgers proved it is more than Big Ten bottom feeder.
It was a proud day for Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco Prep and for any true Rutgers fan. Nova fired a pass to Andrew Turzilli against Tulane, and 93 yards later he became the school’s all-time leading touchdown passer. Nova’s path to redemption continued with wins over Michigan, Indiana, Maryland and North Carolina, but his four-touchdown day against Tulane was a memorable one.
Flood has his signature victory. Though Michigan fans may ultimately thank Rutgers for this – they celebrate the new year with Jim Harbaugh – it was an unforgettable moment for those packed inside High Point Solutions Stadium. Nova played lights out, and Kemoko Turay’s blocked field goal will be one of the iconic images of modern Rutgers football.
Packing it in after a 25-point deficit would have been the norm, but Rutgers showed hustle, loyalty and respect to its fan base with an epic comeback against Maryland – the biggest in school history. It started with a silly Maryland penalty on a punt and ended with a 41-38 stunning comeback and game-winning field goal by junior Kyle Federico. Friedgen gets the last laugh against Maryland, which fired him in 2010.
As fullback Michael Burton loves to say, Rutgers is in the business of winning championships, and Flood now has a bowl trophy to back it up. Underdogs both against the Tar Heels and in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights proved many wrong (including a certain Scarlet Report publisher) with an eight-win season and strong start as Big Ten members.
This is the biggest recruiting coup of 2014 for Flood. Carroo’s return not only gives his new starting quarterback an elite receiving weapon, but it sends a message to the 2015 and 2016 class about the direction of the program and the players’ belief in their head coach. Carroo will shatter Rutgers records as a senior, and improve his draft stock in the process with questions about his consistency and route running in 2014.