Tue, 24 Nov 2020

Mich. St., Rutgers starting QBs a mystery in Big Ten clash

Field Level Media
21 Oct 2020, 07:40 GMT+10

Big Ten football fans waited a little longer than most for their favorite programs to take the field this fall amid concerns surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Backers of Michigan State and Rutgers should get used to practicing patience if they want to know the starting quarterbacks for Saturday's season opener in East Lansing, Mich.

Coaches Mel Tucker of Michigan State and Greg Schiano of Rutgers both remain coy on that front.

Tucker, who makes his debut following the offseason retirement of Mark Dantonio, didn't make his depth chart public early in the week.

Schiano, who begins his second stint with the Scarlet Knights following stops in the NFL and elsewhere in the college ranks, used a questionable conjunction in assessing his program's situation under center.

Tucker reiterated that his focus lies with developing "as many players as we can." That includes at quarterback, where four Spartans -- sophomore Theo Day, true freshman Noah Kim, junior Rocky Lombardi and redshirt freshman Payton Thorne -- vie for the starting job.

No matter who gets the call, Tucker is eagerly awaiting his chance to lead Michigan State.

"I can't help but smile," he said. "This is a dream come true for me."

Rutgers scored an average of just 13.3 points per game last season, second lowest in the country.

While incumbent quarterback Artur Sitkowski has started 13 games over the past two seasons, including the 2019 opener, the redshirt sophomore competed with Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral in preseason camp. However, the team's official depth chart released Monday listed "or" between the QB candidates' names.

"My use of 'or' is for several reasons," Schiano said. "It could be injury. It could be competitive. It could be for not certain. I won't go into depth what the 'ors' are - they are what they are. We'll find out at game time."

The Spartans would be wise to prepare for both quarterbacks.

"At any position, really, we're going to do what gives us the best chance to win," Schiano said. "So if I felt (playing multiple quarterbacks) was the best chance to win, we would do it."

Schiano steered Rutgers to nine victories in 2011 before departing to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. He guided the Scarlet Knights to at least eight victories in five seasons and six bowl games from 2005-11. The program played in just one bowl game before Schiano became head coach in 2001.

Things have been dire since. Rutgers boasts just three victories in the past two seasons, as Chris Ash went 8-32 in three-plus seasons before Nunzio Campanile was 1-7 when finishing the 2019 campaign after Ash was fired.

Tucker said he had lots of respect for Schiano.

"He's an outstanding football coach, a great man, and he's a proven winner," Tucker said.

Michigan State leads the all-time series 8-3, and Saturday marks the seventh meeting between the schools in Big Ten play. The Spartans rolled past the Scarlet Knights 27-0 in last season's matchup.

--Field Level Media

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