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Rutgers at South Florida

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Editor's Note: Don't miss out on Joe Nelson's weekly Thursday breakdown this fall on VegasInsider.com. Plus, check out his expert college football selections as well.
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The ratings could fall for ESPN college football this Thursday competing with a great NFL match-up but a critical Big East game with major implications is taking place. Rutgers and South Florida are both 2-0 on the season and both teams figure to stay towards the top of the conference race. Here is a look at the two teams involved and what to expect Thursday night.

Matchup: Rutgers Scarlet Knights at South Florida Bulls
Venue: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida (Grass)
Date: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET - ESPN
Line: South Florida -8, Over/Under 46
Last Meeting: 2011, Rutgers 20, South Florida (-2½) 17 in overtime

There are familiar names for South Florida in this matchup as B.J. Daniels is still leading the Bulls at quarterback in his senior season and in the 3rd year on the sidelines for Skip Holtz, son of legendary college coach Lou Holtz. After an encouraging 8-5 debut in 2010 the Bulls slipped to 5-7 last season but most expect this team to be back in the bowl picture this season. For Rutgers the story begins with the absence of a familiar face as longtime Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has moved on to the NFL.

Both teams have had some travel adventures this season as there were complications with the hurricane for Rutgers in the opening week playing in New Orleans before last week's home opener. South Florida faced long travel last week playing in Reno but the long trip home was likely easier with a narrow win. It still makes for a taxing short week with the early start this week.

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South Florida faced a big early deficit last week against Nevada and then trailed by 11 late in the 4th quarter but delivered a remarkable comeback with two pass plays of over 50 yards in the final three minutes. The Bulls closed as very slight underdogs in the game and ended up winning 32-31 in a wild game that featured over 1,100 total yards of offense. Daniels had a big day with 363 passing yards and another 53 on the ground and wide receiver Andre Davis hauled in 12 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score. The sophomore Davis had just 22 catches last season and had just one catch in the opening win over Chattanooga so it was certainly a surprise performance.

South Florida is a team that many expect to win the Big East despite the fact that they went just 1-6 in conference play last season. Incredibly that 1-6 record came despite out-gaining conference foes 405-379 and only being out-scored by a slim average of less than five points per game. The Bulls have a veteran offensive line and one of three senior starting quarterbacks in the conference. Replacing running back Darrell Scott was a bit of a concern for this team entering the season and so far senior Demetris Murray has not been that impressive, with just 115 yards through two games and just 4.0 yards per carry despite facing two marginal defenses.

On defense the Bulls return seven starters including five of the top six leading tacklers from last season. The linebacker corps is highly regarded but so far this season stopping the run has been a problem. Nevada rushed for 278 yards last week on 5.2 yards per rush and the strong defensive performance against Chattanooga in a 34-13 opening week win should not carry a lot of weight. The short week certainly could be a disadvantage for South Florida after long preparations for the unique Nevada offense and now facing a very different Rutgers team.

Given the circumstances Rutgers had to be pleased to escape New Orleans with a 24-12 win over Tulane in Week 1. The statistics were not impressive but the defense played well and it was a challenging debut for head coach Kyle Flood in his first game after taking over for Schiano. Ironically Schiano is now coaching at this stadium as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Flood has been with the Rutgers program since 2007 but many of the other assistants are no longer with the program. Last week Rutgers delivered a 26-0 win over Howard, allowing only 149 yards in the game. The offense had just 321 yards as it may take some time for the offense to get on track in the new system. Rutgers has also had 20 penalties in the two games, a clear sign of a team in transition.

Sophomore Gary Nova is starting for the Scarlet Knights at quarterback after splitting time in the role last season and making five starts, he has completed just 55 percent of his passes so far this year however. Rutgers does have a fairly experienced team with 15 starters back in action and the top two rushers from last season on the field. Sophomore Jawan Jamison is off to a great start with 222 yards on 7.9 yards per carry this season but the passing game has been limited with no receiver with more than four receptions this season, although the top returning receiver Brandon Coleman does have three touchdowns. Mohamed Sanu was such a reliable target for Rutgers over the years and it will be tough to replace his impact in the passing game.

The strength of this Rutgers team will be on defense so this is not a team that needs to put up huge offensive numbers. Rutgers led the Big East with just 20.4 points per game allowed in conference play last season while surrendering a conference leading 314 yards per game. Rutgers was nearly impossible to pass against last season, allowing 50 percent completions and 154 yards per game in Big East play. The secondary this season projects as the strongest unit in the conference again with three of the four starters back in action as well as an experienced group of linebackers to help in coverage led by Big East defensive player of the year Khaseem Greene. Rutgers has some youth up front but overall this will be a very good defensive team.

Greene and the Rutgers defense will have more on their plate this week with the mobility of Daniels and that could possibly open the door for South Florida to have some success with an athletic group of receivers. Last week South Florida did lose junior receiver Sterling Griffin with a knee injury and he was the leading receiver for the Bulls last season. South Florida could be vulnerable against the run as Nevada obviously had a lot of success last week but last season Rutgers did nothing on the ground in this match-up.

Line Movement: Initial offerings priced this game with South Florida as a 9 ½-point favorite on Sunday, with some outfits quickly jumping to -10. The number bounced between -10 and -9.5 Monday before eventually diving downward and settling at -8 Tuesday afternoon. The total has opened at 46. South Florida is available on the moneyline at -300 to -320 with Rutgers priced around +260.

Last Meeting: Rutgers snapped a two-game losing streak by beating South Florida 20-17 on a 37-yard field goal in overtime, clinching bowl eligibility in the process and sending the Bulls to a fourth consecutive loss following a 4-0 start to the 2011 season. There was no scoring in the first quarter and South Florida took a 10-0 lead into halftime. It was 17-3 after South Florida scored about halfway through the fourth quarter but Rutgers got the game changing play it needed with a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown. After a stop Rutgers put together its best drive of the day with a 12-play 80-yard touchdown drive finished off by a 34-yard run to tie the game. South Florida had a chance to win in regulation but kicker Maikon Bonani missed a 27-yard field goal.

In overtime South Florida was stopped dead on consecutive rushing plays before quarterback B.J. Daniels was intercepted. Rutgers was very conservative in its overtime possession and contently settled for the 37-yard San San Te field goal to win. Freshman Gary Nova started the game for Rutgers at quarterback but sophomore Chris Dodd would finish out the game and help to deliver the comeback in the fourth quarter. South Florida had a 381-228 yardage advantage in the game and went 10-23 on 3rd downs, compared with 3-16 for Rutgers. The Bulls had 221 rushing yards in the game while holding Rutgers to -7 net rushing yards for the game.

Series History: Since South Florida joined the Big East in 2005 this has been a difficult match-up for the Bulls. They have won just twice in seven meetings and have not won against the spread since 2006. Three of the last five meetings have been won by three points or less including very tight games the last two years but Rutgers won by blowout margins in 2008 and 2009. South Florida did win the last meeting (28-27) in Tampa, two years ago in a game that had six lead changes, getting the go-ahead score on a fumble recovered in the end zone. The home team has won the last three years but Rutgers has covered in five straight games. Last year South Florida was a two-point favorite on the road and the Bulls were 10-point favorites at home in 2010.

Rutgers Historical Trends: Rutgers has been a remarkable underdog play in the last decade, going 40-20-2 ATS since 2002. That could change with the new coaching staff but the success as a road underdog has been remarkable. Rutgers is 22-10-2 ATS as a road underdog since 2002 and 17-8-1 ATS as a road underdog coming off a win. Since 2002 Rutgers is 21-8-2 ATS as an underdog of seven or more as well. Rutgers is just 4-7-1 ATS in the last 12 road games and this team is just 3-7 S/U in the last 10 road games, counting this year's win but failed cover at Tulane.

South Florida Historical Trends: As a team that has failed to live up to expectations in recent seasons it is not surprising that South Florida has been a poor ATS team in recent years, going just 28-34 since 2007 and only finishing one of the last four seasons with a winning spread record. South Florida is just 4-8 ATS as a home favorite since the start of the 2010 season and just 6-12 since 2008. South Florida has failed to cover in six straight Big East games as a home favorite, losing outright in four of those contests. The Bulls are also just 1-5 ATS as home underdogs since 2008, going 7-17 ATS overall at home since 2008. South Florida is 24-19 ATS as a favorite of seven points or more since 2001 but just 8-12 ATS since 2008 in that role.

  
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