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Louisville at Rutgers

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Editor’s Note: Joe Nelson is the No. 2 NFL handicapper on VegasInsider.com. Check out his weekly college and pro football selections every week. Click to win!

While Thursday's game will not be called the Big East Championship game, it will be just that for all intensive purposes. Rutgers wins the title outright with a win, if Louisville wins there will be a shared title but the Cardinals would win the tiebreaker and head to the Orange Bowl. Both teams look to bounce back from losses last week in this Thursday night primetime match-up, take a look at this game and the history between these teams.

Matchup: Louisville Cardinals at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Venue: High Point Solutions Stadium, New Brunswick, New Jersey (FieldTurf)
Date: Thursday, November 29, 2012
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET - ESPN2
Line: Rutgers -3, Over/Under 43½
Last Meeting: 2011, Louisville (-1) 16-14 at Louisville

While the Big East champion would likely not be player in the BCS picture even with an undefeated record with both Louisville and Rutgers losing last week, neither team is currently in the top 25 of the BCS rankings. Both teams crack the bottom of the top 25 in the Coaches' Poll with Louisville sitting at #23 and Rutgers at #25, although neither makes the AP poll. The champion will likely take a low-20s or high teens ranking into the Orange Bowl however and it will actually be the first Big East champion with only two total losses since the 2009 Cincinnati team that went 12-0 in the regular season. A three-loss West Virginia team won the Orange Bowl last season and a four-loss Connecticut team represented the conference in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago. The opponent will be the winner of the Florida State vs. Georgia Tech matchup in the ACC Championship on Saturday.

Regardless of the outcome it should be viewed as successful season for both programs. Louisville Head Coach Charlie Strong is in his third year with the program and after encouraging but underwhelming back-to-back 7-6 seasons the Cardinals are 9-2 and will have the most wins since the 2006 season under Bobby Petrino. A solid season comes at an important time for the program as the Big East goes through major changes. Louisville was a candidate to move to the Big XII last season but West Virginia claimed that spot and this program has been mentioned as a potential ACC candidate with Maryland's departure.

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Not much was expected from Rutgers this season as long-time head coach Greg Schiano took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers job after 11 seasons at Rutgers. First year head coach Kyle Flood has been with the program since 2007 and hiring from within has proven to be a good strategy with already the same number of wins as last season's solid 9-4 team. While the upcoming move to the Big Ten has raised a lot questions around the country, it is certainly is something that could energize the Scarlet Knights program and claiming an outright Big East title on the way out would certainly be a positive. Rutgers had not played in a bowl game since 1978 until Schiano took the team to the postseason in 2005 and this team will head to a bowl game now for the seventh time in eight years.

Things could have been even better for both squads however as Rutgers opened the year 7-0, including once meaningful wins at South Florida and at Arkansas in non-conference play. Louisville lasted to 9-0 with wins over Kentucky and North Carolina before dropping the last two games in conference play.

Statistically Louisville has been the far superior offensive team, posting 431 yards per game on 6.2 yards per play, albeit through a very soft schedule. This has been the most productive Louisville team in terms of yardage and scoring since the 2007 season, the first year under Steve Kragthorpe, though that was a very difficult year in which the team went 6-6 despite being a top 10 team to start the season. The Louisville defense has average numbers, allowing 345 yards per game and having some vulnerability against the run, surrendering nearly 160 rushing yards per game. Louisville has been out-rushed in five straight games and all but one conference game on the season.

Rutgers has been led by a stingy defense, surrendering only 317 yards per game on 4.8 yards per play. The Scarlet Knights are a very tough team to run against with opponents posting just 3.1 yards per carry but in the last month Rutgers has surrendered big rushing totals, allowing an average of 183 yards per game the last four contests, though those numbers are a little skewed having faced a couple of rush-heavy teams. Rutgers has allowed less than 14 points per game this season on average and only three opponents have topped 15 points against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has been limited on offense, scoring less than 23 points per game and averaging just 5.4 yards per play. The Knights also have one of the better turnover margins in the nation at +11 on the year.

Last week Louisville got a big scare as sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater broke his left wrist. It is his non-throwing arm and he continued to play in the second half of the game. Bridgewater was a fringe Heisman candidate at one point in the season and he has great numbers, passing for nearly 3,200 yards and posting 23 passing touchdowns against just six interceptions. He has completed almost 69 percent of his passes but in the two losses in the last two games Louisville's offensive line has struggled to provide adequate time for him. Louisville has two 700 yard rushers with Jeremy Wright and Corvin Lamb and this team has been very balanced, averaging 35 passing attempts per game and 35 rushing attempts per game.

Rutgers will blitz often on defense and the Knights are led by senior linebacker Khaseem Greene who leads the team in tackles. He is a former free safety that was the Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year last season. On offense Rutgers sophomore quarterback Gary Nova has 20 touchdown passes but also 13 interceptions. He has completed less than 60 percent of his passes and after throwing just two interceptions in the first six games has thrown 11 in the last five games, including at least one in every game. His six interception game in the loss to Kent State was certainly ugly but Nova spreads the ball around well and has the look of a great competitor. Junior running back Jawan Jamison has already surpassed 1,000 yards rushing this season and he is also a threat out of the backfield as a receiver. Rutgers also presents sophomore wide receiver Brandon Coleman who is a match-up nightmare at six-foot-six.

Both teams will have a hard time establishing a run in this game as Louisville will need to key in on the ground game and that is the strength of the Rutgers defense. The Big East championship should likely hinge on the arms of the two young quarterbacks and who can make the big plays and the fewest mistakes. That was the case last season as Nova had three interceptions compared to just one for Bridgewater as these two met as freshmen. While neither team is going to enter the national conversation and the winner will be a sizable underdog in an unappealing Orange Bowl, this Thursday night game could be very competitive and entertaining.

Line Movement: Rutgers opened as a -2½-point favorite but the line has moved to -3. The total opened at 43½.

Last Meeting: Rutgers was 5-1 and 2-0 in the Big East last season when they headed to Louisville in late October last season. The Cardinals had started the season 2-4 including ugly losses to Florida International and Marshall. The Cardinals were having great trouble on offense playing with a very young team but they were able to pull away in the 3rd quarter to a 16-7 lead. Rutgers closed that gap to 16-14 early in the 4th but Louisville's defense held firm, forcing a punt and getting an interception to put the game away. It was an even statistical game with Louisville having a 309-298 yardage edge but the Cardinals also won the turnover battle.

Series History: While last season's meeting was a very tight game with Louisville winning 16-14 the prior three meetings were all blowouts decided by 20 or more points. Rutgers lost 40-13 in 2010 in the last home meeting playing as a 3-point underdog. There is not a rich history between these teams but the most memorable meeting came in 2006 when both teams were 8-0 and Rutgers won 28-25 at home over then #3 ranked Louisville. That win propelled the Knights to a #7 national ranking but they lost the following week. Rutgers has a slight 5-4 series edge in the straight up history back to 1984 and the against the spread history is knotted at 4-4-1 in that time.

Louisville Historical Trends: The Cardinals are 23-14 SU since Coach Strong took over and 19-18 ATS. Louisville is 12-0 SU when scoring at least 30 points but that will be a tough mark to hit in this match-up. Louisville was a strong winning ATS team the last two years but this season the Cardinals are 4-7 ATS but this will be the first time all season that they have been an underdog, opening the year as one of the Big East favorites and playing a very light schedule. Louisville has covered in seven of the last eight games as an underdog with all of those instances coming last season. The Cardinals are also on a strong 12-4 ATS run in road games going back to late in the 2009 season, though they are 1-3 ATS in road games this season.

Rutgers Historical Trends: Since Greg Schiano took over Rutgers has been an ATS powerhouse with a solid 76-59-3 record. The Knights are 7-4 ATS this season including 3-2 in five home games. Rutgers is 10-2 S/U at home since the start of last season, going 8-4 ATS but since the breakthrough 2006 season the Knights are only 17-19 ATS at home. Rutgers is also just 15-17-1 ATS as a favorite since 2008. Since 2001 Rutgers is just 5-8 ATS as a small favorite of four or fewer, through they have won outright in six of those last eight instances.

  
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