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Rutgers at Louisville

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Editor's Note: Joe Nelson has started the college football seasons with a 63% record (19-11). Don't miss out on his Week 7 Winners on VegasInsider.com!

One of the bigger games in the American Athletic Conference season is featured this Thursday on ESPN as Rutgers visits Louisville. This matchup closed the regular season last year with a BCS spot on the line this game will spell the end of what has been an entertaining recent rivalry with both teams moving on to bigger conferences next season. Here is a look at the Thursday night game to start off the new weekend in college football.
 
Matchup: Rutgers Scarlet Knights vs. Louisville Cardinals
Venue: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky (FieldTurf)
Date: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Time/TV: 7:30 p.n. ET – ESPN
Line: Louisville -18, Over/Under 54 ½
Last Meeting: 2012 at Rutgers, Louisville (+3) 20-17
 
While this is not a long standing rivalry steeped in great tradition it may be one of the few matchups that will be missed from the Big East/AAC days as Rutgers heads to the Big Ten and Louisville to the ACC next season. There have been several notable games in this series including the 2006 Thursday night matchup with both teams 8-0 as #15 Rutgers upset #3 Louisville 28-25 in a classic game. Rutgers trailed 25-7 in that game but held Louisville scoreless in the second half. Led by Ray Rice and Kenny Britt the offense went from its own nine-yard line in the final minutes to set-up the game winning kick.
 
The 2007 meeting was also a great game with Louisville winning 41-38 though neither team had as much at stake. The last two years this series has also gone down to the wire with Louisville winning 16-14 in 2011 and with Teddy Bridgewater delivering a heroic comeback win last season despite playing with a broken wrist. Last year’s game was the regular season finale and the Louisville win created a four-way tie in the Big East at 5-2, a tiebreaker Louisville won to go to the Sugar Bowl.
 
Bridgewater has been the story this season as a Heisman candidate and a potential top NFL draft pick. He has completed nearly 72 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and only one interception to lead one of the top passing offenses in the country. The running game has been solid but complimentary this season with three running backs sharing the bulk of the carries in the 5-0 start for the Cardinals. The Cardinals are the No. 1 team in the nation in fewest points allowed with less than seven points per game surrendered but every conversation regarding Louisville must start by acknowledging the extremely weak schedule.
 
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The Cardinals are No. 8 in both polls this week, actually falling from No. 7 despite a 30-7 road victory last week at Temple. That will be a continuing problem as the team will likely plateau in the rankings as they will have a hard time moving past the elite teams in power conferences and one or even two loss teams could begin to pass them. One loss Georgia is already ahead of Louisville in the polls and the hopes of earning a shot at the national title are extremely remote even if the Cardinals finish 12-0. Louisville is still the heavy favorite to win the AAC and earn the automatic BCS bid however and last year they made the most of that opportunity with a 33-23 win over then #4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
 
The toughest stretch of the schedule is this week and next week for Louisville, hosting Rutgers in primetime with a chance to show off to voters on national television against the most credible opponent they have faced this season. Next Friday’s game with Central Florida may be the biggest of the season and the game most feel will decide the conference champion. Louisville gets both games at home but in three plus seasons under Charlie Strong eight of the 14 losses have come at home with five straight up losses as a favorite.
 
With Greg Schiano taking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching job after the 2011 season and a run of several successful seasons for Rutgers, expectations were certainly grounded for the continued success of the program. Kyle Flood was promoted to head coach from assistant head coach and he has been with the program since 2007. His first season was a success with Rutgers going 9-4 and they would have won the Big East title last season had they held off Louisville in the final game of the season. Rutgers had a notable win at Arkansas last season and finished up the season with a narrow loss to Virginia Tech in overtime at the Russell Athletic Bowl.
 
This year Rutgers is off to a 4-1 start, surprising many by nearly beating Fresno State on the road to open the season and then also beating Arkansas for the second straight season. Rutgers survived a wild finish last week to win at SMU as this will be a second straight road game for the Knights with substantial travel and the previous two road games for the team both went to overtime. The program has mainly been known for defense in recent years, particularly with stopping the run as they allowed just 97 rushing yards per game and just over 14 points per game last season. Those figures have deteriorated this season allowing 438 yards per game and almost 28 points per game but Rutgers is allowing just 5.0 yards per play. This year not many teams are scoring more however as Rutgers has averaged 40 points per game.
 
Rutgers junior quarterback Gary Nova is not in Bridgewater’s class but he has had a solid career though he has battled injuries. He has not been overly accurate with just over 58 percent completions this season but he has 13 touchdown passes already this season and has delivered some big late game moments, notably a fourth quarter comeback in the Arkansas game this season. Rutgers has had a tough break with running back Paul James going down with injury as he rushed for 573 yards in the first four games. He missed last week’s game and will be out until after next week’s bye week. Sophomore Leonte Carroo has been a pleasant surprise to lead the receiving corps with half of his catches going for touchdowns.
 
As this line suggests Louisville is expected to win convincingly to take command of the AAC race and this will be a big game for the Cardinals to prove that they deserve to be in the conversation among the top teams in the nation. Rutgers certainly looks on track for a third straight bowl trip and what would be an eighth bowl season in the last nine years for a program that greatly struggled in previous decades. This would be a season-making opportunity for the Knights and this series has certainly provided many memorable moments in recent years.
 
Last Meeting: These teams met in the final game of the regular season last year with a BCS spot on the line as Rutgers was 5-1 in Big East play and Louisville was 4-2. A Louisville win would force a tiebreaker scenario that the Cardinals appeared to have the edge in. Rutgers was a slight home favorite as Louisville’s star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was banged up with a broken wrist and an injured ankle and not expected to play. Bridgewater did not start and Rutgers started off the scoring with an 85-yard pass play. By halftime it was 14-3 with Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova connecting on another long pass play. Bridgewater came into the game and helped the Cardinals score twice in the span of 16 seconds of game clock late in the third quarter after a Rutgers fumble on the kickoff. Rutgers would tie the game in the fourth quarter but Nova would throw an interception in Rutgers territory to set up the Cardinals in great position with less than five minutes to go. The Cardinals were able to hit on a short field goal to take the lead with less than two minutes left and the defense held as the Cardinals wound up in the Sugar Bowl, where they would upset Florida.
 
Series History: These teams have played each of the last eight years and 10 times since 1984 with a 5-5 split and Louisville holding a slim 5-4-1 ATS edge. The series will end with both teams off to new conferences and Louisville has won and covered in each of the last three meetings. This will be the biggest spread in the series since 2005 and Rutgers is just 1-3 ATS when playing as the underdog. 
 
Line Movement: The line opened at 16½ and has climbed, reaching 18½ at some outlets. The total has been slow to release but is projecting to be around 54 or 54½.
 
Rutgers Historical Trends: The Knights have played well on the road going 16-10-1 ATS since 2008 and 31-21-2 ATS since 2003. Since 2003 Rutgers is 10-3-1 ATS as an underdog of 10 or more points as well. Only once since 2005 has Rutgers been an underdog this high, losing 35-14 at West Virginia to close the regular season in 2010 as 21-point underdog.
 
Louisville Historical Trends: The Cardinals are just 6-14 ATS in the last 20 games as a double-digit favorite and just 11-18 ATS as a home favorite since 2007. Louisville went on a 15-2 ATS run as a home favorite from 2004 to 2006 under Bobby Petrino as the longer range trends look more favorable but the Cardinals are just 9-14 ATS in home games under Charlie Strong, actually going just 15-8 S/U despite being favored in all but three of those games.
 
There are two additional Thursday night games this week:
 
San Diego State (-4) at Air Force: The Falcons may have their worst team in many years, sitting at 1-5 while posting lopsided losses in each of the last two home contests. San Diego State won by 19 at home in this matchup last season but it was a deceptive final as Air Force had a substantial yardage edge. This year only four FBS teams have allowed more yards per game than Air Force however. The Aztecs have won two in a row to recover from a 0-3 start to the season including last week beating a Nevada team that beat Air Force two weeks back. After facing the two worst rush defenses in the nation the last two games, this is another favorable matchup for the San Diego State offense. The trends show that Air Force is just 5-16 ATS at home since 2010 but San Diego State is just 3-9-1 ATS as a road favorite since 2004.San Diego State has covered in seven of the last 10 meetings in this series but they have lost S/U in three of the last four trips to Colorado Springs.
 
Arizona (+5½) at USC: There are certainly some unknowns for this game as USC has an opportunity to respond in its first game after the firing of Lane Kiffin. Arizona was a suspect 3-0 team with great rushing numbers before struggling in the Pac-12 opener at Washington two weeks ago. Washington certainly impressed last week so perhaps more credit should be given to the Wildcats for the respectable loss. Arizona beat USC last season at home in a wild 39-36 game that featured 1,200 total yards and the Wildcats are rushing for 5.2 yards per carry this season with some of the best rushing production numbers in the nation. The USC defense has looked excellent this season with the exception of the Arizona State game but with Notre Dame up next this is likely a bigger game on the schedule for the Wildcats who have had historical success in this series over the last two decades, typically in the underdog role. Arizona has covered in 10 of the last 14 meetings going back to 1996 but USC is actually 8-3 ATS in the last 11 games as a home favorite despite the shaky results the last two seasons.

  
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