TONIGHT - Rutgers at Louisville
Posted Nov 28, 2012

Week 14 Fearless Prediction - Rutgers at Louisville

Louisville (9-2) at Rutgers (9-2) Nov. 29, 7:30, ESPN

Here's The Deal: It's lost a lot of luster, but it's still going to decide who represents the Big East in a January BCS bowl game.

While the country guffaws about the importance of Thursday night's affair in Piscataway, the reality is that the game between Louisville and Rutgers is a very big deal for both programs. The Scarlet Knights, who just a week ago announced a move to the Big Ten, have never in their long history been so close to a conference championship or a marquee bowl game. For the Cardinals, this would be a crowning achievement for a school that just three years ago was being driven into a ditch by deposed head man Steve Kragthorpe. However, neither program is especially healthy or especially hot as D-Day quickly approaches.

Louisville, which climbed as high as No. 9 in the BCS rankings, has since plummeted with back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Connecticut. The Huskies game was a particular head-scratcher since the team was coming off a bye week, and was playing at home. The Cards haven't been able to match their early-season success, saddled by injuries and poor execution. Then-leading rusher Senorise Perry was lost for the year with an ACL tear on Nov. 10, and QB Teddy Bridgewater injured his leg and broke his non-throwing wrist last week.

Rutgers has been similarly vexing of late. After rising in the polls with a 7-0 start, the Knights have dropped two of their last four; at home to Kent State and on the road this past Saturday at Pittsburgh. They weren't even competitive against the sub-.500 Panthers, losing 27-6 in the kind of outing that chips away at a team's confidence. Rutgers, like Louisville, has seen the injuries mount as the regular season winds down.

Why Louisville Might Win: It has the best quarterback in the most important Big East game of the year.

Rutgers is saddled with skittish Gary Nova, who has thrown 10 interceptions in the last four games. The Cardinals boast Bridgewater, the kind of player who's capable of willing his team to a victory. Heck, last Saturday, he rallied his troops despite being hobbled and fitted for a cast on his right wrist. He still has access to RB Jeremy Wright and a deep corps of receivers led by playmaker DeVante Parker. It might take just a couple of long drives to put away the host. The Scarlet Knights have been necrotic offensively, producing just 16 points in the last two games. And a nagging ankle injury to top back Jawan Jamison has grinded the rushing attack to a halt.

Why Rutgers Might Win: Defense still wins championships. And the Scarlet Knights will sport the best D on Thursday night.

Despite getting intermittent help from the offense, the Rutgers defense has been a rock all year in Piscataway. It ranks in the top 20 nationally in run defense and scoring D, and has picked off more passes than touchdowns allowed. This is a veteran-led group that takes its marching orders from DT Scott Vallone, LB Khaseem Greene and CB Logan Ryan, each of whom is going to be an all-star. A Louisville O-line that is losing battles at the line of scrimmage will struggle to create space for Wright in the running game. If it becomes obvious that Bridgewater has to throw, the Cardinals will have a very difficult time converting on third downs.

What To Watch Out For: Can either team mount a consistent pass rush?

Naturally, both teams want to pressure the pocket, especially since Bridgewater is injured and Nova is frazzled. However, who is going to step up in a big spot? Louisville has gotten to the quarterback just five times over the last four games. Rutgers is 84th in the country in the category. Both teams might need to take unconventional measures in order to generate heat, like unleashing Greene from the second level, or in Louisville's case, turning loose George Durant from strongside. If either defense can get consistent hits on the opposing quarterback, it's going to win this one handily.

What Will Happen: Unappealing for the viewing audience. A thing of beauty for the winner.

Someone is going to walk out of High Point Solutions Stadium with a breakthrough victory. And that someone will be Rutgers. While neither team is playing well at this critical juncture, the Scarlet Knights have not buckled on defense, and will be fueled by a home crowd hoping to witness history. If Bridgewater was 100%, Louisville would be doubly dangerous. But he's not, which really hinders a Cardinals team that's becoming increasingly reliant on its signal-caller. Although it will not be pretty by any means, the Knights will grind out their maiden Big East championship behind the play of the defense and special teams, and the running of Savon Huggins, who showed two weeks in Cincinnati that he's workhorse-ready when asked.

CFN Prediction: Rutgers 23 … Louisville 17
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Rutgers -3 O/U: 43
Must Watch Rating (5 – Crossfire Hurricane, 1 – Comic Book Men: 3.5