2009 St. Petersburg Bowl - UCF vs. Rutgers
UCF RB Brynn Harvey & Rutgers OT Anthony Davis
UCF RB Brynn Harvey & Rutgers OT Anthony Davis
Posted Dec 17, 2009

The CFN 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl Preview - UCF vs. Rutgers

2009 St. Petersburg Bowl

UCF (8-4) vs. Rutgers (8-4)

St. Petersburg, FL, 8:00 EST, ESPN, Saturday, December 19

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Team Pages and 2009 Season

- 2008 CFN St. Petersburg Bowl Preview
National Rankings
99th Total Offense 83rd
19th Total Defense 46th
59th Scoring Offense 68th
15th Scoring Defense 24th
74th Rushing Offense 73rd
20th Run Defense 4th
95th Passing Offense 70th
42nd Passing Defense 112th
1st Turnover Margin 16th
Position Ratings
relative to each other
R 5 highest
1 lowest
3 Quarterbacks 3
3.5 RBs 4.5
2.5 Receivers 2.5
2.5 O Line 2.5
5 D Line 5
4 Linebackers 3.5
3.5 Secondary 2
3.5 Spec Teams 4.5
4 Coaching 4
St. Petersburg Bowl History
2008 USF 41, Memphis 14
The Knights are set to square off against the Scarlet Knights in a game between programs that share more than just similar nicknames.

At 8-4, UCF and Rutgers have followed familiar blueprints to St. Petersburg. Both have leaned on stingy defenses and gobs of turnovers to offset sketchy offenses and finish the regular season better than it started it. For the Knights', the difference between 9-4 and 8-5 is a whole lot more than just one game.

Rutgers is bowling for a fifth consecutive year, a level of consistency that's become the foundation of the program under Greg Schiano. Sure, the Scarlet Knights have hit a postseason plateau, failing to elevate beyond this type of second-tier event, but few are complaining in Piscataway. Those close to the program remember being a punch line and those decades of futility. Plus, the program went with youth at key positions this fall, including at quarterback, where the Tom Savage era began sooner than expected.

Savage is going to be the cornerstone and the face of Rutgers for the next three years. Arguably the most heralded recruit to ever sign with the Scarlet Knights, the freshman was mature beyond his years and has the arm to be a Big East star before long. If Schiano continues to surround him with talent, like fellow rookie WR Mohamed Sanu, Savage might become Tommy Savior for Rutgers' quest to someday win a league crown and break into the BCS equation.

Considering how the year began at Rutgers, it might feel fortunate to still be playing in December. The Scarlet Knights got dressed down by Cincinnati in the opener, 47-15, instantly resetting expectations. While wins over the likes of Howard, Florida International, and Texas Southern improved the record, the reputation remained a question mark. It wasn't until they shocked Connecticut in the waning seconds on Halloween and shut out South Florida a week later that some respect began to be earned.

Beyond just winning a fourth straight bowl game and getting more reps for the underclassmen, Schiano sees this as a unique opportunity to spread the brand before another signing day. He's had considerable success in Florida, filling his roster with kids who flew beneath the radar of the state's power programs.

UCF is college football's version of a jack-in-the-box. If you push it down one year, it's going to pop right back up in the following season. For the sixth year in-a-row under head coach George O'Leary, the Knights have alternated losing years with winning marks. They've rebounded from going 4-8 in 2008 by winning eight games, including five of the last six to close with a flurry.

Although the defense has clearly been the better half in Orlando this fall, the offense was surprisingly potent in November. In wins over Houston, Tulane, and UAB, the Knights averaged 40 points, getting ample support from RB Brynn Harvey and QB Brett Hodges. Hodges is on the opposite career timeline as Savage, wrapping up his eligibility by providing some much-needed stability to the passing game. A transfer from Wake Forest, he's been a revelation for a school that's been pining for years for a few more connections downfield.

While the Knights didn't get embarrassed earlier in the year by Miami and Texas, it's not as if they've had a breakthrough moment versus a BCS conference school. In fact, UCF has lost its last six games against opponents from the Big 6. Beating Rutgers would cap a fine season for the Knights and put some wind at their backs heading into 2010. It could also serve as an audition for a program that would love to join South Florida and someday get promoted into the Big East.

Players to Watch: If the Knights are going to keep the momentum going on offense, it'll have to spring Harvey, the focal point of the offense and one of the more underrated backs in Conference USA. His mission on Saturday will be to soften a Rutgers defense that's No. 20 nationally against the run , allowing just 109 yards a game a game. If Harvey can create enough second-and-short situations, Hodges' life will be a whole lot simpler. If not, the Scarlet Knights will pin its ears back and generate steady backfield pressure. The combination of George Johnson and Jonathan Freeny on the outside, and DT Scott Vallone and LB Ryan D'Imperio on the inside could cause problems for the UCF front wall.

If Savage is going to have success through the air, he'll need plenty of help from LT Anthony Davis and an offensive line that too often failed him during the fall. The Scarlet Knights are 112th nationally in sacks allowed, making for a terrible and troubling bowl match up. Only four teams have more sacks than UCF, which boasts great speed and a terrific front seven. Bruce Miller and Jarvis Geathers form one of the best bookends you've never seen play, combining for 23 sacks and ranking in the top two, respectively, in the league. On the inside, Torrell Troup is a penetrator, with next-level upside and talent. Add in the range of linebackers Lawrence Young and Cory Hogue, and the Knights are liable to make Rutgers conservative and one-dimensional. If, however, Savage has the time to throw, finding speedy Tim Brown and Sanu is doable versus a young Knight secondary that starts two freshmen and ranks 112th in pass defense.

UCF will win if ... Hodges picks up where he left off in the second half of the year. The senior does not have to be prolific, but if you can't keep the Rutgers defense honest with some threat of a passing game, you're not going to move the ball on the ground either. And when the Knights rush for less than 150 yards in game, they're just 2-4 this season. If Hodges is laboring getting the ball to Rocky Ross, Kamar Aiken, and A.J. Guyton, the Scarlet Knights will stack the line with D'Imperio, LB Damaso Munoz, S Joe Lefeged, and Devin McCourty. As good as Harvey is, he won't make his own yards if eight men are in the box. UCF has seen what happens this season when the offense disappears, making a repeat of the Texas and Miami games a distinct possibility. Hodges has to spread out the defense and spread the ball around if Harvey is to avoid having a target on his chest.

Rutgers will win if ... it continues to dominate turnover marginThe Scarlet Knights have been at their best this season when they're stripping the ball and putting the offense in short-field situations. In fact, they lead the Big East in takeaways and the country in turnover margin and fumbles recovered. With an edge in overall talent on both sides of the ball, Rutgers is capable of blowing this game open if it winds up being +2 or +3 in turnover margin. Such a scenario cannot be afforded by UCF. As good as the Knight D has been this year, if forced to defend its own side of the field too often, it'll eventually bow to the tough running of Joe Martinek between the tackles and Sanu out of the Wildcat formation.

What will happen: While Rutgers and UCF may use a similar gameplan to get from Point A to Point B, the Knights from the North will survive on the strength of their superior athletes. UCF will go toe-to-toe with Rutgers for a while, containing the Scarlet Knights with a defense that's every bit as good as the rankings indicate. However, at some point in the second half, Rutgers will build a little breathing room behind the balance of Savage's passing and the running of Martinek. Savage, in particular, could make big strides from the end of the regular season, benefitting from a couple of weeks to catch his wind and focus on that questionable Knight secondary. Any comeback attempt will be stifled by the Scarlet Knight defense, which shouldn't have too many issues containing a UCF offense that's gotten better, but still has just one all-star player and a very average supporting cast.

CFN Prediction: Rutgers 27 … UCF 17 ... Line: Rutgers -3

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Best Scarlet Knight Bowl Moment: The Scarlet Knights knocked on the bowl door in 2005 before kicking it down a year later, picking up a school-first bowl victory in the inaugural Texas Bowl. Rutgers used big plays from RB Ray Rice and WR Tim Brown to jump on Kansas State early, pulling away in the second half for an easy 37-10 win.

Best Knight Bowl Moment: While the outcome didn't wind up in its favor, UCF's first bowl appearance was one of the more exciting games of the 2005 bowl season. Facing Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl, the Knights dropped a 49-48 overtime shootout, despite getting 11 catches for 210 yards and three touchdowns from WR Brandon Marshall.

Southern Miss Bowl History (0-2)
2007 Liberty Miss St 10, UCF 3
2005 Hawaii Nevada 49, UCF 48
Rutgers Bowl History (3-2)
2008 Papajohns Rutgers 29, NC State 23
2007 International Rutgers 52, Ball State 30
2006 Texas Rutgers 37, Kansas St 10
2005 Insight Arizona St 45, Rutgers 40
1978 Garden State Arizona St 34, Rutgers 18