Thursday, November 09, 2006

The eyes of the college football nation turn to...Rutgers?!

3Louisville(8-0) @ 15Rutgers(8-0)
7:45 ESPN
This week's sign that the apocalypse is coming: the biggest game that has been or will be played this regular season takes place tonight in Piscataway, New Jersey.

You read me right- this game, which pits newly crowned BCS #3 Louisville, fresh off of their pounding of then #3 West Virginia last Thursday night in Louisville, against the little team that could, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, stands to be the most important game of the season. Over the Ohio State/Texas #1 vs. #2 clash in September, over last Thursday night's throwdown, and over next week's Ohio State/Michigan #1 vs. #2 BCS knockout game.

Why, you may ask as you scratch your head and call me crazy? Not because the two teams are the best in the country, nor because it could be the best played game of the year. Because Rutgers carries not only the weight of legions of faithful fans and decades of failure onto the field with them, but they could disrupt the system so much as to cause actual reform of the status quo.

Pity poor Rutgers. To date the qualify under all the criteria to be eligible for a shot in the National Championship game in January: Play in a BCS conference? Big East-check. Won all their games to date? 8 wins, zero losses- check. Play a tough schedule? Not sure "tough" is the word, but after tonight they will have played 3 teams in the BCS top 50 (Pitt, L'Ville, Navy), but they are in a conference that has a BCS tie in, so that takes care of the schedule for them. But yet they have virtually no shot at playing for the title.

Why, you may ask again? Good thing I'm here to tell you these things. Because they started so far back in the preseason guesstimations from all the 'experts' that by the time people found out they were good they had too many spots to overcome to move into a title game. Even now they are still ranked below eight 1-loss teams and two teams with 2-losses (LSU, Tennessee); jeez, talk about no respect.

But Rutgers is one of those teams that are just happy to be here. Two years ago this team was still the butt of every national joke when it came to losing, much like the Devil Rays in baseball, the Clippers used to be in basketball and the Bucs used to be in football. After going 7-4 and going to a bowl game last season now they are on the national radar and Coach Greg Schiano (a Coach of the Year lock in my book) has got recruits actually wanting to come play for the State University of New Jersey rather than having to beg kids to come there. A bowl game one year, a Top 10 finish the next, and then a shot at the title next year would suit Schiano & his employers just fine.
But not me. I think it's B.(C)S. A team should be judged by its play on the field in that calendar year, not on 3 decades of history and poor national reputation. What's the point of even having this freakin' system if it doesn't reward the teams that go out and meet every possible criteria but still have no shot at the Championship? The BCS was supposed to eliminate the ugly monstrosity known as a split champion, but here we are 8 years later and we could end up with a 1-loss team playing for the title while a (possible) undefeated team has to settle for a lesser bowl and no championship glory. It's wrong, and I am rooting for Rutgers with all my might so they can upset the apple cart and hopefully spur change in a very flawed system.

There, now I'll get off my soapbox (hey, it is election season) and get on to my preview of the actual game.

Everyone not affiliated with Rutgers or friendly with a Rugers alum (hi, Ira) thinks that Louisville is going to knock the Knights right back into nowhereland. The Cardinals are coming off that impressive 44-34 spanking of the previously unbeaten Mountaineers and the fact that they did it in prime time when everyone & their brother thought West Virginia was going to win made the victory all the more impressive. Which is exactly why they should be liking Rutgers to return the favor. The Cards boast a potent offense (2nd in the NCAA @ 492YPG), led by QB Brian Brohm(1623yds, 5TDs) and his favorite targets Mario Urrutia(33recs, 633yds,5TDs) and Harry Douglas (41recs,636yds,1TD) and the 10th rated running attack(203YPG), but the Knights are no slouches, either. Led by slick running back Ray Rice, who has 1203yds (6th in the nation) and 13TDs(5th), one of my Heisman candidates before this game and sure to be one after if they win, RU possesses the nation's 12th rated running game(193YPG) and they are also ranked 2nd in passing defense(135YPG).

In other words, something's gotta give. The 2nd ranked passing offense meets the 2nd ranked passing defense, and the 10th & 12th ranked rushing attacks square off in a showdown with a ton riding on it. Miraculously this is the first ever meeting of 2 ranked teams on the RU campus, despite the Scarlet Knights being one of the teams to play in the first college football game ever played (vs. Princeton, Nov. 6th, 1869), and to say things are going to be crazy tonight is a major understatement.

All of the above points to a Scarlet night on the banks of the Raritan. I think Rice is going to test the Louisville run defense again, like Steve Slaton did last week, and the Rutgers defense will be inspired enough to limit Brohm & Co. to under 30 points. It's a tall order, especially for a team that is a 6 1/2 point underdog on its home turf, but I truly believe Rutgers is up to the challenge. Besides, when do you ever see a team go out on back-to-back weeks and knock off undefeated teams this late in the season on prime time national TV?

It's never been done, and it won't happen tonight.

MY PICK: Rutgers 31, L'Ville 28.

Down with the BCS!

Good Luck, Ira!

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