ORLANDO, Fla. – A month removed from the disappointing end to the 2012 regular season, Rutgers football is set for kickoff in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Virginia Tech. Facing their most prestigious opponent in the most prestigious bowl game for the Scarlet Knights, a victory puts them at 10 wins for just the third time in program history.
Time: 5: 30 p.m., Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Fla. TV/Radio: ESPN, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 610-WIP Series: Virginia Tech leads 11-1 Last meeting: Oct. 4, 2003, Virginia Tech won 48-22 Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (1st Season, 9-3); Virginia Tech – Frank Beamer (32nd season) 257-127-4, 26th at Virginia Tech, 215-104-2
Barometer Game Before Rutgers emerged into a national contender, the Scarlet Knights were frequently victimized by a superior Virginia Tech program in the Big East. Since the Hokies left, Rutgers built itself up under Greg Schiano and has three more wins this season than its opponent. A win over Virginia Tech would be another way to show the progress made by a program looking for its third 10-win season.
Right the Ship Rutgers has two straight losses and a lot of disappointment to overcome with the way the regular season ended. Instead of facing Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the collapse for Rutgers against Louisville has Rutgers in Orlando. Still a prestigious bowl and tough opponent, Rutgers cannot afford to go into the offseason with three straight losses.
NFL Auditions? Cornerback Logan Ryan and running back Jawan Jamison will be very much under the microscope as underclassmen with NFL potential. Both have decisions to make after the bowl game and could certainly improve draft stock with strong performances under the national spotlight.
Defending Thomas is a team effort, but Greene has a history of shutting down running quarterbacks. Make Thomas one dimensional as a passer or rusher and the chances of a Rutgers victory rise significantly. Thomas and Greene would both have been NFL Draft picks in 2012 but decided to return for one more year of eligibility. For Green, it likely improved his stock by a few rounds. Thomas was a lock as a first-rounder after his junior year, but may have slipped by staying this season.
Scarlet Knights Win If…
Jamison takes over. Rutgers needs a big game for running back Jawan Jamison. The Scarlet Knights are a significantly better team when Jamison is on form and health. The third-year sophomore always has a big game in Rutgers wins, highlighted against South Florida and Arkansas in September.
RB Jawan Jamison
Hokies Win If …
Thomas takes over Thomas is the running game and passing game for Virginia Tech. He did not have a stellar regular season, after losing his top two receivers and now New York Giants back David Wilson, but he is big and athletic. If Thomas gets going early, he could be the same weapon that Russell Wilson was against Rutgers in 2008.
OLB Khaseem Greene — This is it for Greene. A two-time Big East Player of the Year, Greene can pass Courtney Greene on the Rutgers tackle list with a big day. A fifth-year senior, team captain and leading tackler, Greene is the key to defensive success for Rutgers and can also have a special teams impact.
LB Khaseem Greene
Something to Prove
WR Tim Wright — Wright gets a shot to wash away a portion of the sting from the Louisville loss. Normally a sure-handed receiver, Wright dropped two costly passes against the Cardinals that contributed to the Scarlet Knights' collapse.
Looking to Build
QB Gary Nova — Nova wants to have the final throw back, but he was impressive overall against Louisville. The sophomore made improvements since he was a freshman and his numbers dwarf what Mike Teel was able to do in his second year as a starter. Turnovers remain an issue, but his decision making is slowly improving with less overall talent around him than Teel had.
Freshman to Watch
PK Nick Borgese — Borgese almost lost his starting to to Kyle Federico for a bad week of practice. But a strong finish to the week keeps the walk-on in his role as place kicker for the bowl game. From a non-travel walk-on to kicking in the Russell Athletic Bowl, not even Borgese saw this one coming.