FRIDAY NIGHT WRITES

A Weekly Commentary on the State of Rutgers Football. This week: I'm Speechless.

Those who know me well know that I'm never speechless.  Today I'm close.  That's OK, though.  I felt sorry for the radio hosts of WCTC's post-game show. The people who are paid to talk all night said that they were speechless, too.

The fans on the field may have been speechless, but they filled in nicely with loud cheering.  The fans were a big part of the win yesterday.  Never discount a hometown crowd that has been waiting so long for this win.  By my count, the record-setting crowd was responsible for two Louisville timeouts, three penalties, and at least one sack when some of Quarterback Brian Brohm's players missed his audible.

Where previous games could be credited to the Defense or to Ray Rice's running, this was the first game where nearly the entire team came together to achieve a win.  On Defense, it would be hard to come up with one star.   Seven players were credited with tackles for loss, four players with sacks, and nearly every defender was in on several tackles.  On the offensive side, Mike Teel's recipe for his only football loss (last year at Louisville) was to spread the ball around to 5 receivers.  The offensive line played another workman-like game, giving up only 1 sack and blocking for 153 yards of rushing.

Gut checks were going on left and right.  Wide receiver Kenny Britt had several dropped passes, but made up for it with an athletic 64 yard catch and run in the third quarter on the way to Rutgers closing the score to within 3 of Louisville.  The entire offense had their gut check on the final drive.  The difference between good teams and great teams is that the great teams make the score and avoid overtime.  Brian Leonard had been fairly quiet all night, but at third down with 6 yards to go from their own 35 yard line and the score tied, Mike Teel went to the guy with the toughest gut on the team.  A short toss to Brian Leonard in the flat resulted in a 26 yard gain, putting Rutgers in position to run down the clock and kick the game winning field goal.  Jeremy Ito had his own gut check.  On his first ever game-winning field goal try he was wide left, but given another chance to make history he did not falter, then on the ensuing kickoff, Ito made the game-saving tackle of Louisville's kick returner.  That's a double-gutcheck.

But the true heroes had the biggest gut check of all.  The defense was down 25-7 in the second quarter.  One more score would have most likely put the game out of reach.  The defense stopped the #2 offense in the nation cold, holding Louisville to 65 yards of total offense and forcing them to punt on seven consecutive drives.

So I'll remain speechless...mostly.  But speechless isn't all bad.  At least my sore throat can rest.

Around the Big East

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And then there was one...

The Big East has only one remaining undefeated team, and while Rutgers is on top and controls their own destiny, the problem with controlling your own destiny is that you have to step up, and the remaining schedule provides no gifts.  Next week's game sends the Scarlet Knights back on the road to take on the powerful defense of a surprisingly gutsy Cincinnati team.  Cincinnati has played well and stands one win away from bowl eligibility, and after easily dispatching South Florida and Syracuse, Cincinnati will be looking to extend their winning streak by making a strong statement on National television by defeating Rutgers.  That game is not only a trap game, but Cincinnati is looking like a legitimate contender in the stretch and cannot be overlooked.

Last weekend, South Florida had a suprisingly easy time putting down the Pittsburgh Panthers by a score of 22-12.  Pittsburgh's star quarterback Tyler Palko uncharacteristically threw three interceptions, was held to 189 yards passing, and gave up a safety by intentionally grounding from his own end zone.  The Panthers converted only a single third down on ten tries.  On the other side of the ball, Bull QB Matt Grothe also threw a pair of interceptions, but scored both passing and running.  The stars of the game, however, may have been the South Florida special teams units which converted two fake punts.

Pittsburgh's problems didn't end there.  After a late 4th Quarter touchdown, Tight End Darrell Strong received a 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for making an obscene gesture at the crowd.  Head coach Dave Wannstedt has suspended the player indefinitely.  The touchdown closed Pitt's deficit to 10 points, and the penalty forced the Panthers to try for 2 points from the 18 yard line instead of the 3.  Palko's conversion attempt fell incomplete.  After a strong start to the season, Pittsburgh has dropped their last two contests and needs to get back on track quickly.  Pittsburgh travels tomorrow to Storrs to take on the Uconn Huskies who are coming off a bye week.  That game should be available on Gameplan.

South Florida is now bowl eligible and hosts Syracuse tomorrow at noon.  QB Matt Grothe re-injured his foot in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh and missed a day of practice, but has been back in practice and is expected to start.  Tomorrow's contest between Syracuse and South Florida is the Big East game of the week and is expected to be broadcast live on MSG.

The big game tomorrow at noon pits Cincinnati against the #10 West Virginia Mountaineers in Morgantown.  West Virginia is coming off of their heartbreaking loss to Louisville, but is not about to lose at home, but Cincinnati is flying high, having won four of their last five games, and will be looking to become bowl eligible with an upset.  This game will be televised live on ESPN2 at noon.

Magic_Al's Bowl Predictions

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Having been pushed to #10 in the BCS, West Virginia still has a chance to play in a BCS bowl, but they will need to win the rest of their games including their season finale to Rutgers in order to maintain a Top 12 ranking that is required to become an at-large selection.  Pundits are expecting Rutgers to improve into the Top 10, possibly over West Virginia.  Big East BCS bowl chances took a hit however, as Notre Dame advanced one spot to #9.  Notre Dame needs to advance to the top 8 to receive an automatic bid, but is still likely to receive an at-large selection if they finish in the top 12.  Their last game of the season at USC will probably be the deciding factor, and right now the smart money is on USC.

Any Big East team that ends up ranked in the Top 12 is eligible to be a BCS at-large pick.

A big factor that may decide the availability of an at-large spot for a Big East team is if Boise State receives a BCS bid.  They would receive an automatic bid if they are in the top 16 and the ACC's champion is ranked lower than them.  Right now that appears likely, but Boise State is ranked exactly 16th and needs to maintain that spot.

Last Saturday Navy served Duke with their 9th loss of the season to gain their 6th win and a bid from the Meineke Car Care Bowl.  This means one less bowl opportunity for a Big East team, not that a whole lot of Big East fans were looking forward to making holiday plans in Charlotte, North Carolina.

- Sugar Bowl (Big East Champions): Rutgers

- Fiesta Bowl (At-Large): Notre Dame

- Gator Bowl: Big 12

- Sun Bowl: Louisville

- Texas Bowl: West Virginia

- International Bowl: Pittsburgh

- Birmingham Bowl: South Florida

- MPC Computers Bowl (At-Large): Cincinnati

- Meineke Bowl: Navy

-- The views expressed in this editorial do not necessarily reflect those of StateOfRutgers.com.  If those views differ from yours, visit the message boards and tell everyone what you think.

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