Who Has the Edge in the Rutgers-Pittsburgh game?
PITT'S OFFENSE VS. RUTGERS' DEFENSE
Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy is a special player who averages 118.3 yards per game. He is the leading rusher among college football freshman and has 11 touchdowns this season. Pitt struggles passing the ball this season and has a tendency to put the ball on the carpet, but McCoy gets better each week.
Rutgers has struggled against the run this year, allowing more than 500 yards combined on the ground to West Virginia and Connecticut in consecutive losses. The Scarlet Knights, with the top-rated pass defense in the nation, should be able to shut down Pitt's passing offense, but McCoy will get plenty of yards on the Knights' rushing defense.
RUTGERS' OFFENSE VS. PITT'S DEFENSE
As good as McCoy is, he's still second in the Big East to Rutgers tailback Ray Rice, who leads the Big East with 150 yards per game and 16 rushing touchdowns. He is coming off the best individual rushing performance in school history, when he tallied 243 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries against Army. The passing attack was able to complement Rice earlier in the season, but it has bogged down lately. If RU's receivers can get back on track, the balanced attack should give Pitt troubles.
That doesn't mean the Panthers aren't strong defensively. They are ranked 12th nationally in pass defense. They allow just 128.6 yards per game on the ground, holding Syracuse to a lowly 30 yards rushing on Nov. 3 in their last outing. Pitt also has the best pass rush in the Big East and should be able to get pressure on Rutgers' quarterbacks.
Pitt has a good kick return team, led by Lowell Robinson, who averages more than 25 yards per return. That should set Pitt up in nice field position against Rutgers. Place-kicker Conor Lee is accurate, hitting 13-for-15 on field goal attempts this year.
Rutgers has the worst punting unit in the nation and has exhibited a comedy of errors in the punt return game. Rutgers punt returners have turned the ball over four times this year, and kickoffs have resulted in a few more fumbles that were recovered by Rutgers players. Special teams have been on life support this year.
Dave Wannstedt is 0-2 against Rutgers and is 16-17 in nearly three years as the head coach of Pittsburgh. Pitt has yet to qualify for a bowl game under Wannstedt after winning a share of the Big East the year before he arrived. Though he gets some highly rated recruiting classes, his efforts haven't translated to on-field success. Wannstedt may be off the sidelines at the end of this year as he has expressed interest in becoming the new Pittsburgh director of athletics.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is 36-45 in his career, but he has brought Rutgers from the dregs of college football to a respectable team. RU is 24-11 since 2005 under Schiano, with wins over the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation. He won several coach of the year awards following last season's 11-2 finish.
Pitt has been surging lately and has picked up its play, winning two of its last three. If the Panthers win out, they will likely make it to a bowl game. They are playing with more confidence and are starting to jell offensively.
It's Senior Day, and Rutgers can solidify its bowl position with a victory. It should be a sellout crowd, although some bandwagoners may stay home for this affair with the cold weather and possible rain. Rutgers Stadium will be raucous nonetheless.
Pitt has been left out of the postseason since winning a share of the Big East and representing the conference in the Bowl Championship Series during the 2004 season. The Panthers are trying to keep their postseason hopes alive after losing four straight earlier this year. Pitt has not been a legitimate Big East power since the arrival of Dave Wannstedt.
Rutgers is bowl eligible for the third consecutive season, reversing years of futility. The Scarlet Knights are 25-11 since the start of the 2005 season and can guarantee their third consecutive winning campaign with a victory against Pittsburgh.