Let's take a look at the breakdowns in team matchups.
WHEN RUTGERS HAS THE BALL
It all begins with true junior running back Ray Rice, who set several school records this season. Rice led all running backs in Bowl Championship Series conferences during the regular season with 144.3 yards per game. RU's all-time leading rusher has 1,732 yards and 20 touchdowns on 345 attempts (5.0 yards per carry average). He has put together seven consecutive 100-yard games, tied for the school record with JJ Jennings, and he has nine 100-yard performances this season.
Look for the Scarlet Knights to establish Rice early as they try to control the line of scrimmage. RU has advantages in size and experience in the trenches. Three seniors, including first team All-Big East tackle Jeremy Zuttah, are making their final collegiate start on Rutgers' offensive line. RU averages 308 pounds on the offensive front while Ball State averages 267 on its defensive line.
Ball State head coach Brady Hoke stated in his press conference a couple of weeks ago that he is squarely focused on Ray Rice. The Cardinals, who run a defense that resembles elements of a 3-3-5 and 5-2, faced a power running game against Northern Illinois in the regular season finale and limited the Huskies to minus 1 yard. However, BSU has not faced a running back like Rice this season. Against BCS schools this year (not including Navy), the Cardinals allowed an average of 182 yards rushing and yielded six touchdowns on the ground. Illinois ran for 324 yards and four touchdowns. Interior linemen Amara Komora and Jacob Jordan will have their hands full trying to fill the run gap, and expect BSU to walk up its linebackers early to try to stuff the tackle box.
RU's experience and size has allowed Rutgers to protect redshirt junior quarterback Mike Teel all season. The Scarlet Knights were second in the nation in sacks allowed with nine. Five of those were in Rutgers' final three Big East games in which RU was outscored 95-77.
Despite the increased protection in the pocket, Teel had an uneven year. Rutgers coaches indicated that Teel injured the thumb on his throwing hand Oct. 6 in the Cincinnati game. In the four games before Cincinnati, Teel threw for 1,173 yards (293.3 yards per game average) and 10 touchdowns to two interceptions. In the eight games including Cincinnati the Oakland, N.J., native accounted for 1,671 yards (208.9 ypg) and seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Those numbers can be attributed to increased competition in addition to the injury.
The passing game featured two 1,000-yard receivers for the first time in school history this year. True junior Tiquan Underwood -- a first team All-Big East receiver -- was the leading receiver in catches (62) while true sophomore Kenny Britt -- a second team All-Big East selection -- led the squad in yards (1,107). The pair combined for 2,135 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns.
Ball State had a middling pass defense this season, allowing 221.8 yards per game. The Cardinals allowed just two teams to compile more than 300 yards passing but yielded at least 400 yards of total offense to eight opponents. Defensive backs had a nose for the ball this season as Ball State registered 18 interceptions. The Cards were plus 17 in turnover margin this season, second best in the nation. Cornerback B.J. Hill -- a second team All-MAC selection -- grabbed five picks, and cornerback Trey Lewis and safety Alex Knipp each grabbed eight interceptions. You can bet the Cardinals will bait Teel to throw tough passes in the flat.
The Cardinals face a Rutgers attack that adds true sophomore receiver Tim Brown and redshirt junior tight end Kevin Brock, who came on late with 11 catches for 126 yards in the final three Big East games. The Scarlet Knights average 247 yards passing per game.
Will linebacker Bryant Haines, named second team All-MAC, is BSU's leading tackler with 122 total tackles. He registered double digit tackles in six games during the regular season.
WHEN BALL STATE HAS THE BALL
Quarterback Nate Davis was named Ball State's MVP for good reason. The sophomore slinger has already thrown for more than 5,000 career passing yards and set a school record for single season passing with 3,376 yards during the regular season. Davis may not have an impressive completion percentage (57.1 percent), but he does not make many mistakes. The second team All-MAC selection threw 26 touchdowns to just six interceptions during the regular season.
His favorite target this year has been receiver Dante Love, who is the fourth Ball State player in history with more than 2,000 career receiving yards. Love hauled in 87 catches for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. He also is a shifty kick returner and brought one back 100 yards for a touchdown versus Central Michigan. Love managed 2,365 all-purpose yards during the regular season, a new MAC record.
Davis will challenge a Rutgers secondary that ranks second nationally in pass defense but that looked shaky in coverage in its last few Big East games. Rutgers hauled in 12 interceptions on the season but was minus 6 in turnover margin through 12 games. However, RU tallied 35 sacks this year while BSU has allowed 20 sacks this season. The Cardinals have continuity on the offensive line, as four of five players started all 12 regular season games at their offensive line positions this year. The Cardinals are small on the line at an average of 290 pounds on the offensive line while Rutgers averages 260 on the defensive front.
Rutgers' pass rush will have to get to Davis early to give the Scarlet Knights an advantage. RU had Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm on his heels early before letting him off the hook in the second half, and the Scarlet Knights managed to sack him five times. The defensive line got to Brohm, but the secondary let the defense down. Rutgers will be led in the pass rush by senior defensive tackle Eric Foster -- who managed five sacks during the regular season -- and redshirt junior defensive end Jamaal Westerman, a native of Canada who led the team with eight sacks.
As a team, Ball State set several single-season school marks. The Cardinals set new records for points scored (379), yards passing (3,413), total offense (5,180 yards) and first downs (261). BSU tallied more than 500 yards on three occasions during the regular season, including a season-high 610 yards in a 41-40 loss at Nebraska Sept. 22. The Cardinals averaged 474.5 yards of total offense against BCS teams (including Navy).
Ball State has been erratic in the running game, especially late in the season. The Cardinals have gone over 100 yards rushing in just two games out of the last six, averaging 101.5 yards per game in that span and scoring eight rushing touchdowns. It has been running back by committee. Miquale Lewis started the first four games but was replaced by several other backs when he was injured. Lewis averaged 89.4 yards per game in four starts. Freshman Frank Edmonds leads the team with 526 yards and six touchdowns, and Koreen Burch and Chris Clancy have combined for 409 yards and three touchdowns at halfback. As a team, BSU averages 147.2 yards per game on the ground.
Rutgers special teams have been inconsistent this year. True senior place-kicker Jeremy Ito was solid but not spectacular in field goals during the regular season. He is 22-for-30 on field goal attempts this year but only 3-for-9 from 40 yards or beyond. Ito was perfect on PATs during the regular season, connecting on all 44 of his attempts.
Punting and punt returns have been areas of concern all year for Rutgers. Ito averages just 35.8 yards per kick as a punter. RU has lost four fumbles on punt returns this season, and no returner has emerged as the go-to guy in the punt or kick return game.
Ball State is dangerous on kick returns, and Love has one kickoff return for a touchdown this season. He averages 23.7 yards per kick return.
Place-kicker Jake Hogue has been mediocre this season, but he won the game for the Cardinals in a 34-31 overtime decision against Navy on Sept. 15. Hogue is just 11-for-19 on field goal attempts this season, including 0-for-3 from 30-39 yards. He missed one PAT this season.
Punter Chris Miller has been among the best in the nation this season. He is
third in the nation with a 45.8 yards per punt average, and he has pinned the
opposition inside its own 20-yard line on 22 of 56 punts this season.