Who Has the Edge in the International Bowl?
Neither team has much positive history in the postseason, with one total victory between the schools in eight games.
Rutgers, playing in its third straight bowl game this year, is 1-2 in the postseason, notching its first bowl victory in the Texas Bowl last year against Kansas State, 37-10. The Scarlet Knights lost their previous two bowl appearances (1978 Garden State, 2005 Insight) to Arizona State.
Ball State began its bowl history with a tie in the 1965 Grantland Rice Bowl. But it's been all downhill for the Cardinals since, as they have lost four straight in the postseason. Ball State's last bowl game was an 18-15 loss to Nevada in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl.
The only meeting between these schools came on Sept. 9, 1989 at the old Rutgers Stadium and ended in a 31-31 tie. The tie was part of a somewhat promising start that saw Rutgers get out to a 2-0-2 record. But the Scarlet Knights would lose their last seven, including a 21-20 heartbreaker to No. 19 West Virginia, to finish 2-7-2. Ball State finished the year 7-3-2 and won the MAC before losing to Fresno State 27-6 in the California Raisin Bowl.
RU opened the season Aug. 30 by trouncing Buffalo 38-3 at Rutgers Stadium. The Scarlet Knights rolled up a season-best 563 yards of total offense, and junior receiver Tiquan Underwood announced his presence by setting a school record for yards in a game (248). Ball State trounced the Bulls Sept. 29 in Muncie 49-14 behind a balanced offensive attack that managed 507 yards of total offense. BSU led 21-0 by the end of the first quarter and cruised while freshman Frank Edmonds ran for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in his first career start.
Rutgers never trailed against Navy but had difficulty finding a comfortable margin against the Midshipmen until the fourth quarter in a 41-24 Sept. 7 victory at Rutgers Stadium. Safeties Courtney Greene and Ron Girault halted Navy drives with end zone interceptions. Ball State traveled to Annapolis to take on the Mids the following week and found itself in a dogfight that went to overtime. The Cardinals won 34-31 on a field goal in the extra session.
RUTGERS' OFFENSE VS. BALL STATE'S DEFENSE
Rutgers has a plethora of talent, and the offense set a new school mark for yards gained during the regular season (5,246). It all starts with true junior tailback Ray Rice, who amassed 1,732 yards and 20 touchdowns, including nine 100-yard games this season. Rice averages 144.3 yards per game and has rushed for an average of nearly 6 yards per carry in five non-conference games this season. RU also throws two 1,000-yard receivers in Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt at Ball State.
Where Ball State might have the advantage is in pass coverage. The Cardinals were second in the nation in turnover margin during the regular season and have three players with at least four interceptions this year.
Rutgers averages 437.2 yards per game on offense this year, including 190.2 ypg on the ground. Ball State yields 418.8 ypg of total offense, including 197 ypg on the ground. It's a case of strength versus weakness for Rutgers' power running game.
BALL STATE'S OFFENSE VS. RUTGERS' DEFENSE
RU was victimized late in the season by effective passers. Ball State's Nate Davis represents one of the best quarterbacks in the Mid-American Conference. He can fling the ball and set a new school record with 3,376 yards. He also tossed 27 touchdowns to just six interceptions during the regular season. Davis' best target is receiver Dante Love, who caught 87 catches for 1,229 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. Tight end Darius Hill is another threat who caught 56 passes for 837 yards and nine touchdowns this year.
However, the Cardinals have been searching for a running game since starter MiQuale Lewis was lost for the season with a knee injury. BSU is one-dimensional, and Rutgers should be able to gear up its pass rush without having to respect the run. The Scarlet Knights were 18th in sacks during the regular season with 35. Ball State allowed 20 sacks in 12 games.
RU has the No. 2 pass defense in the nation that allows 160.6 yards per game in the air. BSU has the 22nd rated pass offense with 284.4 yards per game. Davis is 24th in the country in pass efficiency (140.86). Rutgers is No. 11 nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowing 11 touchdowns this season. This is a case of strength on strength.
Rutgers has been awful in punting as well as punt returns this season. The Scarlet Knights turned the ball over four times on punt returns during the regular season, and senior punter/place-kicker Jeremy Ito's 35.8 yards per punt average wasn't even among the top 100 in college football.
However, Ito was reliable in place-kicking duties. Rutgers' all-time leading scorer has only missed two PATs in his career and was a perfect 44-for-44 this season. Ito is 22-for-30 (73.3 percent) and has missed just one inside 40 yards. From 40 yards or beyond has been a different story, as the California native is just 3-for-9 from 40 yards and over.
Ball State has one of the best punters in the nation in Chris Miller, who is third in the country with a 45.8 yards per punt average. A third of his punts put the opposition inside the 20-yard line this season. Place-kicker Jake Hogue is another story, as he has hit fewer than 60 percent of his field goal attempts and is 3-for-11 from 30 yards and beyond.
Love doubles as a kick returner for Ball State and returned one kick for a touchdown during the regular season. He set a conference record with 2,365 all-purpose yards, including 972 yards on kick returns. Love averages 23.7 yards per return.
Rutgers made some curious game decisions this season, especially at key moments. However, the Scarlet Knights are still charting new territory. Head coach Greg Schiano has led RU to its third straight bowl game, and unprecedented feat. He also has the Scarlet Knights looking for their second consecutive bowl victory, something that's never been done on the Banks before.
Ball State head coach Brady Hoke is a rising talent who has infused new life into his football program. The Cardinals are back in a bowl game for the first time in 11 years and grabbed a share of the MAC West Division this season BSU has improved each of the last three years.
RU is playing in its third bowl game in as many years, but the Scarlet Knights had designs on something bigger than the International Bowl when the season began. RU experienced many letdowns during the season, and this could be another case of Rutgers failing to show up. It's a game against a non-BCS opponent in a foreign country that probably will not draw many viewers on ESPN 2 at noon.
Ball State is playing in its first bowl game since the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl and is trying to cap its first seven-win season in more than a decade with the first bowl victory in school history. The International Bowl is about as good as the Cardinals could have expected this year.
If reports of ticket sales are to be believed, RU will outnumber Ball State in the crowd.
Edge: Ball State
RU is constantly making school history in the past few seasons, whether it's the first winning season since the 1990s, the first bowl victory or the chance to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. RU is making strides from being a doormat to being a contender, and it takes steps.
Ball State put together 10 straight seasons without a winning record before the 2007 campaign. The closest the Cardinals came to making it over .500 was a 6-6 record in the 2002 campaign. BSU is in the postseason for the first time under Hoke, though the Cardinals have never beaten an opponent from a Bowl Championship Series conference.