Rutgers (1-4, 0-1 Big East) enters this game without a victory over a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division I-A) opponent, but the Knights nearly stole a game at West Virginia last week. Cincinnati (4-1, 0-0) has encountered few problems against Mid-American and Conference USA opponents. The two teams' records would seem to indicate a large talent gap, but that's not necessarily the case.
Who Has the Edge in the Rutgers-Cincinnati game?
RUTGERS' OFFENSE VS. CINCINNATI'S DEFENSE
RU's offense has struggled mightily at times this year, and inconsistency has been the key word to describe one of the lowest-ranked offenses in college football. The Scarlet Knights last or next to last in several offensive categories. RU averages 19 points per game and has reached the 20-point mark twice this year.
The Knights' yardage has gone done in the last couple of weeks, but the team has appeared more consistent and averages a total of 331.2 yards per game. Last week, for the first time since late last season, RU had zero turnovers. Receiver Kenny Britt is among the nation's leaders in catches and receiving yards per game. He is fourth with 8.25 receptions per game, including 12 against West Virginia last week. Britt's 103.3 ypg are 10th in the FBS.
Quarterback Mike Teel has not passed for more than 200 yards since Week 2, but he also has just two touchdowns and two interceptions over the last three weeks versus one TD and five interceptions in the first two games.
This could be a chance for Teel to get healthy in the passing game, as Cincinnati is allowing 241.8 yards passing per game, including 395 yards and five TDs versus Oklahoma. However, that is balanced by the fact that Cincinnati's defensive backs have a nose for the ball, and UC has forced eight interceptions.
RU's running game could receive a boost if Kordell Young, who had 94 yards rushing in the season opener versus Fresno State, returns to the backfield this week. Jourdan Brooks leads an RU rushing attack that averages 123.4 yards per game on the ground (last in the Big East). Cincinnati has limited the opposition to just 101 yards rushing this year, and only two teams have made it past the century mark against the Bearcats.
CINCINNATI'S OFFENSE VS. RUTGERS' DEFENSE
Cincinnati is on its third starting quarterback this season in Chazz Anderson. The redshirt freshman struggled early versus Marshall last week but recovered to lead Cincinnati to a 33-10 victory over the Thundering Herd. Anderson was 16-for-26 for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
Helping Anderson with the transition are two receivers who have combined for 10 touchdowns and more than 900 yards receiving. Mardy Gilyard and Dominick Goodman have been two of the most consistent receivers in the Big East, and they rank first and second, respectively, in the conference in receiving yards. RU can't focus on locking down one receiver, as each is dangerous in his own right.
RU's defense has started to come together over the last couple of weeks, and the Scarlet Knights currently own the ninth-ranked passing defense in the nation (first in the Big East). Rutgers is limiting opponents to 152.2 yards passing per game. If the Scarlet Knights want to start winning the turnover battle, this is the chance to begin. Cincinnati has fumbled the ball 10 times this year and has lost six fumbles.
Rutgers has two redshirt freshmen in the kicking roles that are still learning the ropes. Place-kicker San San Te continues to improve each week (he has made four straight field goals after missing his first two), and Teddy Dellaganna is starting to show promise as one of the best punters in the nation (40.0 yards per punt average). He can boom the ball and shows the ability to pin opponents deep. Dellaganna has put opponents inside their own 20-yard line on nine of his 25 punts this year.
However, Cincinnati sports probably the best punter in the nation in Kevin Huber, who is second nationally with an average of 45.6 yards per punt. His only downside this year is that he didn't register enough punts early on to qualify for national rankings, not that any UC fans would complain about that. The Bearcats also have a dangerous kickoff return man in Gilyard, who is No. 1 in the conference in kickoff returns and is 11th nationally in all-purpose yardage.
Greg Schiano's contribution to Rutgers football cannot be underestimated. He took a program that was the worst of the worst and turned it into something respectable. But that elusive Big East title and Bowl Championship Series bid eludes him. Fresno State and Navy outcoached Rutgers in wins against the Scarlet Knights, but RU was at least even in the coaching department with WVU last week and was arguably better.
It's a testament to Brian Kelly's coaching ability that he has had to start three different quarterbacks this year but has continued to win and put up big offensive numbers. He has won at each level, starting with two national championships with Division II Grand Valley State and continuing with a conference title at Central Michigan. He started 7-0 as the UC coach and now owns a 15-4 record with the Bearcats. Kelly has the proven ability to win big games.
I know there are no such things as moral victories with the Rutgers football program, but the Scarlet Knights played significantly better in the loss to West Virginia than they did against any other FBS team. RU was in the game at the end and has to feel better about avoiding busted plays in the secondary (except for one play). Still, RU has failed to finish in each of its four losses this year.
Cincinnati is playing with plenty of confidence and seems to roll through adversity this year. The Bearcats must have plenty of faith in their head coach after continuing their winning ways despite all the quarterback injuries.
HEAD TO HEAD
Rutgers has a slight edge in a series that has its share of runs by one team over another. The Scarlet Knights are 7-5-1 all-time against UC and had a stretch from 1984-94 where they owned the Bearcats, 5-1-1. RU beat Cincinnati 44-9 in the first Big East meeting between the teams in 2005, but UC has captured the last two contests.
Prior to this season, Rutgers showed steady improvement as a program, leading to three straight bowl games. The Scarlet Knights were briefly ranked in the top 10 in 2006 and remained ranked for the better part of a year before falling out of the rankings last season. RU has won two straight bowl games.
Cincinnati took a couple of years to get used to the pace of Big East play, but the Bearcats are rolling since Brian Kelly took over as the head coach for a departing Mark D'Antonio. Last year, UC posted a 10-win season for the first time since 1951.