Rutgers (6-5, 4-2 Big East) is bowl eligible for the fourth straight year but needs one more victory to lock up a postseason bid. Thursday night (7:30, ESPN), The Scarlet Knights face a struggling Louisville (5-6, 1-4) team that has lost four straight and is looking at missing the postseason for the second consecutive season.
Who Has the Edge in the Louisville-Rutgers game?
LOUISVILLE'S OFFENSE VS. RU'S DEFENSE
Louisville gained 474 yards of total offense during a 35-21 loss at West Virginia on Nov. 22, the first time the Cardinals had reached at last 400 yards since September. However, UL also turned the ball over five times, a common theme over the current four-game losing streak. Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe's team has turned the ball over 14 times in the past four weeks, including seven interceptions to five touchdowns for senior quarterback Hunter Cantwell.
One player to watch when Louisville has the ball is Brock Bolen. As a junior last season, Bolin ran over Rutgers for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries, as he helped the Cardinals erase an 18-point deficit in the 41-38 Louisville win.
As miserable as Louisville has been in the turnover department, Rutgers has been just as opportunistic. The Scarlet Knights, who did not force a turnover against their first six Football Bowl Subdivision opponents, have at least two takeaways in four straight contests. RU also trots out the top pass defense in the Big East (177.2 yards per game, 22nd nationally) to counter a Louisville passing attack that averages 206.9 yards per game.
RU'S OFFENSE VS. LOUISVILLE'S DEFENSE
For the most part, Rutgers has been clicking on all cylinders offensively the last few weeks. The Scarlet Knights have scored at least 30 points in four straight games (including a defensive touchdown in the 30-3 win over Navy), and the Scarlet Knights have racked up at least 400 yards of total offense in each of those contests. Fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Teel has thrown for 1,290 yards (322.5 yards per game average) and 13 touchdowns to five interceptions. True junior Kenny Britt is the nation's leading receiver at 119.1 yards per game.
Louisville's secondary has had issues this year. Although the Cardinals have not allowed a team to reach 300 yards passing since beating South Florida 24-20 on Oct. 25, they have yielded seven touchdown passes over their current four-game losing streak. UL ranks 80th in the nation in pass defense with 220.5 yards against per game.
Neither team is at the top of the conference in special teams, but Rutgers' punter has been head and shoulders above Louisville's this year. RU's Teddy Dellaganna, a redshirt sophomore, averages 41.6 yards per punt versus 39.5 yards for UL's Cory Goettsche. RU's kick return game has also improved in recent weeks with the addition of Jason McCourty.
The true mark of a coaching staff is how a team performs in the face of adversity. Everyone outside the Rutgers program left the 2008 Scarlet Knights for dead, but head coach Greg Schiano and his staff kept the players focused. The result is a five-game winning streak and the cusp of a bowl bid.
Conversely, Kragthorpe's team hit a late-season slide for the second consecutive year. Louisville is now 1-6 during November over the last two seasons. UL has not scored more than 24 points in a Big East contest this year and averages 22.8 points scored while allowing an average of 35.6.
Louisville: I have to admit, I like the red, but the San Francisco 49ers knockoff jerseys lack originality. Plus, everyone knows Cardinals don't have teeth.
RU: Rutgers uniforms are classic and collegiate.
Louisville seems to be playing out the string again this year, though we know how that worked out for Rutgers in the finale last season (a 41-38 UL win). The Cardinals can't seem to get it together down the stretch.
Rutgers, on the other hand, is playing for a bowl game on a night where good things seem to happen in Rutgers Stadium. The Scarlet Knights are looking to become the seventh team in NCAA history to start the season 1-5 before going to a bowl game, but we'll see how full the stands are in what is supposed to be cold weather.
HEAD TO HEAD
Rutgers leads the all-time series 5-2, but Louisville is 2-1 against Rutgers since joining the Big East. The last two games have been decided by three points for the winning side each time, and Louisville laid a 56-5 beatdown on the Scarlet Knights in Louisville in 2005.
Louisville earned the Big East's BCS bid in 2006 and went on to beat Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl. Since coach Bobby Petrino left UL in the dust, the program has slid into mediocrity.
RU still hasn't qualified for a BCS berth, but the Scarlet Knights are on the verge of their fourth consecutive bowl bid.