Who Has the Edge in the PapaJohns.com Bowl?
N.C. STATE'S OFFENSE VS. RU'S DEFENSE
The Wolfpack have a dangerous, versatile quarterback who plays beyond his years. Freshman Russell Wilson is mobile like West Virginia's Pat White and South Florida's Matt Grothe. He's much more like White than Grothe because he knows how to throw carefully (one interception in 252 attempts, 16 touchdown passes; 226 attempts without an interception). Wilson accounted for more than 200 yards per game in his last eight starts and led N.C. State to a 5-3 record in those contests.
Wilson does not have much of a supporting cast, but the N.C. State offensive line outmatches Rutgers' defensive front by nearly 50 pounds. The Pack don't employ much traditional rush offense, but they can hurt RU if they get into a power set.
The Big East runs plenty of spread offense, and Rutgers has faced several quarterbacks of Wilson's caliber this season. Whatever permutation of the option offense (flex, spread, triple option), RU has faced it before (Cincinnati: Chazz Anderson; West Virginia: Pat White; South Florida: Matt Grothe). The Scarlet Knights failed to hold any Big East spread quarterback to under 300 yards of total offense this season, though they limited Cincinnati, West Virginia and USF to an average of 17.7 points per game.
RU'S OFFENSE VS. N.C. STATE'S DEFENSE
Rutgers' offense clicked on all cylinders over the last half of the regular season. Quarterback Mike Teel averaged more than 300 yards passing per game over the final five contests of the season and Rutgers averaged more than 45 points per game. Third-team All-American receiver Kenny Britt was the No. 1 target, but seven different players caught a touchdown pass this year. Tim Brown emerged as a legitimate receiving threat, matching Britt with six touchdown catches during the regular season. Brown has also caught the first TD pass in each of RU's past two bowl games.
N.C. State was a decent defensive team this season, but the offense put the Wolfpack in bad situations early on. Still, the Pack allowed more than 300 yards of total offense in 11 of 12 games this season. N.C. State has averaged 387.1 yards of total defense this year.
T.J. Graham is a dangerous return man for the Wolfpack who has scored a return touchdown and who averages 24.8 yards per return. Opposing teams kicked away from the freshman late in the season, mitigating his threat. N.C. State's punting has been unspectacular, but place-kicker Josh Czajkowski has made five straight field goals and 13 of his last 14 attempts.
Rutgers had a tough time finding a kick return game until Jason McCourty stepped in to average 25.8 yards per return in 15 tries. Kicker San San Te was 9-for-13 on field goals and was 43-for-45 on extra points, and punter Teddy Dellaganna averaged 41.5 yards per punt during the regular season.
N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien has been in the college game for some time, having skippered Boston College for 10 years before moving to Raleigh. He owned Rutgers during his tenure in Chestnut Hill with a perfect 8-0 mark. While he has yet to guide a team to a Bowl Championship Series game, this is O'Brien's ninth postseason game in the last 10 seasons.
Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano is leading his school to its fourth consecutive bowl game after Rutgers went to one postseason game previously. Before Schiano arrived, Rutgers had never posted a winning Big East season. The Scarlet Knights have twice finished 5-2 in conference play since he took over. As defensive coordinator, Schiano's squad allowed fewer than 17 points per game over the current six-game winning streak. Offensive coordinator John McNulty helped RU score more than 40 points per game over the same span. This is perhaps the most important bowl game in Schiano's career.
Edge: N.C. State
N.C. State: You can't knock a team that has red as a school color.
RU: Same here.
North Carolina State is playing its best football of the season, and its freshman quarterback is emerging as one of the nation's best. Entering November, the Wolfpack were on the outside looking in for bowl bids. But four straight victories have them playing in the postseason.
RU demolished the competition in its last five games and is the hottest Big East team entering the bowl season. The Scarlet Knights have the best offense in the conference over the second half of the year and are looking to win their third bowl game in as many years.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the first meeting between the schools.
North Carolina State is back in the bowl picture after a two-year layoff. The Wolfpack have won their last three postseason contests, including a 14-0 win over South Florida in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
This is Rutgers' fourth straight bowl bid after going to the postseason once previously. The Scarlet Knights have won two in a row and are looking for their third consecutive bowl championship in as many years.