Most pundits tabbed Louisville as the clear Big East favorite this year with West Virginia off to the Big 12, and pretty much all of them thought that Rutgers and South Florida would be the Cardinals’ biggest challenge in the conference. Thus, Thursday night’s Big East opener in Tampa could eventually decide whether either of these teams lands in a BCS bowl. Rutgers gets to host Louisville later this season, while the Bulls will have to travel to Kentucky.
You won’t find many teams having played a softer schedule so far than Rutgers, which has beaten Tulane and Howard by a combined 50-12. The worrisome fact is that the Knights are only averaging 25.0 points per game against that level of competition and that the passing game is No. 115 in the country.
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South Florida opened with a cupcake in Chattanooga and took care of business there, but the Bulls were incredibly fortunate to leave Nevada with a win last week. They were down 11 with less than three minutes left, but QB B.J. Daniels threw a 52-yard touchdown pass with 2:37 left and then a 56-yard winning score with 38 seconds remaining for a 32-31 win. The 11-point fourth-quarter rally was USF’s biggest ever.
Rutgers at South Florida Betting Storylines
The Rutgers secondary will have to be on its game against Daniels and his top receiver, Andre Davis, who had that game-winning score last week as part of his 12-catch, 191-yard effort, both school records. USF already has six plays over 30 yards -- three over 50 yards -- with all six resulting in touchdowns in 2011. Last year, the Bulls had 13 plays of 30 or more and five over 50. The Knights will be able to focus more on Davis because USF lost receiver Sterling Griffin to a season-ending injury vs. Nevada.
Daniels is finally living up to his potential (I loved him on a preseason Big East prop story I wrote here at Doc’s) and has completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 588 yards with six touchdowns and one pick. However, Rutgers has had the QB’s number for the most part. Daniels is 31-of-68 passing for 378 yards with four interceptions and three touchdowns in three games vs. the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers is a bit banged up heading into this game. Starting guard Andre Civil and No. 2 running back Savon Huggins are definitely in doubt. Taj Alexander would make his first college start at right guard if Civil sits. Starting defensive end Marcus Thompson is questionable with an ankle injury, while first-year coach Kyle Flood believes that injured center Betim Bujaru will play and that tight end Paul Carrezola (he had a TD catch in the opener) will return after being sidelined last week.
Rutgers won’t pull the upset if Gary Nova isn’t better under center. Nova, who beat out Chas Dodd in a quarterback competition in camp, has completed 26-of-47 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions this season. Last season against the Bulls, Nova was benched in the fourth quarter and replaced by Dodd in a 20-17 home overtime victory. The Knights were down 17-3 in the fourth and USF missed a 27-yard winning field goal at the end of regulation. That was the third meeting in the past five between these two decided by a field goal or less. Rutgers has won four of the past five overall.
Running back Jawan Jamison has been the focal point of the Rutgers offense so far, with back-to-back 100-yard games. The Knights are averaging 171 yards per game on the ground in 2012 (No. 60 in the nation) after ranking No. 115 a season ago. Huggins had 21 carries combined the first two games and the third-stringer is seldom-used Ben Martin, so Jamison (who has just 28 total carries in 2012) could carry the ball a ton if Huggins sits. Jamison will be jacked up as it’s the first game in his home state for the Florida native. USF allowed 278 rushing yards last week vs. the Wolf Pack.
Rutgers at South Florida Betting Odds and Trends
The Bulls are currently eight-point favorites with the total at 46 on Sportsbook.ag. The Scarlet Knights are 0-1 ATS on the road this season, while USF is 0-1 ATS at home. “Over/under” records: RUT 0-1, USF 1-0.
Rutgers is 7-3 ATS in its past 10 Thursday games. The Knights are 6-2-1 ATS in their past eight vs. teams with a winning record. USF is 1-8 ATS in its past nine conference games and 0-8 ATS in its past eight Thursday games. The under is 6-1 in Rutgers’ past seven road games. The over is 4-1 in Bulls’ past five after a win. Rutgers has covered the past five meetings. The over is 5-2 in the past seven meetings.
Thursday College Football Predictions: Rutgers at South Florida Picks
Rutgers hasn’t started a season 3-0 since 2007, and I don’t see it doing so here. The Knights are 7-14 in Big East openers overall and 2-7 when starting conference play on the road. With all that said, USF just doesn’t seem to play well on Thursdays. In fact, the past three seasons the Bulls are 0-4 on Thursdays and none have been close. I say that USF ends that losing skid but eight points is too many. Take Rutgers and the over.
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