2008 Papajohns.com Bowl Preview
by Josh Nagel - 12/17/2008
N.C. State (6-6) vs. Rutgers (7-5)
Conference Matchup: ACC vs. Big East
Date: Dec. 29
Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.
Spread: Rutgers -7, total 53
This is a compelling matchup between two teams that looked to be headed nowhere in a hurry in the early going, only to see remarkable turnarounds that ultimately ended in a reward with this bowl berth. N.C. State started its season with an embarrassing 34-0 loss to South Carolina on national television, and it subsequently struggled to cultivate any sort of offense while trotting out a carousel of ineffective quarterbacks. It also suffered from an array of injuries to key players.
The offense finally got some stability with an improving Russell Wilson leading the way at quarterback, and the Wolfpack got some needed momentum with a 30-24 upset win at home over East Carolina. Even so, N.C. State then dropped four straight. But the Wolfpack ended its season on a tear, posting upset wins over Wake Forest, North Carolina and Miami on its way to becoming bowl-eligible. They also have been a bettor's delight, covering in seven straight contests and posting a 9-2 ATS mark for the season.
A similar story unfolded for Rutgers, a club that for half the season hardly resembled the one coach Greg Schiano claimed was his most talented ever. But for the past several weeks, the Scarlet Knights have made Schiano's words look more and more prophetic. Similar to N.C. State, Rutgers saw its season derailed by a 24-7 Week 1 home loss to Fresno State in which the Scarlet Knights blew several chances to blow the game open in the first half.
Rutgers went on to drop its next four against Division I opponents, appearing at times both lethargic and confused. What's more, senior quarterback Mike Teel was awful, turning into an interception machine and missing several basic throws he was used to completing. Rutgers was a dismal 1-5 before turning its season around with a 12-10 win over Connecticut. Suddenly, its lifeless offense turned unstoppable, and Rutgers ran up blowout wins over Pitt, South Florida, Syracuse and Louisville to salvage its season and earn a bowl bid.
N.C. State can cover if: The Wolfpack can cover if they shorten the game by using time-consuming drives and finding ways to get stops against Rutgers' suddenly potent offense. N.C. State can't afford to fall behind early by a couple of scores because it lacks the big-play offense to stage a comeback. N.C. State has a knack for sticking around and covering as a big underdog, but in order to do here, it will take a monumental defensive effort from a club that finished 95th nationally in pass defense at 242.8 yards per contest. Teel, who is now hitting his stride and has thrown for more than 3,000 yards this season, could carve up the secondary if N.C. State isn't careful. The Wolfpack also will need a few big plays from Wilson, who has led its once-stagnant offense to 79 points in its last two games.
Rutgers can cover if: If the Scarlet Knights of the past six weeks show up for this game, there might not be much that N.C. State can do to stop them. Their turnaround has been nothing short of astounding; after scoring just 40 points total in their first three games, they have eclipsed that mark three times in their past five outings to finish with an average of 29 points per game, ranking 41st in the nation. Teel has been in the zone and hooking up with his favorite target Kenny Britt, an NFL prospect who has 1,252 yards and six touchdowns. About the only factor that could slow Rutgers down is Teel's propensity for turnovers, particularly in big games. But the way he has played of late, that habit appears to be a thing of the past.
General Notes: These two teams have never previously met. Both teams are red-hot ATS and something has to give; they are a combined 16-2 ATS in their last 18 games. Rutgers has won and covered bowl games the past two seasons, including a 52-30 thumping of Ball State in last year's International Bowl.