Our series continues today with Rutgers, one of four schools to share the conference title last season.
To see previous entries, click here.
Most important game: Nov. 16 vs. Cincinnati
Why: Rutgers' final win of 2012 was arguably its most important. The Scarlet Knights, behind the running of Savon Huggins and a lethal defense, went into Nippert Stadium and beat a Bearcats team that itself ended up sharing the conference crown with the Scarlet Knights and two others.
Huggins is back this year and carrying a bigger load. So, too, is quarterback Gary Nova, a player who has made great strides this spring and returns big target Brandon Coleman, a guy considered a potential first-round pick in next year's NFL draft. The question marks are on defense, where Rutgers had five players drafted from a unit that finished fourth nationally in scoring defense (14.15 points per game) and 10th overall in total defense (311.62 yards per game) in 2012.
While this team is a bit of an unknown heading into coach Kyle Flood's second year at the helm, it has the recruiting chops and enough key players returning to be considered one of the better four or five teams in the league. I'm not ready to say the Scarlet Knights are a true contender just yet, which is why I'm not choosing the Oct. 10 Thursday game at Louisville for this series. But the Bearcats themselves could be just as good or better than last season, and Rutgers' contest against them comes at a key point in the season, with Rutgers traveling to conference newcomer UCF just five days later.
The league appears wide open behind Louisville right now. And Rutgers can take great advantage of that by protecting its home turf and once again beating a Cincinnati team for another key late-season win.