Sunday, December 2, 2012
Russell Athletic Bowl
By Matt Fortuna and Heather Dinich
Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (6-6)
Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. ET, Orlando, Fla. (ESPN)
Rutgers take by Big East blogger Matt Fortuna: The Scarlet Knights enter the Russell Athletic Bowl on a two-game losing streak. Of course, a win in either of their final two games would have had them in their first-ever BCS bowl. Rutgers can still call itself a Big East champion for the first time in program history, just not in the fashion it had anticipated after a 5-0 start in conference play.
Rutgers got as far as it did this season behind strong defense and special teams play. Khaseem Greene is among the nation's best (and underrated) linebackers, totaling 125 tackles, 5.5 sacks and six forced fumbles this season. The Scarlet Knights surrender just 13.73 points per game. And if you think settling for a bunch of field goals instead of touchdowns -- or playing the field-position battle -- will help your cause, think again: Rutgers has blocked eight kicks this season, returning two for touchdowns. (It has blocked 31 kicks since 2009).
Offensively, Jawan Jamison has carried the load, carrying it 242 times for 1,054 yards and four touchdowns, becoming the third Rutgers player in the past 36 years to record a 1,000-yard rushing season. Quarterback Gary Nova has struggled at times, but he has an offensive line that has kept him standing up (sacked just eight times all season) and big wide receivers who are capable of making plays, as evidenced by Nova's five-touchdown effort in an early season win at Arkansas.
Rutgers is bound for the Big Ten in a few years, but it has unfinished business to tend to in the Big East. Though an outright conference title wasn't in the cards this season, a postseason win after a rough season-ending stretch could go a long way toward getting Year 2 of the Kyle Flood era off on the right foot next season.
Virginia Tech take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The Hokies were arguably one of college football’s biggest disappointments this year, and a major reason the ACC’s Coastal Division was so weak. Virginia Tech, which began the season ranked No. 16 in the country and favored to win the division, had dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 after just three weeks.
The Hokies had suffered an embarrassing 35-17 loss at Pittsburgh in Week 3 in which they were beaten soundly up front on both sides of the ball. It was one of two losses to Big East teams this year, including Cincinnati. The matchup against Rutgers could provide Virginia Tech with some redemption against the Big East. In retrospect, the loss to Pitt was a foreshadowing of the troubles that would continue to haunt the Hokies throughout what would become the program’s worst season in 20 years.
Virginia Tech’s revamped offensive line, which had to replace four starters from 2011, was a weak link, quarterback Logan Thomas was plagued by mistakes and a supporting cast that didn’t help him look any better, and Bud Foster’s usually dominating defense was average at best. Virginia Tech struggled in all four phases of the game, including coaching, as the program’s nation-leading streak of eight straight 10-win seasons came to an end with a thud.
From Sept. 29 to Nov. 8, Virginia Tech went 1-5, its lone win coming at home against Duke. The Hokies won only one game on the road this year -- a 30-23 overtime win against Boston College. Virginia Tech had to squeak by rival Virginia, 17-14, in the regular-season finale just to become bowl eligible. The Hokies have long been criticized for their poor postseason play, but this year, just getting to the postseason was an accomplishment.