LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (9-2)
at RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (9-2)
Kickoff: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EDT
Line: Rutgers -3, Total: 43.5
One day after being accepted to join the ACC in 2014, Louisville will try to wrap up a share of the Big East title when it visits Rutgers on Thursday night.
If the Knights win (5-1 in conference), they wrap up the Big East, but a Cardinals victory (plus a Cincinnati win over Connecticut) would make a four-way tie of 5-2 teams for the conference crown. Louisville holds a slight 4-3 (SU and ATS) advantage over Rutgers in Big East play all-time, winning two straight meetings, including a 40-13 rout in its last trip to New Jersey in 2010. Both starting quarterbacks -- Teddy Bridgewater (wrist/ankle) and Gary Nova (neck) -- were injured in bad losses last week when the Cardinals fell at home to 10-point underdog Connecticut and the Knights got smoked 27-6 at Pittsburgh.
Can Rutgers win the Big East outright on Thursday? For the answer, connect to The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts picks for every key college football game throughout the 2012 season.
Bridgewater ranks 6th in the nation in passing efficiency, throwing for 3,189 yards, 23 TD and 6 INT. He has at least two touchdown passes in each of the past five games. Although he led his team to a 16-14 win over Rutgers last year, Bridgewater was just 10-of-18 for 122 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. RB Jeremy Wright had a nice day though, rushing for 108 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries. With top RB Senorise Perry (knee) out for the season, Wright will get a much bigger workload on Thursday. Wright has a team-high 723 rushing yards this year, but has been held to just 72 yards on 26 carries (2.8 YPC) in the past two games. However, he's been a valuable receiver out of the backfield with 15 catches over this same two-game span. Although Louisville has given up 24.5 PPG (44th in nation), it hasn't allowed too many yards (345 YPG, 26th in FBS). Such was the case last week when UConn scored 23 points, but managed just 241 total yards in a triple-overtime game. Louisville has a +7 turnover margin for the season, thanks to just 11 giveaways in 11 games.
Rutgers also has an injury concern with its starting QB Gary Nova (neck), but he is expected to start on Thursday. Nova has completed 60% of his passes this season, but has thrown 10 interceptions (and just 5 TD) in the past four games. Nova also threw three picks in last year's loss to Louisville, ruining an otherwise serviceable day (207 passing yards, 1 TD). Although Nova's 18-of-37 for 157 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT performance in last week's loss to Pittsburgh wasn't great, it was the Knights' lack of a ground game that really hurt. Jawan Jamison, Savon Huggins and Paul James combined for just 54 yards on 22 carries (2.5 YPC). Jamison (1,004 rush yards) began the season with five straight games of 110+ rushing yards, but has failed to reach the century mark in any of his past four contests. Huggins was huge at Cincinnati two weeks ago (41 carries for 179 yards), but hasn't topped 50 yards in any other game this season. With a lackluster offense, Rutgers continues to beat opponents with a stout defense that allows 13.7 PPG (4th in nation) and 317 total YPG (14th in FBS). The Knights have also been a great field-position team with a +11 turnover margin and the 9th-best kick return game in the nation (26.1 yards per return).