For much of this college football season, all the attention has been focused on Rutgers and Louisville in the Big East. But sitting quietly in a position to pass both of them and take the Big East title are the Cincinnati Bearcats, with an overall record of 7-2 and a 3-1 mark in the conference. Cincinnati's lone loss in the Big East was to previously undefeated Louisville, 34-31 in overtime.
Cincinnati will look to take advantage of the fact that Rutgers' starting running back sensation Jawan Jamison is questionable for the game due to an ankle injury sustained against Army last week. Like Jamison, offensive lineman Andre Civil is also questionable due the ankle injury he suffered against the Black Knights. These injuries compound an already difficult situation for the Scarlet Knights, who have been struggling on offense due to the hip injury to starting placekicker Kyle Federico.
While the Scarlet Knights appear to be limping towards the finish line, the Bearcats are purring like a finely tuned motor on offense, scoring no less than 23 points in any game this season. Cincinnati started the season 5-0 before recent losses to Toledo and Louisville, and are currently on a two-game winning streak.
Both teams are evenly matched, and while the Rutgers defense is highly touted, it will have all it can handle facing a Bearcats offense that averages nearly 227 yards per game on the ground. Leading rusher George Winn (980 yards, nine TDs) is complemented nicely by sophomore Ralph Abernathy (341 yards, three TDs), who is also a receiving threat out of the backfield (21 receptions, three TDs).
"At this point of the season you can say it's the biggest game I've ever played in," said Rutgers DL Scott Vallone (as quoted by Tom Luicci of The Star-Ledger on NJ.com).
With injuries hampering the offense, Savon Huggins—who has been struggling with injuries himself—will need to assume a larger role in the running game. The Knights may also employ some gadget plays such as end-arounds or reverses to establish a rushing presence.
The keys to the game for Rutgers (as always) will be defense and special teams, but the determining factor may well be Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. If the Gary Nova that played against Arkansas shows up, the Knights can win the game. But if the Gary Nova who sprayed six interceptions around the field against Kent State comes to play against the Bearcats, Rutgers' title hopes will be in jeopardy.
"I think when you have a game in November with two teams that are at the top of the league it has a definite feel to it," said Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood after Wednesday's practice (as quoted by The Star-Ledger).
A Scarlet Knights victory would move them to 5-0 in the Big East, but a loss would drop them into a virtual three-way tie for first place in the conference. Vying for the top spot in the conference is familiar ground for the Bearcats, who have been involved in three of the last four Big East titles.
"Cincinnati has been a really good program for a long time and we feel like we've been a really good program for a long time now," said Flood (per The Star Ledger). "And I think when these two teams get together late in the year there's certainly excitement to it."
Game Time: Saturday, Nov. 17, 12pm, Nippert Stadium. Television: Big East Network