This one's for all the marbles. While it's not an official conference championship game, the Big East title is hanging in the balance as the Louisville Cardinals (9-2, 4-2) take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (9-2, 5-1) on Thursday night.
The Cardinals lost two consecutive games heading into this week and nearly lost star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a wrist injury in last week's loss to Connecticut.
“Yes, Teddy will play ... He finished the game against Connecticut so there’s nothing different," Charlie Strong, Louisville's head coach, said on Monday, according to Keith Sargeant of Scarlet Scuttlebutt.
That's incredibly good news for the Cardinals who will be going up against one of the stingiest defenses in the Big East. The Scarlet Knights have the fourth-best scoring defense in the FBS, allowing just 13.7 points per game.
Even with Bridgewater healthy that could pose a problem for a team that has scored just 26 and 20 points over the past two weeks.
When: Thursday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: Free Football Radio
Betting Line (via Covers)
Over/Under: 43, Spread: Rutgers (-3)
Rutgers' offense is nothing to write home about. They've been unimpressive at best this season, averaging just 22.9 points per game. A three-point spread is a tricky one because this game will likely come down to a late field goal.
This game has low-scoring, high-intensity battle written all over it. Neither team should be able to run the score up and it will likely remain close throughout. Go with the Scarlet Knights to win by at least three and for the score to fall short of 43 points.
Injury Report via USA Today (as of 11/26/2012)
QB Teddy Bridgewater, Wrist, Probable
WR Scott Radcliff, Undisclosed, Questionable
DE B.J. Dubose, Suspension, Questionable
CB Charles Gaines, Undisclosed, Questionable
RB Senorise Perry, Leg, Out for season (11/13)
LB Daniel Brown, Undisclosed, Out (10/12)
WR Michael Harris, Knee, Out for season (8/26)
QB Gary Nova, Neck, Probable
K Kyle Federico, Hip, Doubtful
DL Daryl Stephenson, Foot, Out (10/24)
DL Al Page, Leg, Out for season (10/19)
DL Isaac Holmes, Wrist, Out for season (10/3)
FB Michael Burton, Leg, Out for season (9/25)
Each of these teams is vying for the Big East Conference's automatic BCS bowl qualifying bid. The stakes, then, couldn't be higher for either of these two teams. Both fell out of the BCS Top 25 rankings last week after dropping disappointing losses to non-ranked teams.
This week is a chance for redemption and a chance for one of these schools to represent the Big East on the big stage.
Boise State, Kent State and Northern Illinois are all ranked ahead of both of these teams and could finish with automatic BCS bowl selections if they finish within the Top 16 of the rankings, as long as they are ahead of the conference winner from a major conference.
There's little doubt that will be the case, regardless of who wins this de facto Big East championship game.
Louisville Player to Watch: Teddy Bridgewater, QB
Bridgewater is having a fine sophomore season for the Cardinals. Last season he replaced Will Stein as the starter as a true freshman and hasn't looked back since. His 3,189 yards with 23 touchdowns and just six interceptions has given him an impressive 161.2 passer rating this season.
Running yards will likely come at a premium against the stingy Scarlet Knights defense. That will put even more pressure on Bridgewater and the passing game to deliver. If he's pressured, and he will be throughout this one, he'll need to find a way to elude blitzers and make plays. He's been able to do that somewhat this season but not against a defense that is as tenacious as Rutgers' unit.
Rutgers Player to Watch: Jawan Jamison, RB
Running the football is going to be the key to a Scarlet Knights victory. They'll live and die by the success of Jamison and the offensive line in this one. Hey may still be a little nicked up with a tender ankle but he should be okay to play. Just having the dynamic running back on the field should be good enough against a bad Louisville rush defense.
Syracuse ran for 248 two weeks ago and the poor Connecticut offense put up over 140 on the ground in their win over the Cardinals last week. Running the ball and playing tough defense is Rutgers' style. Trying to out-duel and throw on Louisville could get them out of their comfort zone.
Prediction: Rutgers 21, Louisville 17
Rutgers is a more well-rounded team than Louisville and will use its imposing defense to keep the Cardinals in check for most of the game. Gary Nova and Jawan Jamison will have a much easier task ahead of them this week than they had in last week's loss to Pittsburgh.
The biggest question mark for the Cardinals will be whether or not they will be able to keep dinged up quarterback Teddy Bridgewater upright. It's a daunting task after giving up five sacks on the sophomore QB last week against Connecticut's tough defense.
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