The 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl features a matchup of two teams coming off disappointing seasons for far different reasons.
The Virginia Tech Hokies, representing the ACC, were a preseason top-15 team that finished 6-6 on the season. While it is the 20th consecutive season in which the Hokies will play in a bowl game, the destination is a disappointing one for a team so accustomed to competing for a BCS bowl on an annual basis.
Rutgers, representing the Big East, began the season 7-0 and looked like a lock to represent the Big East in the BCS. However, a loss to Kent State began somewhat of a downward spiral for the Scarlet Knights. They lost three of their last fives games including a regular season-ending loss to Louisville last week that would have ensured Rutgers their first-ever BCS bid.
So, while the Hokies are just happy to recover enough to compete in a bowl game, they are disappointed in their season.
Rutgers didn't begin the season with high expectations but first-year head coach Kyle Flood's squad surpassed all expectations with their impressive start. The past month has many Rutgers' fans feeling this team is no different than the one's in past years.
Which team will channel their disappointment appropriately and end the season on a high note?
Here is all you need to know about the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl from where it is being played to who will win and why.
Where: Orlando, Florida at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium
When: Friday, December 28, 2012, 5:30 PM (EDT).
Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Rutgers Football Radio Network.
Live Streaming: ESPN3
Betting Line: TBA
Battle of Elite Defenses - Rutgers enters this game ranked 14th nationally in total defense. They are 11th versus the run and are allowing just over 14 points-per-game, good for fourth in the country.
Virginia Tech is 24th in the nation in total defense, 35th against the run. They have played outstanding over the second half of the season once their defensive line returned to full health. Throughout the first half of the season the Hokies struggled to get pressure on the quarterback. They finished the season with 32 sacks, many of them coming in the last five games.
Both teams struggle to run the ball. Rutgers is 102nd in the nation in rushing offense. Virginia Tech is 66th.
Junior running back Jawan Johnson leads the Scarlet Knights with 1,054 yards on the ground.
Hokies' quarterback Logan Thomas is the Hokies' leading rusher with 708 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. The Hokies have rotated several backs into the mix in order to establish a running game with little success. Freshman J.C. Coleman is the Hokies' best running back and looks like a potential future star.
Big East history:
The two schools are former Big East rivals having last played in 2003. Overall, the Hokies are 11-3 against the Scarlet Knights and have won the past 11 meetings after Rutgers won the first three. The rivalry dates back to 1920.
This is the Scarlet Knights' most recent depth chart as of last Thursday against Louisville.
QB - 15 - Gary Nova, SO (6'2", 230)
RB - 23 - Jawan Jamison, SO (5'8", 200)
FB - 89 - Paul Carrezola, JR (6'2", 241)
WR - 17 - Brandon Coleman, SO (6'6", 220)
WR - 81 - Mark Harrison, SR (6'3", 235)
TE - 10 - D.C. Jefferson, SR (6'6", 250)
LT - 72 - Kaleb Johnson, SO (6'4", 298)
LG - 75 - Antwan Lowery, JR (6'4", 301)
C - 55 - Betim Bujari, SO (6'4", 295)
RG - 66 - Andre Civil, JR (6'3", 278)
RT - 76 - R.J. Dill, SR (6'7", 310)
DE - 48 - Marcus Thompson, JR (6'2", 260)
NT - 94 - Scott Vallone, SR (6'3", 280)
DE - 92 - Jamil Merrell, SO (6'4", 255)
LB - 37 - Jamal Merrell, JR (6'4", 220)
LB - 45 - Kevin Snyder, SO (6'3", 225)
LB - 20 - Khaseem Greene, SR (6'1", 235)
LB - 42 - Steve Beauharnais, SR (6'2", 235)
CB - 11 - Logan Ryan, JR (6'0", 190)
CB - 25 - Brandon Jones, SR (6'1", 185)
FS - 32 - Duron Harmon, SR (6'1", 200)
SS - 21 - Lorenzo Waters, SO (6'0", 190)
K - 93 - Nick Borgese, FR (5'11", 175)
P - 97 - Justin Doerner, SR (6'2", 195)
KR - 18 - Jeremy Deering, JR (6'2", 210), 14 - Miles Shuler, SO (5'10", 170)
PR - 24 - Mason Robinson, SR (5'10", 185)
Here is the latest depth chart for Virginia Tech according to www.hokiesports.com.
QB - 3 - Logan Thomas, JR (6'6", 260)
RB - 4- J.C. Coleman, FR (5'8", 192)
FB - 45 - Joey Phillips, SR (5'11", 234)
Split End - 83 - Corey Fuller, SR (6'2", 196), 7 - Marcus Davis, SR (6'4", 232)
Flanker - 80 - Demitri Knowles, FR (6'1", 177), 11 - Dyrell Roberts, SR (6'2", 195)
TE - 9 - Randall Dunn, SR (6'2", 240), 88 - Ryan Malleck, SO (6'4", 244)
LT - 54 - Nick Becton, SR (6'6", 317)
LG - 76 - David Wang, JR (6'2", 288)
C - 79 - Caleb Farris, SO (6'3", 309)
RG - 55 - Brent Benedict, SO, (6'5", 304)
RT - 71 - Vinston Painter, SR (6'6", 309)
DE - 99 - James Gayle, JR (6'4", 269)
DT - 98 - Derrick Hopkins, JR (6'0", 306), 56 - Antoine Hopkins, SR (6'1", 313)
DT - 92 - Luther Maddy, SO (6'1", 288)
DE - 96 - Corey Marshall, SO (6'1", 267)
LB - 58 - Jack Tyler, JR (6'1", 236)
LB - 51 - Bruce Taylor, SR (6'2", 244)
LB - 28 - Alonzo Tweedy, SR (6'2", 195)
CB - 1 - Antone Exum, JR (6'1", 224)
CB - 17 - Kyle Fuller, JR (6'0", 195)
Rover - 34 - Kyshoen Jarrett, SO (5'11", 195)
FS - 8 - Detrick Bonner, SO (6'0", 198)
K - 83 - Cody Journell, JR (6'0", 195)
P - 27 - A.J. Hughes, FR (6'1", 190)
KR - 4 - J.C. Coleman, FR (5'8", 192), 20 - Michael Holmes, FR (6'0", 208)
PR - 34 - Kyshoen Jarrett, SO (5'11", 195)
Coleman, a 6'6", 220-pound sophomore wide receiver is a mismatch for opponents. He finished the regular season with 39 receptions, 663 yards and 10 touchdowns.
In the Scarlet Knights last game against Louisville, Coleman had an 85-yard catch-and-run that went for a touchdown.
His size creates the mismatch for opponents but overlooked is his impressive speed. Coleman is most often utilized in the red zone. Just over 25-percent of his catches have gone for touchdowns. That is an incredible weapon for quarterback Gary Nova.
The Hokies have a solid pair of junior cornerbacks in Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller. Exum's combination of size and speed would seemingly make him the best matchup from the Hokies' perspective.
It has been an up-and-down junior campaign for Hokies' quarterback Logan Thomas. While he has led the Hokies with 708 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, he has struggled finding a rhythm in the passing game.
Thomas has some talented wide receivers in seniors Corey Fuller and Marcus Davis. Freshman Demitri Knowles is a talented, young deep threat.
Thomas has excelled in the deep passing game while often struggling in the intermediate passing game. If the Hokies can get Thomas some easy throws to the start the game, the Hokies could have a big day offensively.
Turnovers have been Thomas' biggest problem having thrown 14 interceptions on the season.
Rutgers doesn't get a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks finishing the 2012 regular season with only 18 sacks.
Virginia Tech defensive line vs. Rutgers' offensive line:
Quarterback Gary Nova has had a solid sophomore season due in part to a talented and experienced offensive line. Having been sacked only eight times all season, Nova also hasn't faced a defensive line as talented as the Hokies.
This battle very well could determine the outcome of the game.
Rutgers' secondary vs. Virginia Tech receivers:
Hokies' wide receiver Marcus Davis is one of the more physically gifted players in the country. He has had solid senior season yet always seemingly leaves Virginia Tech fans wanting and expecting more. When he has a big game, the Hokies generally have more success on the offensive side of the ball.
Rutgers is 32nd nationally against the pass. The Hokies are ranked 60th in passing offense. While it seems like an advantage for Rutgers, the Hokies can exploit the Scarlet Knights' lack of a pass rush by getting the ball to Davis, Demitri Knowles and J.C. Coleman on shorter throws allowing them to run after the catch.
Rutgers will win if they establish the running game. The Hokies are stingy against the run but they have struggled at times this season.
Pittsburgh and North Carolina were both able to run against the Hokies and those teams both won convincingly. With Rutgers having talented wide receivers, it becomes even more important to make the Scarlet Knights one-dimensional.
Sophomore running back Jawan Jamison did have over 1,000 yards rushing this season. As a unit, though, the Scarlet Knights have often struggled to run the ball.
If Jamison can get going early, Rutgers will win this game because the Hokies will not be able to give their defensive backs extra helps against Rutgers' wide receivers.
Virginia Tech will win the Russell Athletic Bowl if they get pressure on quarterback Gary Nova. As noted earlier, Nova has only been sacked eight times and has been allowed time to pick apart opposing defenses.
The Hokies struggled early in the season with coverage due in large part to their lack of ability to get pressure on the quarterback. When defensive tackle Luther Maddy and defensive end James Gayle both returned to full health, the Hokies' pass rush became much more formidable.
Offensively, the Hokies are unlikely to be very explosive, therefore making it more important that they pressure Nova into bad decisions and turnovers.
Senior linebacker Alonzo Tweedy has given the Hokies a big boost since entering the starting lineup the last few weeks of the season. Tweedy is extremely fast and is good in coverage, a liability for the players ahead of him earlier in the season. Tweedy is the Hokies' best pass-rusher from the linebacker position, too.
This will undoubtedly be an ugly defensive struggle. Both teams enter the Russell Athletic Bowl much better on that side of the ball.
Both quarterbacks have also struggled with turnovers. Gary Nova has thrown 15 interceptions while Logan Thomas has 14. The difference between both teams and their stout defensive units is that the Hokies get more pressure than Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights, unlike the Hokies, are a plus-9 on the turnover ledger. The Hokies are at minus-4 on the season.
This game will come down to turnovers and on this day the Hokies will commit fewer turnovers than the Scarlet Knights.
Virginia Tech will win in a close one, 20-17.