Oct 8, 2011; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights defensive back Logan Ryan (11) intercepts a pass intended for Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Mike Shanahan (87) during the game at Rutgers Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tony Kurdzuk/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Russell Athletic Bowl-Pick, Preview, and Analysis-College Football 2012

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights head to Florida and take on the Virginia Tech Hokies in this year’s Russell Athletic Bowl. I’m taking the underdog Knights and they’re stalwart defense to get the win. Find out why below Mandatory Credit: Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Rutgers had a great season but it ended badly as they slid into the postseason with two tough losses which derailed their dreams of a BCS bowl. In contrast, Virginia Tech struggled all season but was able to pick it up at the end finishing with a pair of wins to get into the bowl season for the 20th straight season. Both teams look to finish the season with a win and Rutgers has a chance to extend the country’s longest postseason winning streak to six. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect in this one:

When to Watch: 5:30 PM ET, Friday, December 28, 2012

Where to Watch: Live on ESPN from the Florida Citrus Bowl, Orlando, Florida

What to Watch for

Nov 17, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights running back Jawan Jamison (23) runs during the second half against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium. Rutgers defeated Cincinnati 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

When Rutgers has the ball: Rutgers struggled offensively finishing 96th overall in the nation in scoring offense and 102nd in total offense. The Scarlet Knights offense showed up in their regular season finale against Louisville but they weren’t able to close out the game after getting a 14-3 lead late in the third quarter. They’re led by quarterback Gary Nova who threw for 2,566 yards on the season with 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His best game of the year came at Arkansas as he carved up the Razorbacks for 397 yards and five touchdowns. His lowpoint came a few weeks later when he threw six picks against Kent State in the Scarlet Knights 35-23 loss. He can make plays when he’s on, but has been inconsistent.

For most of the year, the consistency of the Knights’ offense was running back Jawan Jamison who ran for over 1,000 yards although he only scored four rushing touchdowns. He tailed off at the end of the season though rushing for just 101 yards in his final three games combined. The Knights will be looking for the Jamison who ran for 100+ yards in the first five games of the season and hopefully the extra rest before the bowl game can return him to his early season form.

The Hokies defense will also be a big part of that equation and they’ve struggled this season. They’ve fared well against the run ranking 36th in the nation averaging just under 140 yards allowed per game, but barring a shutout in this one will allow the most points they have in a season since 2003. On the season they allowed 23.9 points per game and were able to force 19 turnovers. Unfortunately for Frank Beamer’s squad, the offense turned the ball over 23 times giving them a -4 turnover differential on the season.

Nov 24, 2012; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas (3) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Virginia Cavaliers at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

When Virginia Tech has the ball: Limiting turnovers will be key for a Hokies offense that finished 80th in scoring offense 72nd in total yards. They’ll need a good game from quarterback Logan Thomas who led the team in rushing with 528 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as well as throwing for 2,783 yards and 17 scores through the air. Thomas did throw 14 picks has struggled with turnovers throughout his career which could be trouble against an outstanding Rutgers defense.

Rutgers defense forced 29 turnovers this season which ranked them 14th in the country but also was solid in almost every major defensive category. The Scarlet Knights ranked fifth in scoring defense allowing just 14.3 points per game, 11th in rushing defense allowing 105.0 yards per game, and 14th in total defense allowing just 321.3 yards of total offense per game to their opponents.

Rutgers defense is led by Khaseem Greene who finished 15th in the country in tackles per game with over 10 tackles a game including 5.5 sacks and adding two interceptions and an incredibly six forced fumbles. Another big playmaker is cornerback Logan Ryan who led the team with four interceptions.

Who to Watch for (NFL Prospects)

Oct 20, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Rutgers Scarlett Knights linebacker Khaseem Greene (20) recovers a ball fumbled by Temple Owls quarterback Chris Coyer (10)wls at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray /The Star Ledger via USA TODAY Sports

The Scarlet Knights defensive stars are projected as second-rounders but could move into the first with a solid pre-draft process. Khaseem Greene at OLB is probably the highest rated prospect in this one and could go near the top of the second round. Most agree he’s the best defensive player in Rutgers history and has the skill-set to excel at weak side linebacker in the NFL for many years. Think his former coach Greg Schiano could use him in Tampa? The other highly-rated Knight is cornerback Logan Ryan who has another year of eligibility but would rank in the top five CB’s if he declares this year. The thin class at his position and his physical makeup could get him a late first round pick. There’s also several Rutgers players that could be end-of-the-draft options. Wide receiver Mark Harrison, linebacker Steve Beauharnais, offensive tackle R.J. Dill, and safety Duron Harmon will be round six or seven picks or possible free agent pickups for NFL teams next season. Of that group, Harrison is the most intriguing due to his measurables and strong finish to the season. He could follow a string of recent Knights receivers to the NFL.

The Hokies currently look lined up to have four players drafted this year. Wide receiver Corey Fuller looks to be a fifth or sixth round pick. He’s a track star converted to wide receiver who actually walked on for the Hokies football team. Offensive Tackle Nick Becton is right around the top 10 tackles available this year at a position that NFL team’s value highly in the draft. Wide Receiver Marcus Davis and linebacker Bruce Taylor could also be late round picks that play Sundays next season.

Final Verdict

If Rutgers can get things turned back around and play the way they did before their last two games, they’ll get the win here. That starts with a commitment to the ground game and the ability to slow down the Hokies offense. I think they’ll get it done and that first-year Coach Kyle Flood gets the Scarlet Knights a win to close the year and finishes with a 10-win season. Some key stats to watch are Jamison’s rushing yards and Thomas’s turnovers. If Jamison can run and the Knights force turnovers, they should be in good shape.

Virginia Tech has struggled defensively and were 0-5 when Logan Thomas threw more than one interception. Their two year-ending wins were over BC and Virginia who both had down years and before that they had lost five of six including games to Cincinnati, Miami, and UNC who were unranked at the time. Cincinnati is the only common opponent the teams share. Rutgers won 10-3 and VaTech lost 27-24.

I think Rutgers defense will be able to stop Thomas while their offense gets just enough against a struggling Hokies D to get Rutgers the win. I’ll take Rutgers and the 2.5 points they get as the underdog. Against the spread, Rutgers is 7-3 in their last ten while Virginia Tech is 4-6.


Tags: Bowl Mania Bowl Picks College Football Preview Football Rutgers Scarlet Knights Virginia Tech Hokies

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