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Russell Athletic Bowl
There are going to be a lot of high-scoring bowl games this year, the Russell Athletic Bowl is not one of them. For starters, the over/under on this game is sitting around 41 points in most books. That's what you get when you combine two defensive teams. Rutgers is one of the best in the nation, allowing 14.3 points per game while Virginia Tech isn't bad themselves at 23.9 points allowed per game. Along with that, their offenses are much worse.
The Scarlet Knights were on their way to a pretty nice season and a possible BCS bowl sitting at 9-1 and undefeated in the Big East. Their hopes were shot down after two straight losses to finish the regular season. They got killed at Pittsburgh 27-6 and then in a winner-take-all game against Louisville in the final week, they couldn't get it done at home. That's why Louisville is playing in the Sugar Bowl while Rutgers is in this game. Rutgers didn't have a very hard out of conference schedule and their best win of the year was a 10-3 win at Cincinnati.
Virginia Tech was much of the same even with a 6-6 record. Their biggest win was technically in their final game against in-state rival Virginia which gave them six wins. Other than that, they only beat one team with a winning record and that was Bowling Green out of the MAC. In similar opponents, the Hokies lost to both Pittsburgh (35-17) and Cincinnati (27-24). Their only win away from home was in overtime against a 2-10 Boston College squad.
VT quarterback Logan Thomas will have to find a way through this vaunted Rutgers defense. When faced with a similar Big East defense in Cincinnati, Thomas had two costly turnovers and couldn't find any room to run on the ground. Thomas has had accuracy issues all season which you can see in his 14 INTs (he has 17 passing TDs and nine rushing TDs). His completion percentage is down a full seven points from last year, as well. Even so, his ability to make things happen with his legs has kept this team alive. In their game against Virginia, Thomas had 29 carries for 89 yards and a TD. Their top running back J.C. Coleman only has 486 yards and two touchdowns. If they can't find room to run on the Scarlet Knights, it could be a long day.
As for the Rutgers offense, it has problems of its own. Gary Nova has solid numbers with 22 TDs, but like Thomas, has a problem with interceptions. He's thrown 13 in his last six games. Not many QBs can say they've done that. Running back Jawan Jamison has battled injury issues as of late, but should be back to 100% for the bowl game. After his hot start with five straight 100 yards games, Jamison hasn't been as effective. He actually only has 101 yards in his last three games and zero TDs in his last four. Granted, he's only had 28 carries in those three games, but he still got the full load against Louisville and only had 50 yards. With a healthy Jamison, the Scarlet Knights will likely ride him all day long if possible.
When you handicap a football game, with tried and tested methods, a game either qualifies as a play, or it doesn't. When it qualifies, you play. When it doesn't, you pass. You'd like to win 100% of the games you play. Unfortunately, 100% winners doesn't exist. Nor does, 90%, 80%, 70% or for that matter, 60%. (those that would like to argue the 60% figure, feel free to contact us. We'll gladly make a substantial wager with you that you can win by picking 60% or better over a large number of games. Unfortunately, for you, you will lose that wager).
We expect to win between 54% and 58% of our wagers. We state this just to illustrate how thin the margins are. There are no locks or guarantees. Just solid plays based on sound handicapping principles that have produced consistent results over many years. That's where Rutgers fits in here. Simply another play.
Virginia Tech played a more difficult schedule being in the ACC compared to the Big East schedule Rutgers played. The difference was about a touchdown. But when you look at Rutgers numbers, such as their yards per point numbers, they are about 7 points better than Va Tech's. That suggests these two teams are fairly even.
Our model, which takes into account these schedule strength differences, has Rutgers winning this one by anywhere from 1 point to 4 points, depending on the time frame of data used. You also have to figure Rutgers is much more motivated to play, and beat Virginia Tech than Tech is to play and beat Rutgers. Let's face it, Virginia Tech is used to high profile bowl games. Frank Beamer Tech teams traditionally win 10 or 11 games a year and play in big time bowl games.
As Virginia Tech teams go, this is a bad one. They weren't even close in losses to Pitt, North Carolina, Clemson and Miami and they barely got by teams like BC and Virginia. Rutgers belongs here, based on what they accomplished this year. Tech barely belongs and likely wouldn't be here if not for their past history.
We want a field goal here and currently the number is +2.5 so we'll put this play out as a half point buy. Rutgers +3 -127 (5 Dimes Sportsbook)