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Rutgers may be headed to the Big 10, but they still want to leave the Big East with a title. The Scarlet Knights are constantly underrated yet sit in first place in the conference with an undefeated Big East record. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh comes into this game at 1-4 in conference play and a 4-6 overall record. With the game being in Pitt, the Panthers are slight two-point favorites. Rutgers won last week at Cincy as 6.5-point underdogs.
Rutgers won last year's game 34-10 even though they were outgained in the yardage department. Tino Sunseri tossed three interceptions in that game which were costly. He only has two interceptions in 10 games this year. With two defensive heavy schools, expect another low scoring game. The Scarlet Knights have not allowed more than 15 points in five Big East games. Pittsburgh's offense has been inconsistent all year, but has shown they can move the ball against good defenses, most recently at Notre Dame.
As mentioned before, Sunseri is having a very conservative senior season. He's completing a higher percentage of passes and throwing less picks than any of his previous seasons. He hasn't thrown an interception in seven straight games while Rutgers picked off the Cincy QB twice last week. Sunseri has focused on two receivers all year in Devin Street and Mike Shanahan. The two have combined for 103 receptions for 1,554 yards and eight TDs. RB Ray Graham is having another solid season although his yards per carry is down a full yard from his previous three-year average. He still has 10 TDs and over 1,100 total yards. Graham had 159 yards and a TD in last year's meeting at Rutgers.
The Rutgers offense is much of the same in that they aren't very potent. Gary Nova is under center and he's a little more reckless than Sunseri with the ball. He has 12 interceptions for the season with 10 of them coming in the last four games. On a positive note, he does have 19 TDs. It will be very interesting to see how much Jawan Jamison can play as he was held to only five touches last weekend due to an ankle injury. Jamison has been a force for the Scarlet Knights with 990 rushing yards and 308 receiving yards. However, even with Jamison down, Savon Huggins stepped in big for 41 carries and 179 yards against Cincinnati. Pittsburgh's No. 1 task will be to stop that running game.
The Scarlet Knights continue to defy the odds with a 7-1 ATS mark in their last eight games while the Panthers are standing strong going 6-1 ATS in their last seven home games vs. a team with a winning road record. Rutgers is 5-2 ATS in their last seven meetings in Pittsburgh. The over has hit a surprising four times in the Panthers last five home games, but the under is 8-3 in Rutgers last 11 road games.
There's plenty of motivation to go around in this one. For Pitt, it's simple. Win this week and next week against South Florida to reach 6 wins and go to a bowl game, salvaging a very disappointing season. With a win, they can also gain a little revenge for last years loss to Rutgers.
For Rutgers, it's also simple. Win this week and assure themselves of at least a piece of the Big East Title, possibly winning it all if Louisville loses to Uconn. They can also get a BCS Bowl with a win this week and next.
It's not an easy game to handicap. On the surface it's a 9-1 team against a 4-6 team. But Pitt has had it's moments this year, such has a heartbreaking triple OT loss to Notre Dame, a game they should have won. So it's not as if this team isn't capable. Don't read too much into the loss to Uconn after that ND loss. It was an obvious spot for a letdown. They have also had a week off to get focused on Rutgers. But there is reason to be concerned when you look at their point production this year against teams like Cinci, Syracuse and Buffalo. Bottom line is, other than Notre Dame and Cinci who squashed them, the Pitt mediocre year has come against teams that are .500 or worse.
It's hard not to like Rutgers here. They have one loss, to Kent State, who by the way, is pretty good this year at 10-1. Sure, their schedule hasn't been the toughest in the nation, but it's on par with Pitt's and they have taken care of business each and every week. Their defensive yards per point number is 25.2, 2nd best in the nation behind only Notre Dame. Again, we are aware of the schedule strength. It's all relative. Just because they have a better ypp number than say, Florida, doesn't make them better than Florida. But it's also no fluke to have that kind of a number after 10 games. This is a damn good defense regardless of the schedule they have played.
Our model kind of puts this one in perspective. It likes Rutgers, but just by point or two, depending on the number of games worth of data we use, predicting a total of anywhere from 30 to 34 points scored between the two. So for you totals players, the under may be worth a look. For us, we're going to go with who we feel is the obvious better team here and as an underdog to boot. If money shows on Pitt and moves this number to +3, we could get involved using Rutgers as a Key Release for the 2nd week in a row. For now though, it's just a strong opinion. Rutgers +2
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