#13 Rutgers Looks For First Big East Title and BCS Berth With Win Today
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To earn its first Big East title and Bowl Championship Series berth, Rutgers will look to pull off a couple of other firsts when it travels to Morgantown to face West Virginia on Saturday.
The No. 13 Scarlet Knights (10-1, 5-1) have completed a turnaround from doormat to national powerhouse this season and can clinch the league title for the first time with a win over the 15th-ranked Mountaineers (9-2, 4-2).
The Scarlet Knights went 3-20 in sixth-year coach Greg Schiano’s initial two seasons but have won 17 games over their last two years, earning their first bowl berth since 1992 last year.
Rutgers, though, will have to figure out a way to reverse its fortunes against West Virginia if it hopes to cap this season with the Big East’s automatic BCS bid. The Scarlet Knights, who have not defeated the Mountaineers since 1994, have lost in each of their 14 trips to Morgantown in a series that dates to 1916.
West Virginia is the only Big East team that Schiano has not defeated as coach of the Scarlet Knights. His team is 4-27-2 all-time against the Mountaineers, including an 80-7 rout in 2001.
“We’re already making history,” fullback Brian Leonard said. “When’s the last time we were undefeated at home? When’s the last time we were 9-0? All these things are new for everyone. This is just another new thing.
“We haven’t beaten them at their place. You can’t sit here and say, `We’re going to go down and beat them,’ but we’re going to prepare for a chance to beat them, and that’s all we can do.”
The Scarlet Knights wrapped up their home schedule Saturday with a 38-7 win over Syracuse. Leonard rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the team’s all-time leading scorer with 266 points.
“They know there is a lot of season left, but just taking them out on a win at home is awesome,” the fifth-year senior said of his teammates. “They know what we have been through in the past and now we have changed it around.”
Rutgers bounced back nicely after its first loss of the season, a 30-11 defeat at Cincinnati on Nov. 18 that ended the Scarlet Knights’ national title hopes. Mike Teel was intercepted four times in the loss, but threw two touchdown passes against the Orange.
Rutgers has 10 wins for just the second time in school history, one shy of the team record set by the Scarlet Knights’ undefeated 1976 squad.
“We have to tend to our business during the week and go out and practice like we are playing for the Big East championship and a BCS bowl game,” running back Ray Rice said.
Rice ran for 107 yards and a touchdown against Syracuse and ranks fourth in the nation with 135.9 rushing yards per game. He won’t be the only top running back in Saturday’s game, as West Virginia’s Steve Slaton is second in the country with 147.4 rushing yards per contest.
The Mountaineers are second in the nation with 312.1 rushing yards per game, and third with 38.7 points per contest. The Scarlet Knights, however, are holding opponents to 243.5 total yards, good for third in the nation, and 98.8 yards on the ground.
Rutgers is also allowing just 12.3 points per game, ranking it fifth in the country.
“It’s a very well-conceived offense and you’re dealing with inventor of it,” Schiano said, referring to West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez and his team’s run-oriented attack. “Any time you’re dealing with the guy who invented it, he knows where the issues lie, he really understands all the weaknesses, all the strengths.”
West Virginia’s explosive offense, though, was held in check in Saturday’s 24-19 home loss to South Florida, which ended the Mountaineers’ hopes for a BCS bid. They gained season lows of 310 total yards and 132 on the ground, and Slaton’s streak of six straight 100-yard performances ended with a season-low 43 rushing yards.
Quarterback Pat White threw for two touchdowns, but ran for just 17 yards on 15 carries after averaging 157.4 rushing yards in his previous five games. He tweaked his ankle during the game but was able to finish.
“That’s the worst our offense has played all year. Some of our best runs today, we’re losing yards,” said Rodriguez, whose team lost for the first time in nine home games.
While their streak of three straight Big East championships will end, the Mountaineers do have a chance to earn consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in team history.
“This team has won nine games and has a chance to win 10 and go to another bowl game,” Rodriguez said. “Is it what everybody wanted? No, but are we at that point when if we’re not in a BCS bowl that it’s a bad year at West Virginia?
“I don’t know – I guess we’re finding out.”
by: Anthony White – theSpread.com – Email Us
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