Sixteen years is a long time. Despite a few near misses, Rutgers has not beaten the West Virginia Mountaineers since 1994. On one hand, that's no surprise. Terry Shea wrecked the Rutgers football program in the late 90s, and West Virginia has been pretty good for most of that time. It's a little odd though that Rutgers didn't steal a win here or there though. Bill Stewart's tenure should have offered a prime opportunity, but the Scarlet Knights couldn't capitalize due to having a bad offensive coordinator. More than anything else, West Virginia's ascendancy has symbolized RU's inability to win the Big East conference. Even UConn of all programs has done that, and Rutgers is certainly a far better program by most metrics. The Knights haven't done it though, and more often than not it has been the Mountaineers standing directly in their way.
Most forecasts for Saturday project grim weather, which could both help and hurt RU's chances. Rain or snow will undoubtedly keep a fickle fanbase away, and negate what is normally a strong home-field advantage. However, that has to be balanced against the potential for slowing down West Virginia's high-powered offense. Dana Holgorsen's spread scheme has given the Mountaineers one of the best passing attacks in the country. WVU has weaknesses on the offensive line (which reared its ugly head last week against Syracuse) and on defense, but that comes as little comfort when Geno Smith is raining bombs on opposing defenses. One of the biggest challenges for Frank Cignetti will be trying to stick with his gameplan if the Knights fall into an early hole. Can he resist the temptation to air it out; especially if Brandon Coleman or Mark Harrison don't show better hands?
Ideally, the challenge for Rutgers will be to essentially mimic Syracuse's gameplan of a week ago, where the Orange capitalized on favorable matchups to run away in a game where SU was a home dog. They need to disrupt the line of scrimmage, and sustain offensive drives long enough to dominate the time of possession, and dictate the pace of the game. It won't be easy, but the alternative is a true freshman in Gary Nova trying to match Smith in a shootout. The Rutgers defense needs to bounce back from an uninspiring performance against Louisville (perhaps caused by the after effects of defending the triple option.) If they can generate pressure and win the turnover battle, this will be a competitive game. If Gary Nova tries to force throws, while Geno Smith methodically picks apart RU's defense, this one could get ugly quick. A win would be nice, but Rutgers still should be able to finish 8-4 with wins over USF, Army, and UConn even with a loss.
Rutgers hardly needs any additional motivation with the conference title still at stake, but regardless, the team will have it tomorrow when Eric LeGrand leads them onto the field. If Rutgers doesn't win tomorrow, they may not receive many more chances in the near future. West Virginia plans to join the Big XII in short order, while Rutgers waits for more dominoes to fall. Try as Tim Pernetti and Oliver Luck did, John Marinatto and the Big East's non-football programs were determined to wreck Big East football, and they finally appear to be succeeding. The two fanbases may be cheering for different teams on Saturday, but they generally have cordial relations, and everyone can commiserate afterwards about how Providence College's reign of tyranny destroyed everything that came within its path.
Prediction: West Virginia 34, Rutgers 23