Rutgers vs. North Carolina: no one knows much

PISCATAWAY, NJ - SEPTEMBER 1: Greg Schiano Head Coach of Rutgers Scarlet Knights leads his team into the field before their college football game against North Carolina Central Eagles on September 1, 2011 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

North Carolina's football team has, by all accounts, an extremely talented roster. This recruiting thing isn't 100% bunk, you know. They just happened to have fired their coach right before the start of the season, and additionally have to deal with the distractions from an ongoing NCAA scandal. On paper though, it's one heck of a team, even if you control for the usual coachspeak. Of course, North Carolina had edge on paper five years ago. That meant little when Joe Dailey was throwing the game away, and John Bunting couldn't inspire any resolve in his players. Everyone always talks about all of the question marks surrounding the Scarlet Knights this year, but what bigger question mark is there than fielding an interim head coach?

Rutgers hasn't recruited as well as North Carolina the past few seasons, but they aren't chopped liver in that respect. If recruiting is a reasonable proxy for talent, then Rutgers enters this game as a top 40 roster, visiting a top 30 roster. If you figure home field is worth three to four points or so, that would lead to a six or seven point line. Instead, most sports books have this one around minus ten or eleven. The reasoning is simple enough; North Carolina's top 30 recruiting classes were evident on the field last season. RU's top 40 classes generally were not, even though they came fairly close to upsetting North Carolina in Piscataway last fall. There might be very good explanations for why Rutgers underachieved, and will live up to its billing this year, but only people that follow the Rutgers program have given much consideration to them at this time.

Rutgers can be for real this year and still lose to North Carolina. 4-3 in conference and 4-1 out of conference seem to be the consensus around these parts. Losing this one doesn't mean they're done. A single-digit loss easily could be followed by a string of victories against the upcoming schedule. It sure would be nice to win those one though; to not only silence the naysayers, but to make up for letting last year's game slip away. There's also the little matter that much of UNC's ill-earned largess over the past few season's came at RU's expense. Their recruiting victories AND victories on the field were the fruit of the poison tree, no matter how many preposterous stories come out of North Carolina about binders and such.

Speaking of which, who has more possible motivation for this one than Savon Huggins? Will a hostile Tar Heel crowd treat him as J.J. Redick-incarnate, or descend into apathy? (Let's leave the wise cracking about UNC football to an alum in Steve Politi. Their football support is fine in a vacuum; everyone just cares about basketball a lot more.) It was only months ago that Butch Davis swore up and down to Huggins that a slew of NCAA investigations would turn up Carolina's way. Maybe so, but Davis was unceremoniously dumped in the process as collateral damage. All the James Madison game balls in the world (you think they don't feel a hint of contrition for John Blake's actions or documented academic fraud) and Greg Schiano public defenses can't fix that one.

Davis gave his word to Huggins, and Savon almost trusted that man with his future. Almost signed up for three to five years in football purgatory for a coach that saw Huggins as nothing more than a piece of meat. Yeah, Mr. Huggins probably has a bit of motivation to become the X-factor for this one. He'll have plenty of room to run with Chas Dodd and RU's deep receiving corps testing UNC's inexperienced secondary. Still, Rutgers is a poor matchup for UNC's power rushing attack, and the green Dodd is likely to make a mistake or two when being stared down by one or another athletic freaks on the Tar Heel defense.

Prediction:

North Carolina 27

Rutgers 23

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