Rutgers comes into Pittsburgh tomorrow with nearly nothing to play for, barring a simultaneous, unlikely upset by UConn over Louisville at the very same time. The Big East championship is going to come down to Rutgers and Louisville in Piscataway next Thursday. A win guarantees that Rutgers will at least tie for the league title, but even though the Champs Sports Bowl would represent by far the best ever bowl bid in program history (a sad commentary on the Big East's awful, pathetic bowl tie-ins), that would be a supreme disappointment given that everyone ought to or does have the Orange Bowl in sights.
Before the Cardinals, Rutgers has to face the Panthers, who have been awfully up and down this season, their last before departing for the ACC. How could the same team that lost to Youngstown State and UConn, and will be lucky to be bowl eligible also beat Virginia Tech (even in a down year), and take Notre Dame to the wire? Streaky would be an understatement, with handicappers actually making Pittsburgh a slight favorite in light of the trap game factor and Pitt looking for revenge after last year's blowout loss. That seems a little excessive, after Cincinnati was a decent favorite last week, and Rutgers more than covered in the other direction. With the increased spotlight on Rutgers this week for those reasons, and knowing that Pitt has played well at points, one hopes that Rutgers won't be so conservative on offense as to endanger the game.
The story with Pitt this season is that they have been really good at the skill positions, and quite terrible on the offensive line. Not as bad in pass protection as last season mind you, with that idiotic "high octane" offense thankfully dropped, but still profoundly bad. That's what makes it so stunning that Tino Sunseri has...actually played well. Who could have predicted that? They have the best running game in the conference with Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, and Tino has receivers to throw to - but really - Tino Sunseri is not only a legitimate DI quarterback, but the second best one in the Big East after Teddy Bridgewater? Say what? Last year Rutgers was able to contain Graham and force Sunseri into self-destructing, and I ultimately don't think they can handle our rush, but it might be shaky for a while until then.
We could be in for another defensive slugfest, with a heavy running game and opportunistic defense/special teams wearing them down until going off late. The screen game to a healthy Jawan Jamison will be really important; not only to build up Gary Nova's confidence again, but because the Panther depth chart at LB is a mess, and we should be able to really take advantage of it even if they are able to stay healthy. It's clear that Rutgers needs to pass and go over the middle more, and maybe it happens in a road game, but barring that another formula for victory has been well-established. It's by no means pretty, but there's a pretty good chance it works.
Prediction: Rutgers 20, Pittsburgh 16