Sept 8, 2012; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Gary Nova (15) completes a pass to running back Jawan Jamison (23) during the second half at High Point Solutions Stadium. Rutgers defeated Howard Bison 26-0. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE
It's beyond cliche, but on first glance, tonight's game between Rutgers and USF would seem to be a tale of two quarterbacks. There's B.J. Daniels on his seemingly fourth straight hot start, with his propensity to screw up in big moments hanging over the Bulls' season like a sword of damocles. Meanwhile, Rutgers is coming off two uninspiring passing performances on offense. It wasn't ALL on Gary Nova - there have been plenty of drops, and a game plan with an overwhelming number of screens leaves one to question whether Rutgers has been intentionally keeping its best under wraps. That's certainly possible, but if it was true, why has RU looked as good as expected on defense? Why has the running game been good? What was with the ridiculous penalties and special teams miscues against Tulane too?
Regardless, there certainly won't be any excuses left against a legitimate opponent. A pair of strong defenses and two question marks is the conventional wisdom, with USF supposedly getting the edge due to Daniels's experience, although he really hasn't done much to earn it. That's an issue (as is USF losing Sterling Griffin for the year), and actually, USF's defense may be its own question mark after getting torched by Nevada. That pistol offense is no joke, and Rutgers has had its own issues with dual threat QBs, but Cody Fajardo torched them for 400 total yards on the air and the ground last week. That was countered by a brilliant performance by Daniels and receiver Andre Davis, but there is little dispute that the Knights will put up more of a fight on defense than the Wolf Pack.
USF certainly outplayed Rutgers last fall before imploding in spectacular fashion, playing to type as ever, but thus far this is a different RU team. Nova looking muzzled is a negative, but Rutgers can suddenly run block again, and while Jawan Jamison still has plenty to prove, he already looks like the best RU back in years. You can almost squint and draw a comparison to 2006, with Rutgers pounding the ball repeatedly while a caretaker QB manages the game with a play action pass here and there. That's the upside, but it won't be easy with the team already banged up. Returner Jeremy Deering and tight end Paul Carrezola are back, and fortunately center Betim Bujari and end Marcus Thompson might play, but losing guard Andre Civil will hurt the line's budding chemistry. Savon Huggins being out further thins the depth at RB, increasing the onus on Jamison to break out on the national stage. At least he hasn't gotten that many carries through the first two games.
With so little relevant data to go on thus far, no possible outcome would be surprising, which makes USF being over a touchdown favorite that much more perplexing. It's a complete tossup. The key for Rutgers (pretty much as always) will be to slow down the pace, force Daniels into mistakes, and be opportunistic on special teams. They have looked better up to this point, and certainly deserve to be the favorite, but anything more is a bit of a stretch as of now.
Prediction: USF 16, Rutgers 13