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Rutgers/Iowa State preview

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How good are Rutgers and Iowa State? Sagarin has Iowa State at 33 and Rutgers at 46, although that's an average of its ELO_CHESS (no margin of victory) and PREDICTOR/PURE POINTS (includes margin of victory) models. The page's very introduction says that PURE POINTS is more accurate, and that ELO_CHESS mainly exists because the BCS is for some reason not allowed to consider margin of victory. By PURE POINTS, Rutgers is #43 and Iowa State falls to #47; essentially, they're closely matched, but Rutgers should be favored by four in a semi-home game. If you're of the mind that Rutgers will win going away, then Football Outsiders F/+ (which is notable for weighing special teams more than other polls) ranks Rutgers at #31 and ISU at #71.

Sagarin's margin of victory ranking is very telling for this game. Iowa State played a very tough schedule, but they also had some bad losses. How much of that is counterbalanced by beating a great Oklahoma State team? On that same note, how much should Rutgers be dinged for a unforgivable loss to a terrible UConn team; the same Huskies that ISU squeaked by in Storrs? Pretty much the entire case for the Cyclones in this one is in averaging their entire schedule, or even not looking at margin of victory entirely. Rutgers fares better by the latter metric, and even better if you throw out outliers on either end, and just look at each team's median games.

Yankee Stadium isn't Rutgers Stadium, as the angles are weird and askew, and the loud student section won't show up nearly in the numbers as they do for home games. Still, the crowd should definitely be on the side of the locals. The specific matchups favor Rutgers too. ISU's defensive numbers are skewed down by playing in the Big XII but they don't do all that much well. Consequently, their offense should be adjusted down accordingly, and they aren't a very good passing team to begin with. The Cyclones have a bad run defense, and don't sack opposing quarterbacks very much. In spite of that, they aren't bad against the pass. This is just a team that doesn't generate very many big plays, which is in stark contrast with a Rutgers team that has shown a knack for wild swings in either direction all season long.

At least for Rutgers, their uninspiring number of sacks allowed is more than a little misleading. In a vacuum, Rutgers is perfectly fine at pass protection. Where they've gotten in trouble is with run blocking. RU has only had any success on the ground in about a third of their games. They're basically just running for the sake of time of possession, to keep their defense fresh and off the field. That frustrating lack of success gives opposing defenses the impunity to cheat against the pass, and dismiss play action entirely. Rutgers becomes one-dimensional. Defenses know they have to throw, and that's where all the sacks are coming from.

Rutgers has played defense with the best of them all year, but when they have struggled, it's been owing to inconsistency at the quarterback position. Whether it's sophomore Chas Dodd, or freshman Gary Nova, every Rutgers signal caller has wildly oscillated between brilliance and disaster. It's been a rotation of sorts, with Greg Schiano riding one starter for a bit, before switching to the understudy with a hotter hand. That meant Dodd saw the hook against UConn. Nova showed off his trademark youth and knack for mistakes in that game, but also demonstrated somewhat of an ability to move the chains. The thinking here is that Nova gets the call, at least at first. He has demonstrated a better command of Frank Cignetti's offense all season long, and he likely has the better chance to start in 2012.

If the Knights can get Jawan Jamison or Jeremy Deering going out of the backfield (the status of Savon Huggins is iffy due to injury), they'll win going away. If not, then you still have to like their chances. As a passing team, they can come back in a shootout, while Iowa State hasn't demonstrated that capability. As the UConn game certainly showed, they don't always unfold as they look on paper. This time though, if it does, then the Rutgers football team should close out 2011 with a big victory. Jamison will get going, Nova will throw a few touchdowns to receivers like Mohamed Sanu, and Justin Francis will close out his Rutgers career in style with a great performance. Rutgers goes home with another lackluster bowl victory, and can spend the next eight months once again ruing their failure to get over the proverbial hump.

Prediction: Rutgers 27, Iowa State 20