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Rutgers' Quest For First Big East Title Goes Through Cincinnati

Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

The only Week 12 conference matchup pits the #22 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (8-1, 4-0) against the Cincinnati Bearcats (7-2, 3-1) at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati (Saturday, Nov. 17, Noon, Big East Network).

The teams have met just 17 times each holds an 8-8-1 series record, though the Bearcats hold a 5-2 edge in Big East Conference play. Rutgers is 1-6-1 all-time at Cincinnati, with the lone win (10-7) coming in 1987. Rutgers’ won last year’s game 20-3 in Piscataway, N.J., ending a Bearcats five-game winning streak.

For Rutgers, the game has huge implications. It would keep the Scarlet Knights in control in their quest for their first Big East championship. Wins in its last three games means Rutgers goes BCS bowling. Wins in two of its last three games ensures RU of a share of the Big East crown.

Their chances in Cincinnati were hurt last week against Army with an injury to running back Jawan Jamison, who ranks 24th nationally and second in the Big East with 105.9 rushing yards per game. He is likely to be limited in carries if he plays at all, meaning Savon Huggins must pick up the slack.

On the bright side, Rutgers’ defense has allowed just 13.4 points per game and only 41 total in four Big East games this season (13 vs. USF, 3 vs. UConn, 15 vs. Syracuse, and 10 vs. Temple).

RUFANJERRY had this to say about the Scarlet Knights outlook:

Rutgers is 4-0 in conference play and in the driver’s seat to win its first Big East championship and play in an FBS bowl game. The Knights were close last year before a late season loss to UConn ended their hopes. What, if anything, makes you think Kyle Flood can lead the team to places that Greg Schiano couldn’t?

While the formula remains the same: run the ball, play good defense and special teams, Flood seems to put a little more leadership onus on the players and allows them to be looser. While this has sometimes manifested itself negatively (many more penalties than in the past), it also has not allowed the team to get down when pressed. Rutgers has come back from two early 10-0 deficits this season. The Connecticut game last year, where Rutgers fell down 14-0 quickly, was always in my opinion, the product of a team that was more tightly wound than one who underestimated the Huskies.

The regular season finale against Louisville in Piscataway has been much anticipated. How does the team avoid looking past the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh games, both on the road, to keep the meaning in that Nov. 29 match-up?

This is the fourth and final part of a unique 2012 Rutgers Football schedule. After the early road games, then the two home conference rivals, Rutgers know leaves behind the Temple and non-conference portion of the schedule for a back-loaded ending to the season. In terms of talent and difficulty Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Louisville pose the biggest challenges for the Scarlet Knights. Since Rutgers has never beaten Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium since they joined the Big East I do not see it being an issue with them overlooking the Bearcats this weekend. Being underdogs also helps that cause.

Rutgers has been to the precipice before.… Does the team have the ability to close?

After the loss at Kent State and an uninspiring offensive day last week I would like to see how the team comes out this Saturday. Human nature is human nature and the last three opponents did little to ignite a fire in the team or its fans. Now with this final stretch upon us we will quickly find out if the team has lost its mojo or not. So I will hold off on making any predictions until after Saturday!