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Russell Athletic Bowl preview: Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

Russell Athletic Bowl
Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

About the Scarlet Knights: Let’s not sugarcoat it; Rutgers should have been in a BCS bowl. The Scarlet Knights had two opportunities to secure their spot in the BCS and blew them both, leaving them with a less desirable matchup against a Virginia Tech team that won its final game to become bowl eligible. This is a good Rutgers team led by the strong running presence of Jawan Jamison, who rushed for 1,054 and four touchdowns, but the  offense have been out of sorts down the stretch. Jamison rushed for at least 100 yards in six of the Scarlet Knights’ first seven games and hasn't rushed for 100 in a game since. In fact, he rushed for just 101 yards in his final three games combined. Quarterback Gary Nova threw for 2,566 yards, the most by a Rutgers quarterback since 2008, but threw 13 of his 15 interceptions during the team’s final five games, including six against Kent State.

About the Hokies: Virginia Tech has been one of the most disappointing teams this season. After being ranked as high as No. 13 in September, the Hokies never seemed to find consistency and consequently will finish with their worst record since going 2-8-1 in 1992. Prior to this season, the Hokies had had eight consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins and even this year, they were the favorite to challenge Florida State for a spot in a BCS bowl. But with all of that out of the picture, Virginia Tech is just hoping to finish with a winning record. Quarterback Logan Thomas has been the Hokies best weapon, but even his season has been suspect. Virginia Tech’s defense will give up points – it's on pace to allow the most points in a season since 2003 – so Thomas will have to be at his best to keep the Hokies in the game.

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Key number: 0-5
Thomas has thrown 14 interceptions this year and Virginia Tech is 0-5 when he throws more than one in game. Rutgers has forced 16 interceptions this season, including five games with multiple picks.

The breakdown: It’s hard to read this game because both teams come into it with two different perspectives. Rutgers lost two straight to cost itself a BCS bowl while Virginia Tech won two straight to earn bowl eligibility. If you look at the matchup straight up, Rutgers is the better team. It has a better offense and a better defense. And while Jamison struggled down the stretch, he was also nursing an injury, which should be healed by now. Rutgers scoring defense ranks No. 5 nationally, which isn’t great news for a Virginia Tech offense that has struggled to put points on the board. The Rutgers defense will be the difference as it allows the offense to get comfortable and perhaps find that drive that made the Scarlet Knights a BCS bowl contender in the first place.

Predictions

Frank Schwab: Rutgers 20, Virginia Tech 16
All season, the Hokies have been a disappointment. They're 3-9 against the spread, but now all of a sudden they're favored against a Rutgers team that was pretty good all season? The thought might be that Rutgers is disappointed to be in this game after blowing a shot at a BCS spot, but then, why is Virginia Tech excited to be here either?

Graham Watson: Rutgers 30, Virginia Tech 10
Even though this isn’t where Rutgers wanted to be this postseason, it still has a chance for its third 10-win season in school history and a chance to end the season on a high note. Rutgers is the better team here and if they come to play, this should be no contest.

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