Rutgers-Pittsburgh Preview

The Associated Press

Before leaving the Big East, Rutgers doesn't want to pass up a golden opportunity to win the league for the first time.

The 21st-ranked Scarlet Knights can lock up at least a share of the title Saturday with a win at Pittsburgh.

Rutgers announced Tuesday that the school is leaving the Big East in 2014 for the Big Ten, which will have 14 teams with Maryland also set to join.

First-year coach Kyle Flood isn't concerned about that creating a distraction for his players as they try to finish on top of the league they're in now. Rutgers (9-1, 5-0) hasn't won a conference championship since Big East football began in 1991.

"I think when you have the opportunity as a football program, as a coach, as a player, to do something that's never been done in the history of your program ... we are a very focused group," Flood said. "The football people in this building are focused on one thing, and that is trying to be 1-0 against Pitt."

If the Scarlet Knights win at Heinz Field and then beat No. 19 Louisville at home next Thursday, they will be assured of a spot in a BCS bowl. In fact, they could clinch the outright Big East championship Saturday if they beat Pitt (4-6, 1-4) and the Cardinals lose to Connecticut.

Rutgers used its stingy defense to improve to 5-0 on the road last Saturday, winning 10-3 at Cincinnati. Flood's team is allowing 12.4 points per game - only Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida are better - and the Bearcats didn't get on the board until there were 11 seconds remaining.

Linebacker Khaseem Greene, the Big East defensive player of the week for the second straight week, still wasn't satisfied.

"I was very disappointed about losing the shutout," said Greene, whose half-brother Ray Graham is Pitt's leading rusher. "I'm not going to lie to you. We played hard enough and worked hard enough to get the shutout."

The offense may be able to provide more help Saturday if Jawan Jamison's injured ankle continues to improve. The sophomore is 10 yards shy of 1,000 on the ground, but he got only four carries for 37 yards last week because of the injury.

Granted, Rutgers hardly missed a beat with fellow sophomore Savon Huggins gaining 179 yards on 41 attempts.

"Whatever guy is in there, we have confidence in," Flood said. "We don't change the offense because one guy is in there or the other."

The Scarlet Knights leaned on the ground game, perhaps in part because sophomore Gary Nova has thrown nine interceptions in the last three games. He was picked off twice at Cincinnati, although he did hit Mark Harrison on a 71-yard strike for the game's only touchdown.

Scoring hasn't been a problem for Rutgers against Pitt, averaging 29.0 points while winning five of seven in the series. Nova threw for a pair of touchdowns in last year's 34-10 home victory.

Although Rutgers plans to remain in the Big East for the 2013 season, this will be the last conference game between these programs with Pitt moving to the ACC next year.

The Panthers need to win their final two Big East games to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season. They finish up next week at South Florida.

"We're definitely in touch with reality and what we have to do," wide receiver Devin Street said.

First-year coach Paul Chryst's team had a bye last weekend following back-to-back losses. After a heartbreaking triple-overtime defeat at unbeaten Notre Dame on Nov. 3, Pitt fell behind 24-0 at halftime six days later at Connecticut and a spirited rally fell short in a 24-17 loss.

Senior Tino Sunseri threw for 302 yards and two scores against the Huskies. He has completed 67.3 percent of his passes this season and has thrown only two interceptions - none in 202 attempts over his last seven games.

Rutgers, which has forced at least two turnovers in eight consecutive games, picked off Sunseri three times last year.

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