RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (4-1) at LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (5-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Louisville -19 & 57
Opening Line & Total: Cardinals -17.5 & 55
The 2012 Big East co-champions attempt to each go 2-0 in the new American Athletic conference when Rutgers visits unbeaten and eighth-ranked Louisville on Thursday night.
Last year, each of these teams was 5-2 in conference play with the Cardinals representing the Big East in the Sugar Bowl, where they defeated Florida 33-23. These two programs have played each other in each of the past eight seasons with Louisville coming out ahead, going 5-3 SU ATS, including 3-1 (SU and ATS) at home. Very close games have been a common trend between these teams. In 4-of-8 meetings, a field goal or less separated them, including a three-point Cardinals victory last year and a two-point victory for them in the last meeting at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2011. Rutgers is coming off a 55-52 triple OT victory over SMU in its AAC opener while Louisville hosted Temple and had an easy 30-7 victory. Although the Cardinals didn’t cover that 33-point spread, they have still been dominant on the season, winning each of their games by at least 14 points and holding four of five opponents to seven points or less. This will be Louisville’s toughest offensive opponent on the season though, as it has not faced a scoring offense ranked better than 67th in the nation. Although the Cardinals are large favorites at home in this match-up, the Scarlet Knights will look to show they are still a top team in their division.
Rutgers is coming off a thrilling victory at home against SMU on Saturday where it gave up the lead late, being outscored 21-0 in the third quarter, but rallied in overtime to secure its first AAC win. QB Gary Nova has been a large part of the Knights’ 4-1 season so far. Over the season, Nova has thrown for 1,171 yards (8.3 YPA) with 13 TD and only 4 INT. His ability to secure the ball and keep drives going has led the Rutgers passing attack to 243.2 YPG (59th in nation). While this team does not do anything spectacular, they bring a dual-threat offense with the 60th-ranked rushing attack (179.6 YPG). RB Paul James has led the team in 2013 with 573 yards on 78 attempts (7.3 YPC) with 6 TD, but is doubtful for the Thursday night game with a leg injury. RB Justin Goodwin came into the SMU game with only seven carries on the season, but sparked the offense with 222 total yards (149 rushing, 73 receiving) and three total touchdowns. Star WR Brandon Coleman (2nd team all-conference in 2012) will look to get back into the swing of things as he has only 126 receiving yards over the past four games after a 94-yard, two-touchdown performance in the season opener. Rutgers lost four first team All-Conference defensive players from the 2012 season, and its difficulties have been clear, allowing 380 YPG and 27.6 PPG.
The Cardinals are riding high, as they have won seven straight games (5-2 ATS) dating to last year and have a margin of victory of 37.6 PPG on the season. Heisman hopeful QB Teddy Bridgewater has been on fire this year with 1,562 passing yards (10.8 YPA), 16 touchdowns and only one interception on the season. Bridgewater has thrown 4+ TD in three of the Cardinals first five games and has been sacked only four times all year. Bridgewater will be missing 2012 1st team All-Conference WR DeVante Parker (375 rec. yds, 6 TD) who is battling a shoulder injury. Picking up the slack will be WR Eli Rogers who has 279 receiving yards (18.6 average) and two touchdowns on the season. Helping out Bridgewater and the passing game will be the 58th-ranked rushing attack (181.2 YPG) led by the trio of HBs Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer combining for 753 yards (5.8 YPC) and eight touchdowns. Louisville features the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense (6.8 PPG), but has yet to face a difficult offense, going up against the 119th-ranked offense (Temple) and 124th-ranked offense (FIU) in their past two games.
ARIZONA WILDCATS (3-1) at USC TROJANS (3-2)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: USC -6 & 49
Opening Line & Total: Trojans -6.5 & 49
Arizona squares off with Pac-12 rival USC on Thursday night as both teams look for their first conference win of the year.
It seems as if both the Wildcats and Trojans are moving in the wrong direction. Arizona started the season 3-0 against non-conference opponents, but suffered a lopsided 31-13 loss at Washington, allowing 244 rushing yards in the process. USC is coming off of a 62-41 blowout loss at Arizona State which left head coach Lane Kiffin without a job, and Ed Orgeron filling his spot in the interim. He’ll be tasked with leading the Trojans (0-2 in Pac-12 play) likely minus injured star WR Marqise Lee, who is doubtful to play because of a knee injury. The Trojans have done well in this matchup in the past, going 7-2 straight up against Arizona since 1992, but have had trouble covering the spread (3-6 ATS). In the most recent meeting between these two programs in 2012, the offenses combined for over 1,200 yards of offense, but five USC turnovers led to a 39-36 Arizona win at home. The Wildcats have struggled mightily on the road recently with a 3-12 SU record over their past 15 road games. Each team has an outstanding rushing offense (Arizona 291 YPG, USC 191 YPG), so both will be looking to pound the football on the ground on Thursday night.
Arizona has gone with its strengths and slowly changed its identity to a run-heavy offense. Top HB prospect Ka’Deem Carey has led the nation’s 9th ranked rushing offense (292 YPG) with 431 yards (5.9 YPC) and five touchdowns on the season and also contributes to the pass game with 82 receiving yards. Joining Carey in the rush attack is QB B.J. Denker, who has run for 280 yards (5.5 YPC) and six touchdowns on the season. Denker has not been expected to do much this season throwing the ball and has only passed for 111 YPG and 4.9 YPA with two touchdowns and two interceptions on the year. His two interceptions both came in the last game against Washington, which also happens to be the team’s first loss of the season. No Wildcats receiver has caught more than nine passes through the first four games of the season with WR Garic Wharton leading the team with 117 receiving yards (14.6 average). The Arizona defense has done well on the season, giving up only 335 total YPG and 14.3 points per game (9th in FBS), but when facing a top-35 offense in Washington, they gave up 409 yards and 31 points.
The Ed Orgeron era for USC begins on Thursday night after the school cut ties with former head coach Lane Kiffin after a 21-point loss to ASU on national television. An even bigger loss than Kiffin in that game was their star WR Marqise Lee, who sprained his left knee and is doubtful for this game. Lee’s likely absence will be severe, as he has caught 30-of-76 completions (40%) thrown by the Trojans this year, and is coming off two straight seasons of at least 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns. The man who will be searching for a new top target to throw to will be QB Cody Kessler who has thrown for 832 yards with 6 TD and 4 INT on the season. Kessler has been more involved in each of the past four games with his attempts rising from 13 to 17, to 26 and finally 29 times against the Sun Devils. USC features the 50th best rushing attack in college football (191 YPG), led by HB Tre Madden. In 110 attempts this year, Madden has 583 yards (5.3 YPC) and three touchdowns, one in each of the past three weeks. He has been very consistent so far this year rushing for over 90 yards in all five games on the season, including a season-high 151 yards against Washington State on Sept. 7. Trojans star LB Morgan Breslin (11 tackles, 4 sacks) is doubtful for this game with a hip injury, which could make it harder for the Trojans to slow down Arizona’s fierce rushing game. Despite allowing 261 yards on the ground in its last game, USC still has the nation’s 13th-ranked rush defense (100 YPG).