Posted: Thursday November 9, 2006 11:31AM; Updated: Thursday November 9, 2006 5:27PM
Austin Murphy will answer questions from SI.com users.
This game is likely to come down to whether or not Rutgers quarterback MikeTeel is ready for prime time. Yes, the redshirt sophomore's passing statistics have been modest so far this season (seven times he has thrown for 145 or fewer yards). But he has been consistent in the most important statistic: winning. As a starter at Rutgers and New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep (where his 23 straight wins included back-to-back state championships), Teel is 33-1.
"At some point," Schiano said earlier this season, "we're going to have to throw the ball effectively. We haven't had to do that yet."
Two weeks after that comment, Navy sold out to slow Rutgers' superb running back tandem of Ray Rice and Brian Leonard. Teel responded by completing 15 of his 26 passes and burning the Midshipmen for three touchdowns. If the Cardinals stack the box against Rice and Leonard, it will be up to Teel to make them pay with his arm.
Schiano makes no apology for bringing his young quarterback along slowly. He vows to play "New Jersey Big East football" -- a more manly brand of the game, he seemed to be implying, than, say, the Kentucky brand of Big East football.
Remind us again coach -- what exactly is "New Jersey Big East football?" It is, he says, "Controlling the ball, holding it, running it and throwing it not when you have to, but when you want to."
Through the wonders of NJBEF, then, Rutgers will try to keep Brohm off the field by sustaining long, clock-devouring drives featuring Rice and Leonard. Thus, it seems that this game will have a distinctly different feel than did last week's wide-open shootout.
How about that, by the way? For the second straight week, college football's marquee game will not be played on Saturday. While ESPN has been airing Thursday night games on a regular basis for 14 years, Louisville-West Virginia was "the biggest we've ever had," ESPN vice president of public relations Josh Krulewitz told me last week. "We've never had two top-five teams, never had two undefeated teams this late in the season."
While Rutgers-Louisville has slightly less juice, it's not far behind. While the Knights most likely have too much ground to cover to get to the national title game, the Cardinals stand a very solid chance of getting there, should they win out. That such a critical game could be taking place in November, in Piscataway, is, to use that word again, surreal. This is a Rutgers program whose 64-6 loss to Miami in 2000 was, compared to its 80-7 loss in Morgantown a year later, a taut, suspenseful affair. This is a team that has dropped games, in recent seasons, to Villanova, Buffalo (by 23) and New Hampshire.
But the Knights went bowling last season, and are going again. Schiano's players have learned how to win. Maybe we should get used to seeing games of this magnitude played on the banks of the old Raritan.