Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech: Russell Athletic Bowl Breakdown
Rutgers (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (6-6)
Dec. 28, 5:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Traditionalists like myself who will forever refer to this game as the Champs Sports Bowl -- or the Tangerine Bowl, the Micron PC Bowl, the Carquest Bowl or the Blockbuster Bowl -- know that in recent years, Orlando's little brother bowl has served as a launching pad for participants on the verge of big seasons. In 2009, Wisconsin beat Miami in Orlando and then went 11-2 and won the Big Ten in the 2010 season. In 2010, West Virginia lost to NC State in a game that illustrated the dysfunction of the loose Bill Stewart-Dana Holgorsen alliance. Coached only by Holgorsen in 2011, the Mountaineers won the Big East and the Orange Bowl. In 2011, Notre Dame lost to Florida State in a game that only reinforced the need for a new starting quarterback. With Everett Golson in place, the Irish went 12-0 in 2012 and will play for the national title. So will Rutgers or Virginia Tech use this game to launch a magical ride in 2013? With the Big East falling apart more every day, it's tough to predict what might happen to Big Ten-bound Rutgers, but the Hokies are due for a rebound. This has been Virginia Tech's worst season since 1992, and Frank Beamer is too good of a coach to let this program stay down. Fourth-year junior quarterback Logan Thomas has every tool imaginable, but he has yet to prove he can use them effectively. If he hasn't improved during bowl preparation, he could have problems against a Khaseem Greene-led Rutgers defense that ranks fourth in the nation in fewest touchdowns allowed (19).
• Keep an eye on: Rutgers tailback Jawan Jamison, who was the most important part of the offense for most of the season. During the Scarlet Knights' 8-1 start, Jamison carried the load, rushing for at least 100 yards in five consecutive games. But Jamison, who sprained his right ankle against Army on Nov. 10, carried only 28 times in Rutgers' final three games. The Scarlet Knights went 1-2. Jamison is healthy again, which means the Rutgers offense should run much more smoothly.
• Did you know: Rutgers is tied with Mississippi State for the nation's longest bowl winning streak with five consecutive postseason victories. The Scarlet Knights have taken advantage of the Big East's place in the conference pecking order -- better Big East teams tend to play middle-of-the-pack teams from other leagues -- to feast on mediocre opponents. This year, Rutgers finished with a share of the Big East title and will play the team that finished fourth in the ACC... Coastal Division.
• Final analysis: Thomas has had to do everything for Virginia Tech's offense this season. He leads the Hokies in both rushing and passing. If freshman tailback J.C. Coleman can't gain some yards to lighten Thomas' workload, Virginia Tech could struggle. Meanwhile, the Hokies' defense will have to slow Jamison. This is the same unit that gave up 157 yards to Pittsburgh's Rushel Shell and 262 yards to North Carolina's Giovani Bernard. If they bottle up Jamison, then the Hokies have a better chance to force Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova -- who threw five interceptions in the Scarlet Knights' final three games -- into making a mistake. If Jamison is picking up consistent yardage, Nova should be able to take advantage of one-on-one matchups on the outside.
• The pick: Rutgers 24, Virginia Tech 20