Rutgers vs. Louisville odds and predictions: Scarlet Knights 3-point favorite

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

Thursday's de facto Big East Conference title game will feature Rutgers entering as a 3-point favorite over Louisville.

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights host the Louisville Cardinals Thursday in a de facto Big East Conference championship game at High Point Solutions Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). The winner of the contest will earn the league's automatic BCS berth and a possible trip the Orange Bowl.

Entering the contest, Rutgers (9-2, 5-1 Big East) is a 3-point favorite over Louisville (9-2, 4-2) according to oddsmakers at Bovada. The game is expected to be a low-scoring affair as the over/under is set at 44 points, a solid mark considering Rutgers is tops in the Big East in scoring defense (13.7 points per game) and Louisville's offense has struggled in its last two games.

One of the reasons for the Cardinals' struggles is the status of starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who will not enter the game 100-percent healthy. During last Saturday's 23-20 loss to the Connecticut Huskies, Bridgewater threw the ball 53 times with a broken left wrist.

Despite his health status Bridgewater, arguably the top candidate to win the Big East Offensive Player of the Year award, is expected to start.

Meanwhile, Rutgers is coming off a disappointing loss, 27-6, to the Pittsburgh Panthers. The loss was the Scarlet Knights second in four games, which doesn't include a close 10-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats, Nov. 17. Rutgers' first loss of the season came against the No. 17-ranked Kent State Golden Flashes, 35-23, on Nov. 27.

One of the biggest reasons for the Scarlet Knights' recent struggles is the play of sophomore quarterback Gary Nova. Over the past four games Nova has completed 57-percent of his passes for an average of 194 yards with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Mainly, Rutgers offense relies on its pair of running backs, featuring junior Jawan Jamison and sophomore Savon Huggins, to carry the load. The duo has also struggled in the past few games.

Defensively, Rutgers has the better ranked unit. Senior linebacker Khaseem Greene leads the group with a team-high 115 tackles. The Scarlet Knights also have a solid special teams unit, which has led the FBS in blocked kicks since 2009 and is tied with UCLA for the lead this season with eight blocks on punts, field goals and extra points.

Louisville's defense is ranked fourth in the Big East in total defense (345.5 yards per game) and fifth in scoring defense (24.5 points per game).

Prediction

This contest should be a thrilling, but it will also be ugly. There's nothing pretty about Big East football and games like these usually come down to turnovers and a few big plays here and there.

Right now, it seems Rutgers' defense is more capable of creating turnovers while Louisville offense could make some big plays through the air.

Maybe home-field advantage will be the key in the end.

Final score: Rutgers 24, Louisville 20.

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