Rutgers football seemingly cannot catch a break at the moment. Fresh off losing to South Florida on a safety, the Knights' return home was spoiled by two missed field goals, coupled with Syracuse hitting a chip shot at the end of regulation to secure a win. Now the team's bowl hopes look increasingly dismal, with little left to play for but pride in what has turned out to be an extremely disappointing season.
Coming up next is a weekend trip to Cincinnati, with the Bearcats arguably the only more-disappointing Big East football team this season. First year coach Butch Jones is already drawing unflattering comparisons to former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe (n that the latter quickly presided over the decline of what looked like a great team). Cincinnati's defense has been a sieve for years, and now their offensive line is in shambles to boot. They have lost three straight, with two consecutive blowouts at the hands of Syracuse and West Virginia. To think that only a month ago this team was giving Oklahoma everything they could handle.
Rutgers still has to settle on a quarterback, with ineffective freshman Chas Dodd giving way against Syracuse to a healthy Tom Savage. Neither has much of a chance in the team's current offense stuck behind an awful line, meaning that we could once again be seeing a healthy dose of freshman Jeremy Deering out of the Wildcat. Deering was a revelation last week as one of the few offensive bright spots, seeing additional snaps with star receiver Mohamed Sanu limited, and tailback Joe Martinek a late injured scratch. Linebacker Manny Abreu's return was a significant boost for the defense.
The Bearcats still have a dangerous passing attack in place however. Quarterback Zach Collaros was hurt against Syracuse, and struggled against West Virginia, but still has found the time to compile gaudy statistics throwing to receivers Armon Binns and D.J. Woods. In last year's opener Cincinnati found success against Rutgers by spreading out and going with a short passing game in order to neutralize the Scarlet Knights' rush. Look for them to go back to the well with that strategy again, especially a week after Syracuse oddly was content to not make adjustments and give up six sacks.
Indeed, this matchup features two bottom 10 offenses in terms of sacks allowed (with Cincinnati 114th out of 120, and Rutgers dead last), meaning that viewers faint of heart might want to seek out alternative entertainment on Saturday. This is going to be an ugly, nearly unwatchable game between two deeply flawed teams, which should play right into the hands of Rutgers. With one of the worst offenses in the country, Rutgers has struggled to score points all year. Cincinnati's pass defense is a sieve, making this game a downright festival of the macabre. It will be like one of those dorm room bets, where you and a friend argue about who would win in a fight between Ben Reilly and Jar Jar Binks.
The answer, of course, is no one; as such an abomination would only be slightly more tolerable than the product on the field this Saturday. Did I mention yet how historically bad the Big East is this year? Because it is, which only makes this season's offensive futility for Rutgers that much more profoundly frustrating. Unless Cincinnati's defense somehow proves to be more inept, the Knights will have to claw their way to victory through special teams and turnovers. Which, may well be possible given that Cincinnati ranks 118th nationally in turnover margin, with Rutgers up at 13th (and yet hardly able to convert any of them).
Rutgers travels on the road to face off with Cincinnati this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on SNY.