TEXAS BOWL (Houston)
RUTGERS VS. KANSAS STATE
12/28, 8 p.m. ET NFL NETWORK
POINTSPREAD AT PRESS TIME
Rutgers by 7.5 points, total of 45
Kansas State: 7-5
Both teams picked up the pace from the prior season. Kansas State was 5-6 in 2005, and not much was expected in the first year of head coach Ron Prince. Athlon's preseason publication had them at #73 in the country. Phil Steele's publication only had Kansas below K-State in the six-team Big 12 North projections. Athlon deserves some plaudits with their assessment of Rutgers though. They had the Scarlet Knights (7-5 last year) at #38 in the nation. Steele picked them to finish fifth in the Big East, behind South Florida and Pittsburgh teams that they beat by a combined 42-30 score on the road. It's safe to say that virtually NOBODY saw Rutgers making what became a late season run into the BCS picture. A nice year for Kansas State. A historic year for Rutgers.
Rutgers: 29-15 versus the 50th ranked schedule
Kansas State: 24-23 versus the 59th ranked schedule
We've talked a lot already about the "Rutgers model" of team that grinds out victories without running up the score. While marching to their 10 victories, the Scarlet Knights reached 30 points only four times in regulation. The first time came in the Illinois game thanks to cheap points from turnovers (311 yards of offense). The second came against Division I-AA Howard (357 yards). The third came against Navy thanks to more field position points (339 yards). The same thing happened against Syracuse (363 yards). Rutgers only had 23 points in regulation in their 41-39 season ending overtime loss to West Virginia. The team methodically earns its way to 300-350 yards and 21-24 points. If they catch some breaks, they'll get into the 30's. Kansas State had a rollercoaster ride of a season. Even after settling on a quarterback, they posted 3 points on Nebraska, but 45 on Texas. They committed no turnovers against Oklahoma State and Colorado, but turned it over six times against Kansas and four times against Missouri. You could also reasonably count on 300-350 yards. Lord knows what might happen on the scoreboard on any given day. The strength of schedules was close, even though the ledgers had little in common. You can see why the line is so high given the point differentials.
Rutgers: 8-3 versus the spread
Kansas State: 6-5 versus the spread
One lesson so far through the previews is that ATS records are a direct reflection of expectations. Rutgers had few, and managed to outperform them all season. Kansas State was able to do the same thing to a lesser degree. One of Rutgers' pointspread losses was in the logical letdown spot the week after the huge victory over Louisville. Kansas State was 3-1 ATS in their final month of action, with the only loss coming the week after their huge win over Texas. Both teams closed the season well in this category.
AVERAGE YARDS PER GAME/TURNOVER INFLUENCE
Rutgers: +74.1, with a season turnover differential of +8
Kansas State: -6.5, with a season turnover differential of 0
Rutgers had some amazing defensive performances this year. If you didn't have a quarterback who could pass, you had NO hopes of moving the ball on them. For many years in college football, it was rare to see teams gain less than 200 yards in a game. The combination of great defense and offseason rules changes regarding the clock allowed Rutgers to do that SIX times this year. In schedule order: Illinois gained 126, Ohio gained 109, Howard gained 172, Navy gained 161, Connecticut gained 155, and Syracuse gained 191. Sure, there are some weak links in there. Most weak links normally break 200 yards. And, Ohio and Navy both earned bowl bids this year. You all know how great Louisville's offense was this year. Rutgers held them to 266 yards. Kansas State had a goofy year. They got outgained in seven of 12 outings despite opening the season against weaklings Illinois State and Florida Atlantic. Even after a quarterback switch to a more effective youngster, they were outgained in five of their last six outings. They did play with energy and enthusiasm. That allowed them to manufacture some points that most teams don't normally get.
QUARTERBACK TD/INT RATIOS
Rutgers: 10-13, very poor for a top team. They do things on the ground.
Kansas State: 9-17, probably unheard of for a bowl team. Ridiculous!
Rutgers is a smash mouth team in a sport that's finding a rebirth of the style. Defenses have come up with creative blitzing patterns, and that's neutralized many of the gimmick passing offenses. Now, smash mouth teams don't have to play catch up against pass-happy teams who are lighting up the scoreboard. Rules changes that help the clock run more often have assisted as well. It's likely more and more teams will be developing this approach until an evolutionary tick enables offenses to pick up blitzes better. The NFL is still working on that, which is why so few "star" quarterbacks seem to be available at any level these days.
Kansas State is still defining itself. Right now they have emotion and effort. Everything else is just noise. These guys rushed for 262 yards on 5.6 ypc versus Missouri, but 23 yards on 0.9 ypc yards against Texas. They had a passing line of 5-20-2-63 versus Missouri, but 22-34-1-323 versus Texas. Those games were just three weeks apart in the final half of the season...and the opposing defenses shouldn't have inspired such dramatic extremes. NOBODY should go 5-20-2-63 passing against Missouri. Ron Prince himself may not know yet what a Ron Prince coached team is destined to play like down the road.
GAMES VERSUS SIMILAR OPPONENTS
Since we don't know how to classify Kansas State, it's hard to know who Rutgers played that was similar. Rutgers pretty much handled any challenge that came its way this year. If you can look great versus Louisville and West Virginia, you're defense is capable of dealing with anything. Kansas State really didn't play anyone that follows the Rutgers model as well as Rutgers does. Most Big 12 teams were more wide open on offense, and less suffocating on defense. There's a common opponent in Louisville...but Kansas State played them with a different QB than they use now, and against a different QB than the one Rutgers faced. Just not much in this section to discover.
MOTIVATION FOR THIS GAME
Rutgers was thinking about finishing 12-0 after the defeat of Louisville. They still would have made a BCS bowl if they had survived the overtime at West Virginia. This game is a huge letdown from that. It's even a huge letdown from the Louisville and West Virginia games that had prime time national TV audiences. This game is on the NFL Network, meaning it will get minimal ratings. It's not an emotional high point for Rutgers however you slice it.
Kansas State is excited about going to a bowl. Things were looking bleak in the final years of the Bill Snyder era. Things looked really bleak at the start of the Ron Prince era after a 17-3 loss at Baylor on September 30th, when the Wildcats turned the ball over five times against the worst team in the Big 12. Things got fun after that. It's not the biggest bowl in the world. But, it's an extra game for a team that started enjoying the game again
LAST YEAR'S BOWL PERFORMANCES
Rutgers lost to Arizona State 45-40 in the Insight Bowl, losing yardage 679-532
Kansas State didn't qualify for a bowl.
It's really hard to fathom now that a Rutgers team could allow 679 yards in a game. They really grasped the nuances of coach Greg Schiano's schematics this season.
RECENT BOWL TRENDS
Rutgers' bowl game last year was their first bowl appearance since 1978.
Kansas State hasn't been to a bowl since the end of the 2003 season. So, their bowl history doesn't matter much with a new head coach. The team did go 1-4 ATS from '99 through '03, struggling to live up to expectations as favorites. They used to be a Big 12 version of Louisville, or a bully that runs up the score on patsies. They didn't play patsies in bowls, and the lines kept overpricing them.
WHAT'S IT ALL MEAN?
In a nutshell, Rutgers is very consistent...while Kansas State is very volatile. It only takes one volatile team to make the roulette wheel of life go spinning around on a football field. That fact that the consistent team may lack motivation, while the volatile team should be loosy-goosy (an old sports term that coaches used in the 1970's, and that anyone who played for coaches in the 1970's uses now) creates upset potential for the dog. In fact, you can almost throw out the spread and assume that the winner of the game is going to cover.
If Rutgers shows up and plays their normal disciplined game, they'll control the tempo and force some turnovers. All five of Kansas State's losses this year were by double digits. Rutgers is Rutgers...so the Scarlet Knights would win by 14-17 points pending fluke points if they bring their "A" game. But, if the Knights have trouble getting motivated for a trip to Texas to play a mediocre Big 12 team...when they had dreamed the dreams of the BCS...things could get very interesting.
Longterm history shows a bowl bias towards underdogs, particularly at pointspreads of a touchdown or more. With that in mind...
I'd rate the percentages this way:
55% that Kansas State catches Rutgers flat and puts together some inventive trick plays which inspire a cover. As much as 45-50 of that number could represent a straight up win. Upsets are that common when favorites don't care about the bowl.
45% that Rutgers takes care of business like they've been doing all season.
The Over makes some sense given the volatility here. The problem is...the Over is really tied to a Rutgers no-show. If they run clock the way they like, and that defense that holds people to less than 200 yards almost half the time are in form, you sure don't want the Over. If you buy the 55% Kansas State scenario, then you buy the 55% Over too. The cover team is likely to create its natural total. Any total play is in essence doubling up the team side play.