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Papa Johns Bowl Preview
by Matt Fargo - 12/27/2008
The Betting Numbers
Rutgers opened as a touchdown favorite over the Wolfpack and that number is holding tight a week later. Shopping around could get you a 1/2-point in either direction but donâ€™t expect much of a move until gameday. There has been a move on the total as it opened at 51 and has gradually gone up to 53 in the majority of shops with even a couple 54â€™s available. It would not be surprising to see this one go up even more based on recent results from these two teams.
This is the first ever meeting between NC State and Rutgers.
Both teams enter this game on significant winning streaks. The Wolfpack closed the season with four straight victories and with a 6-6 finish, it took everyone of those wins to become bowl eligible. NC State started the season getting drubbed on national television at South Carolina 34-0 and then snuck by William & Mary the next week. It then lost five of its next six games before winning out in November. NC State became the first team in ACC history to finish the season 4-0 in conference play after beginning at 0-4. This is the 24th bowl appearance for the Wolfpack who have not gone bowling since 2005.
It was a very similar season for Rutgers as well. The Scarlet Knights dropped five of their first six games with the lone victory coming against FCS team Morgan St. Three of those losses were by a touchdown or less so you knew this team was competing but just could not get over the hump. Rutgers finished with six straight victories and the final five came by an average of 29.4 ppg. The Scarlet Knights finished in a tie for second in the Big East with a 5-2 record with the two losses coming by a total of 10 points. This will be the fourth straight bowl appearance for Rutgers after going 27 years without.
Against the Numbers
It comes as no surprise that the slow starts and fast finishes led to some winnings on both sides. NC State finished the year going 9-2 against the number including spread wins in seven straight games to end the season. Even more impressive that were that all seven of those wins were as underdogs and the final four being outright victories. The nine spread wins were tied for the third most in the nation. Six of the 11 lined games went over the total including six of the final nine as the offense picked things up late.
Rutgers came into the season with some high expectations after compiling 26 wins over the last three years but it dropped its first three games against the number. The Scarlet Knights were a moneymaking machine after that however as they covered seven of their final eight games including five straight. Like the Wolfpack, the offense kicked it into gear and with that, the overs rolled in. Four of their final five games surpassed the total after five of the first six games stayed under the number.
The surging offense from NC State revolved around the emergence of quarterback Russell Wilson. He tossed an interception in his first start against Clemson but after that he tossed 16 touchdowns with no interceptions in his final eight games. Still, NC State finished just 89th in total offense and 80th in scoring offense despite averaging 30.2 ppg in its final five games. That offense will be tested against a strong Rutgers defense that finished 34th overall and 18th in scoring. It allowed 17 or fewer points in six of the last seven games.
While the Rutgers defense stiffened at the end of the year, the offense exploded. The Scarlet Knights scored more than 21 points only once in their first seven games but surpassed that with no problem in their final five games, averaging 46.2 ppg in that span. That output put Rutgers 41st in scoring offense and 40th in total offense. The Wolfpack picked up their defense, allowing 17 points or fewer in three of their last four games. But the unit was horrible enough early on for them to finish 81st in the nation in total defense.
One big thing to look at in bowl matchups is momentum and that looks to be a wash as both teams come into this game riding high. That could make the underdog worth a look. NC State will be making its first bowl appearance under the leadership of head coach Tom Oâ€™Brien, who simply does not lose in the postseason. He finished his tenure at Boston College with seven straight bowl wins. O'Brien was 8-0 against Rutgers when he coached at Boston College from 1997-2006.