I mentioned this in the game week kickoff, but this game is really coming in a bit under the radar for most Pitt fans. The UConn loss really took the wind out of the team's sails after a strong performance against Notre Dame. Not only that, but this weekend's game is also overshadowed by continuing Big Ten expansion talk, Pitt's basketball team (which is off to a 4-0 start and has a big game against Michigan this week, and even recruiting news with Dorian Johnson committing to the program. Mix in the fact that this game comes on a holiday weekend and there may not be a ton of eyeballs on it.
All of that said, it's still a big game for Pitt and the important thing to keep in mind is the Panthers are fighting for bowl eligibility. Despite all the struggles, all the woes, Pitt can still play in the postseason if they win their final two games.
Rutgers is a good team, don't make any mistake about that. Many experts are picking them to beat Louisville and win the conference's BCS bid and at 9-1, the team's lone blemish is to a pretty decent Kent State team. The Scarlet Knights are led by a stifling defense that ranks fourth in the nation in points allowed. They've only given up 20 points or more twice and in five of their ten games, have held teams to ten points or less. Points could be hard to come by for Pitt this weekend.
On offense, former Pitt recruit Gary Nova (remember that guy?) has quietly put together a very good season in the Big East, throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 19 touchdowns. His passer rating and 19 scores ranks third in the conference and Nova is right in the middle of most statistical categories as well. One reason he's had so much success is that teams haven't been able to get to him. Nova is the least-sacked quarterback in the Big East so one of the key matchups to watch for in Saturday's game is if Pitt's defensive line can get in the backfield.
One minor thing in the Panthers' favor, besides the game being at home, is that Rutgers really has little to play for when you think about it. Obviously, they don't want to lose, but even a loss doesn't hurt their Big East title chances. Assuming Louisville wins at home this weekend, their season finale against the Scarlet Knights is the one that will decide the championship. Losing to Pitt can't really help or hurt them and the only thing that could be affected is their chance to avoid being the last selection in the BCS should they reach it. Even then, as the Big East representative, they may be facing a losing battle when it comes to being the last team selected.
This is going to be a tough game for Pitt any way you slice it, though. Pitt proved against Notre Dame that when they play focused, they are capable of defeating good teams. But the play has been so inconsistent this season that I have a hard time picking the Panthers to win this one.
At first glance, Pitt will have their work cut out for them on Saturday.