The winner of the game Monday between defending champion Cincinnati and Rutgers will get the psychic benefit of seeing its name atop the Big East standings for a month. The league schedule doesn’t resume until October and extends to the first Saturday in December, when three conference games are scheduled. What the Big East needs is for the winner Monday to keep winning. The two teams with the most tradition, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, haven’t been strong enough to carry the league. The Big East needs a bell cow.
There is no doubt the Scarlet Knights (3-1) want to avenge an embarrassing loss to the Bearcats a year ago, and to get back on track after being upset by Maryland and knocked out of the top 10.
However, being too hyped might cause problems against Big East rival Cincinnati, which is 5-0 for the first time since 1954.
“You want to remember the feeling,” quarterback Mike Teel said of last year’s 30-11 loss that included chants of “overrated” by Bearcat fans. “But you don’t want to let it become: ‘This is what happened last year, we have to do this this year.”
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly wants Rutgers to remember the disappointment it felt a year ago, when its undefeated season and first top 10 ranking came to a sudden end. At the time, the Scarlet Knights were ranked No. 7 and were one of four undefeated teams left in Division I-A.
Using a new no-huddle offense, the Bearcats have outscored opponents 232-53. They posted a 52-23 win over San Diego State last weekend with quarterback Ben Mauk throwing for 257 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bearcats are even better on defense. They lead the nation in turnover margin. Their 13 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries have set up 86 points.
“Were playing probably the hottest team in college football this week,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said.
Rutgers was outplayed by Maryland in a 34-24 loss. The offense and special teams had three turnovers and the defense allowed the Terps’ to gain 458 yards, including 239 yards rushing.
Kelly said that Rutgers’ defense is unpredictable.
“They’re going to give you a lot of looks, a lot of pressure, try to confuse the quarterback with presnap reads,” he said. “They do a very good job keeping you off-balance. So we’ve got a great challenge, going to have to play better than we have all year.”
For Rutgers to beat Cincinnati, its running game has to improve. The Scarlet Knights were limited to 82 last week. Ray Rice gained 38 yards on his last 15 carries.
The performance brought back memories of Rice’s game against Cincinnati last season. He was limited to 54 yards on 18 carries. Teel also struggled that game, throwing four interceptions, including one returned 84 yards for a touchdown.
“Last year is last year,” Rice said. “We never try to seek any revenge factor, we’re just trying to get better as a team and do the best we can do.”
Mauk said Cincinnati is using the same approach.
“We haven’t really talked much at all about last season,” he said. “If we think about last season, we’re going to get beat.”
Kelly isn’t worried about going into a hostile environment. He felt his team could have suffered a letdown in San Diego last week, playing a weaker opponent with Rutgers on the horizon. Instead, his team played well.
“I think after five weeks, we are who we are,” he said. “Our kids are going to play hard for four quarters, We’re going to minimize our mistakes, and we’re going to take the ball away. That’s who we are, based on five weeks. I don’t see that changing.”