Matchup: Rutgers vs. Washington State (in Seattle)
Date/Time: August 28, 10:00 p.m. ET
TV: FOX Sports 1
Spread: Washington State -8
After opening last season with a 52-51 overtime thriller at Fresno State, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will hit the Pacific Coast once again in Week 1 when they take on the Washington State Cougars. The Scarlet Knights pass defense gave up 456 yards in that game and they’ll be tested again by quarterback Connor Halliday and Mike Leach’s offense. The Scarlet Knights gave up 312 yards per game through the air last season and the Cougars racked up 368 passing yards per game on an average of 58 attempts per game.
The biggest offseason development for Rutgers is that they joined the Big Ten Conference. Their first conference game will have to wait until September 13 when they host Penn State, but the Scarlet Knights are sure to be focused on this game. Gary Nova held off the competition in order to remain the starting quarterback, but he’ll clearly have to improve on last season’s 54.5 percent completion rate and 18/14 TD/INT ratio. Luckily for Nova, the Rutgers running game looks formidable with Paul James, Justin Goodwin, and Savon Huggins, who collectively averaged 4.78 yards per carry last season. All five starters return on the offensive line and that should lead to improvement overall.
The defense was torched by opposing quarterbacks as Rutgers gave up 312 passing yards per game and gave up over 400 yards in four games. The rush defense was actually pretty good, holding opponents to 3.1 yards per carry. The defense only forced six interceptions, leading to a -12 turnover margin that was too much to overcome. Despite the pass defense issues, Rutgers still managed a respectable 6-7 season, but they do step up in conference. For this game, however, it’s all about the pass defense and the concerns in that area.
The Cougars have to enter this season with a Grand Canyon-sized chip on their shoulders. In one of the worst bad beats of the season, both for gamblers and football players, the Cougars blew a couple of sizable leads in the New Mexico Bowl and eventually lost 48-45 because they inexplicably fumbled twice when they could have taken a knee. If that doesn’t provide motivation, who knows what will.
In any event, the offense is in good hands senior Connor Halliday in his third season with Leach. The top eight wide receivers from last season return and 10 of the top 11 overall are back. There are three new starters on the offensive line, but that may not be a bad thing given the complete lack of rushing production and 32 sacks allowed. Defensively, the Cougars allowed nearly 6,000 yards and 423 points. The best defensive player, Deone Bucannon, was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft and second-leading tackler Justin Sagote is also gone. There are a lot of worries about this group.
While Rutgers doesn’t rate very well from the eye test, they are 6-3 ATS as a road/neutral underdog under Kyle Flood. They were an 11-point dog in that aforementioned game at Fresno State. Leach’s Cougars reached a bowl game for the first time since 2003 last year and six wins was the most since 2006’s 6-6 campaign. The Cougars were 9-4 ATS last season and 3-0 as a home favorite. This isn’t a true road game, but there won’t be many Rutgers fans at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Free College Football Pick: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
This game could end up being a Washington State blowout if Gary Nova doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, but the Knights are going to run a lot in this game and try to control the clock. They should be able to do it and Flood has had a lot of time to coach his defensive backs up prior to this game and with FCS Howard on deck. The Knights should have a major edge in the trenches and it will be hard for Washington State to match their physicality.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.