The loss of both coordinators and some key injuries on both the offensive and defensive line for the heavy favorite could result in a closer game than expected when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-6) take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4) in the Pinstripe Bowl from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY on Saturday, December 28th at 12:00 Noon ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.
The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Rutgers as a huge underdog for this contest with the current line at +15½ with odds of -116.
Rutgers has the shorter trip coming to the Bronx from New Jersey, but that still does not mean the Scarlet Knights will have more of the crowd support, not with the “Yankees” of college football in Notre Dame accepting this bid to play in Yankee Stadium. At least Rutgers comes in on a positive note by becoming bowl eligible by winning its last game of the season surprisingly easily 31-6 over South Florida.
Notre Dame may be more than a two-touchdown favorite here, but that does not mean that the Irish do not have some issues. For starters, they lost both their offensive and defensive coordinators in the few weeks since the regular season has ended. The OC Chuck Martin has moved on to accept the head coaching job at Miami-Ohio, while the DC Bob Diaco is now the head coach at Connecticut.
Notre Dame certainly did not have the same Luck of the Irish it had last season, when it was undefeated until getting crushed by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. The Irish lost two of their last three games, and while one of those losses to Stanford was understandable, the other one was an upset loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Perhaps one reason for the Irish’s late season struggles was some key injuries on both of their lines. On the defensive line, they lost nose tackle and top NFL Draft prospect Louis Nix to a knee injury. His loss could allow Rutgers to key on blocking another potential draft pick in defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
As for the offensive line, that experienced unit was terrific all year while yielding a grand total of just eight sacks, but that could change here with staring center Nick Martin and starting left guard Chris Watt both being lost to injuries the last couple of weeks.
Rutgers had a very nice start to the season as they got off to a 4-1 start that included an upset of the Arkansas Razorbacks out of the SEC, and the Scarlet Knights seemed on their way to easily qualifying for a bowl game. However, they then went 1-5 over the next six games while just barely getting by Temple 23-30 for the only win before regrouping and winning the game they had to have in surprisingly easy fashion vs. a very good South Florida defense.
Most importantly, the Knights seem to have some parts that can take advantage of the Notre Dame injuries in this game. Rutgers recently got running back Paul James back form a leg injury. James was third in the nation in rushing when he went down early in the year during the upset of Arkansas, and he looked like his usual self while rushing for 113 yards in the finale vs. the Bulls. Look for heavy doses of James’ runs up the middle with Nix out for the Irish.
On the other side of the ball, the Scarlet Knights ranked 25th in the country this season with 32 sacks, which could potentially make Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees very uncomfortable with two starting offensive linemen missing.
While there is no doubt that Notre Dame has the better overall talent, the loss of its coordinators and the injuries on both of its lines could be enough to allow Rutgers to hang within two touchdowns in the Bronx.
College Football Pick: Rutgers +15½ (-116)