Rutgers-North Carolina Preview
A trip to Detroit for a bowl game may not normally be a welcome one for a school located in cold-weather territory. Rutgers feels otherwise.
The Scarlet Knights look to cap a successful first season in the Big Ten with a victory in the Quick Lane Bowl on Friday when they meet one of the nation's worst defensive teams in North Carolina.
Rutgers (7-5) wasn't expected to do much this season and won all four nonconference games to go along with a 3-5 mark in Big Ten play that had everyone fairly satisfied. An eight-win season would feel even better.
''Obviously we wanted to be undefeated, but 8-5 is a solid season, especially in this conference with the great teams, great players, so it would be a great way to end the season," quarterback Gary Nova said.
The Scarlet Knights are excited about the trip to the Midwest since they want to recruit more in Big Ten country. Linebacker L.J. Liston and freshman quarterback Giovanni Rescigno are the two players who hail from Michigan on the roster for coach Kyle Flood.
"Two players on the team from Michigan, which is exciting for them to go home and have the bowl experience," Flood said. "I think it's certainly a highly populated area with Big Ten alums."
Nova will cap his career after the senior threw for 20 touchdowns and 2,667 yards to finish third in the conference in both departments. His top target is Leonte Carroo, second in the Big Ten with 1,043 yards and third with 10 TD catches.
They figure to be licking their chops to face a Tar Heels defense that ranks among the nation's worst by allowing 38.9 points and 495.7 yards per game - college football's 11th-worst mark. Those results caused associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning to leave the program.
Coach Larry Fedora said that assistant Dan Disch will run the defense against Rutgers.
''We still have to do things we know we can do and things our kids feel comfortable with,'' Fedora said. ''There will be some tweaks and adjustments and some things like that. Whether or not you'll see it from the naked eye, I don't know.''
North Carolina (6-6) saw its 4-2-5 defense give up a school-record 70 points and 789 yards in a September loss at East Carolina, followed by 50 points the next week at Clemson and 50 again two games later at Notre Dame.
It was part of a difficult season in which a former football player filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, saying the school failed to provide him and other athletes a quality education by guiding them toward sham classes. Those issues did not take place under Fedora, hired before the 2012 season.
The Tar Heels are feeling better about themselves on the field after winning four of their last six games.
"There's no doubt it will benefit us," Fedora said. "We've got six scholarship seniors on this football team so we are a very young football team. We need every opportunity that we can."
North Carolina averaged 34.3 points to rank third in the ACC. Marquise Williams threw for 2,870 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 737 yards with 12 scores, while Mitch Trubisky also saw some action with 394 yards passing and four TDs.
"I know they've been very good on offense, I think they've scored over 40 points four times at least this season," Flood said. "They've beaten some good people, it should be a very competitive game."
Rutgers received good news with defensive tackle Darius Hamilton announcing he will return for his senior season. Hamilton, the son of former New York Giants defensive lineman Keith Hamilton, is considered a top NFL prospect.
"He's a great player for us and will be a great leader for us going forward next year with the experience he's had with the three years he has been here," Flood said.
Rutgers top rusher Desmon Peoples is out with an upper-body injury. His loss figures to be minimal since freshmen Robert Martin and Josh Hicks combined for 422 rushing yards in the last three games.
These teams have split six meetings and the Tar Heels have taken the previous three, winning 24-22 in the last one in 2011.