Rutgers, with Big East Title in Sight, Looks to Avoid Stumbling at Pittsburgh

Mark BatorAnalyst IINovember 21, 2012

Nov 10, 2012; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights wide receiver Quron Pratt (7) before the first half against the Army Black Knights at  High Point Solutions Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-US PRESSWIRE
Joe Camporeale-US PRESSWIRE

Shortly before the beginning of the season, Scarlet Knights head coach Kyle Flood stood at a podium and declared (as quoted by Keith Sargeant on, "The time is right not only to win bowl championships but Big East championships and BCS championships."

Well, they'd better hurry.

On the heels of their victory over rival Cincinnati (putting the Big East title within their grasp), Rutgers made the announcement this week that they intend to leave the very conference that they have never won in order to join the Big 10.

Whether that bombshell now serves as a distraction in their upcoming game with the Pitt Panthers this weekend remains to be seen, but with just two games left in the season and destiny in their own hands, the timing is terrible.

As the Knights steam towards their anticipated showdown with Louisville, this week's game against the Panthers sets up as the classic "trap" game for Rutgers. Despite being 4-6 this season, Pittsburgh is a respectable No. 38 in passing yards nationally and ranked No. 31 in points against.

To assume the Panthers are a pushover would be a mistake—just ask the Virginia Tech Hokies, who were ranked No. 13 when they were beaten by Pitt, 35-17. Of course, it was also Pitt that took undefeated Notre Dame to three overtimes before the Irish finally prevailed, 29-26.

The Panthers are led by quarterback Tino Sunseri, whose eye-popping QB rating of 159.1 and 16 touchdowns are clear indicators of the talent he possesses. Sunseri (200-of-297 for 2,665 yards) has only thrown two interceptions this season, and plays best at Heinz Field, where he sports a completion percentage of 70.7 and a QB rating of 180.6.

On the receiving end of Sunseri's throws are talented pass catchers Devin Street (59 receptions), Mike Shanahan (44 receptions) and Ray Graham (31 receptions). Graham, the senior running back from Elizabeth, N.J., is also the team's leading rusher, having amassed 835 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.

Amid all the talk this week about the move to the Big 10, overlooked is the fact that should the Scarlet Knights win this weekend at Pittsburgh, they would clinch a share of the Big East title. If they lose, it sets up a one-game showdown with Louisville for the Big East title. It's a fact not lost on senior linebacker Steve Beauharnais.

"This year, we’re determined to finish," said Beauharnais (as quoted by Dave Hutchinson of The Star-Ledger on "There won’t be any distractions."

Game Time: Saturday, Nov. 24, Pittsburgh, Pa., 12 noon ET. Television: ESPN 2