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December 28, 2006

Texas Bowl: Rutgers vs. Kansas State

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Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has adopted the slogan "Keep Choppin' " for his Scarlet Knights football team - the theory being that if you continue to work hard eventually the obstacles to your success will fall.

But the Knights felt the ax from the bowl system, falling from a BCS game to the Texas Bowl with their triple overtime loss at West Virginia in their final regular-season game.

To borrow another clichι, it was the unkindest cut of all. One minute the Cinderfellas from Jersey are probable for a marquee matchup in the FedEx Orange Bowl on a major TV network. The next minute, they're playing three nights after Christmas on a network that's unavailable to about 60 percent of the country.

Schiano must find a way to get his team up for a bowl game on a lesser stage against an unranked opponent in which it is heavily favored. It's a tough spot. Win and people will say you were supposed to win. Lose and they'll say you never deserved the top-10 ranking you worked so hard to get this season.

Kansas State could prove dangerous. The Wildcats, under first-year coach Ron Prince, dramatically improved in the second half of the season. A pair of freshmen, quarterback Josh Freeman and running back Leon Patton, helped K-State get rolling offensively. The Wildcats scored 32.5 points per game over their last four games, including 45 in a shocking upset of Texas.

Texas Bowl: No. 16 Rutgers (10-2) vs. Kansas State (7-5)
When: Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET
Where: Reliant Stadium, Houston
TV info: NFL Network (Spero Dedes, Sterling Sharpe, Mike Mayock)
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Conference: Big East
Record: 10-2, 5-2
Coach: Greg Schiano (29-41, sixth season)
Passing leader: Mike Teel (148 of 268, 1,867 yards, 10 touchdowns, 13 interceptions)
Rushing leaders: Ray Rice (311 carries, 1,624 yards, 19 TDs)
Receiving leaders: Brian Leonard (36 receptions, 288 yards), Kenny Britt (27 receptions, 399 yards, two TDs)
Defensive leaders: DT Eric Foster (13.5 tackles for loss including six sacks), DT Ramel Meekins (13.5 tackles for loss including eight sacks)
Kansas State Wildcats
Conference: Big 12
Record: 7-5, 4-4
Coach: Ron Prince (7-5, first season)
Passing leader: Josh Freeman (130 of 249, 1,651 yards, six touchdowns, 13 interceptions)
Rushing leader: Leon Patton (100 carries, 595 yards, six TDs)
Receiving leaders: Jordy Nelson (35 receptions, 466 yards, one TD)
Defensive leaders: : LB Brandon Archer (97 tackles), DE Ian Campbell (16.5 tackles for loss including 11.5 sacks)
Rutgers running game vs. Kansas State run defense: The Scarlet Knights are one of the best rushing teams in the nation behind super sophomore Ray Rice, fullback Brian Leonard and All-Big East tackle Jeremy Zuttah. Rice will see the ball 25-30 times and it will be up to the Wildcats to stop him. There's not much fancy about the Rutgers attack, but there doesn't have to be. Meanwhile, K-State had its problems against the run this season. The Wildcats ranked 70th nationally against the run.
Edge: Rutgers.
Rutgers passing game vs. Kansas State pass defense: The Scarlet Knights rarely rely on their passing game, which is probably a good thing. QB Mike Teel usually is either very good or very bad. The thing is, he usually gets time to throw behind a very good pass-blocking unit (only eight sacks allowed, tied for the nation's lead). Kansas State has been better against the pass this season than the run, and it gets after the passer well (40 sacks (tops in the Big 12 and fifth nationally).
Edge: Kansas State.
Kansas State running game vs. Rutgers run defense: The Wildcats were a different team offensively over the second half of the season once freshmen Josh Freeman and Leon Patton got the bulk of the playing time. Patton had three 100-yard efforts in the final seven games. Rutgers, though, ranked 25th nationally in stopping the run and has two of the best defensive tackles in the Big East in Eric Foster and Ramel Meekins.
Edge: Rutgers.
Kansas State passing game vs. Rutgers pass defense: Freeman came on to finish with four games in which he topped 240 passing yards. He's a pocket passer with a great arm, and he has the mobility to create plays. But he doesn't always make the best decisions. Rutgers ranked atop the Big East in pass defense, ninth nationally. They also ranked eighth in the nation in sacks. And both of the Scarlet Knights' safeties were second-team all conference.
Edge: Rutgers.
Rutgers coaches vs. Kansas State coaches: Schiano won several national coach of the year awards for posting 10 wins in the regular season. The Scarlet Knights' only losses came at Cincinnati when Mike Teel threw four interceptions and at West Virginia in triple overtime. Prince did a terrific job in his first season, including a 45-42 victory over Texas in which Freeman was stellar (19 of 31, 269 yards, three TDs). Prince deserves a lot of credit for throwing in some talented freshman and helping them develop.
Edge: Rutgers
Rutgers will win if: It controls the game with its ground attack, and its defense harasses Freeman into too many mistakes.
Kansas State will win if: It can force Rutgers to throw more than it wants to, and Freeman doesn't force anything.
Injury situation: Rutgers – None. Kansas State – None.
Worth noting: Rutgers has played only once in the state of Texas. The Scarlet Knights lost to the Longhorns 48-14 on Sept. 6, 1997. … Rutgers is 0-3 all time against teams currently in the Big 12. … Kansas State and Rutgers have never met. … The teams have one common opponent this season: Louisville. The host Scarlet Knights beat the Cardinals 28-25 on Nov. 9; the host Wildcats lost to them 24-6 on Sept. 23. When Rutgers beat Louisville the Cardinals were ranked No. 3; it was the Scarlet Knights' first victory over a top-five team. … Rutgers' roster includes 21 players from the state of Florida. … Kansas State has been to a bowl game 12 of the past 14 seasons. … Rutgers is making just the third bowl appearance in school history and enters with a postseason record of 0-2. … A win would give Rutgers just the second 11-win season in 137 years of football. It was 11-0 in 1976. … Kansas State leads the nation in kickoff returns with a 27.9-yard average.
Line: Rutgers by 7½
McClellan's pick: Rutgers 34, Kansas State 22.
Other Rivals.com Expert picks:
Olin Buchanan, national college football writer: Rutgers 34, Kansas State 24.
Bobby Burton, editor-in-chief: Kansas State 28, Rutgers 17.
Steve Megargee, national college football writer: Rutgers 27, Kansas State 20.
Bill King, RivalsRadio host: Rutgers 27, Kansas State 13.
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