Rutgers needs win vs. South Florida for bowl bid
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)
A month ago, becoming bowl eligible seemed like a formality for the Scarlet Knights (5-6, 2-5 American Athletic Conference).
Consecutive losses to Cincinnati, No. 15 Central Florida and Connecticut, however, have put Rutgers into a must-win scenario against South Florida (2-9, 2-5) heading into Saturday night's game.
For South Florida, the game is a chance to play the spoiler and end coach Willie Taggart's first season on a good note.
Rutgers is the one under pressure. After starting the season with a 4-1 record, it has lost five of six to put an eighth bowl bid in nine years in jeopardy.
''There's a sense of heightened urgency now because we know this is our last chance,'' said senior quarterback Chas Dodd, who replaced Gary Nova as the starter last week. ''We want to get to that bowl game. We haven't given up on that.''
The slide has second-year coach Kyle Flood feeling some heat in what might be the university's last football game before entering the Big Ten Conference next season.
''We want to get this win,'' Dodd said. ''We want to keep our season going.''
Flood said his only focus this week is on the game, not the bowl situation.
If Rutgers were to win, it probably would receive a bid to either the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 4 or the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28.
Flood said the mood of his team earlier this week was good.
''There's not a lot of happiness when you're 5-6, but I see a lot of determination in their eyes and a lot of anxiousness to get back to work to be 1-0,'' he said.
Taggart and his players are more interested in ending a five-game losing streak rather than being spoilers.
''It would be huge. Huge for our seniors, first and foremost,'' Taggart said. ''These guys have been through so much throughout their careers. A lot of changes, not a lot of consistency. It'll be big for them to leave here with something to be happy about.''
Five things to know about what might be the final game between South Florida and Rutgers for a while:
BANGED UP RUTGERS: Leading rusher Paul James has been listed as questionable with an injury to his left leg. Even more important, Ruhann Peele was added to the injury list Thursday and marked as questionable with a lower body injury. Peele has been playing both wide receiver and cornerback, so that's two positions that might need to be filled.
SPUTTERING OFFENSE: USF is last in the AAC in total offense and has failed to score an offensive touchdown in five games, including conference wins over Cincinnati and Connecticut - the only teams the Bulls have beaten this season. True freshman Mike White, who's thrown for 942 yards, three touchdowns and eight interceptions, is the fourth starting quarterback Taggart has used. Adding to the team's woes, opponents have scored eight defensive TDs.
DEE-LESS RUTGERS: Defense transformed Rutgers from one of the worst teams in the country to one that went to a bowl annually. But this year's team has allowed 121 points in the current three-game losing streak. Opponents have gained 4,721 yards this season. If the Bulls pick up 279, this would be the second team in Rutgers history to give up 5,000 yards in a season. The 3,596 yards passing allowed are the most in school history.
BRRRRRRR: USF rarely ventures into cold weather, but the Bulls insist they won't be intimidated by the prospect of playing in freezing temperatures.
''Cold? What do you mean cold?'' defensive end Julius Forte said with a smile. ''We're from Florida. We take sunshine wherever we go.''
BOBBLEHEAD NIGHT: Rutgers scheduled a promotional night for its final home game. It's Kyle Flood bobblehead night. It's probably not something fans will be looking to take home if the Scarlet Knights miss out on a postseason bowl. The good news is the bobbleheads won't be given out until after the game.
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.