Rutgers University can win its first outright Big East football title and Bowl Championship Series berth with a win tonight over the University of Louisville.
It may be one of the last automatic BCS entries for a conference that both schools are bolting for more lucrative leagues.
The Scarlet Knights (9-2 overall, 5-1 Big East) would clinch the conference title and BCS berth with a victory at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey, which is sold out for the first time since 2009. A win for the Cardinals (9-2, 4-2) would ensure at least a three-way tie for the league title and position Louisville for a probable BCS bid, its first since 2007.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. New York time. Rutgers is a three-point favorite, according to the online sports book Bovada.lv.
Rutgers announced on Nov. 20 that it would move to the Big Ten, and Louisville accepted an invitation yesterday to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. West Virginia left the Big East this season for the Big 12, Texas Christian backed out of a commitment to the league, and Pittsburgh and Syracuse are moving to the ACC next year.
“I’ve never made it a secret to you guys when I got here that were going to fix the finances of athletics and become a self-sufficient operation,” Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti said when the school’s move was announced. “This puts us on a faster track toward doing that.”
The BCS pays $22 million annually to every league with an automatic qualifier, according to the series’ website. Each conference, which chooses how to divvy that money among its members, receives an additional $6 million if it qualifies a second team, as the Southeastern Conference has done in each of the past six seasons.
The Big East may lose its automatic bid when the BCS adopts changes beginning with the 2014 season. Under that system, the ACC, Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 will retain automatic berths, with the sixth spot awarded to the highest-rated champion from a cluster of leagues. That “Group of Five” includes the Mountain West, Big East, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt.
Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco said yesterday in a statement that the league has prepared for the realignment by building a nationwide league that stretches from Providence College in Rhode Island to San Diego State in Southern California.
“Big East teams will continue to compete and succeed at the highest level and, as always, will combine athletic and academic excellence,” Aresco said.
Syracuse (7-5, 5-2), which has finished its regular season, is mathematically alive both for a share of the Big East title and a possible BCS bid. Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) can win a share of the league title but cannot go a BCS game.
According to the Big East website, should Louisville win tonight and Cincinnati lose on Dec. 1, Rutgers, Syracuse and Louisville would tie for the league title, with the BCS bid going to the team with the highest ranking, most likely Louisville. Should the Cardinals of Louisville and the Bearcats of Cincinnati win this week, the four-way tie would be broken first by head-to-head record, eliminating Syracuse and Cincinnati, then by BCS rank, which would likely favor Louisville.
Tonight’s game is sold out, and Rutgers is expecting at least 52,000 fans to attend, according to spokesman Jason Baum. The Empire State Building, in Midtown Manhattan about 40 miles to the northeast, will be lit red tonight in honor of the Scarlet Knights, who haven’t played a BCS game in the system’s 14-year history.
“We’re certainly not naive to what the result of the game will dictate for either team,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood told reporters this week. “It’s the kind of game that you want to be in as a player and as a coach, and it’s the kind of game as a program that we hope to be in every year.”