Rutgers or UCF: Who Will Finish Higher in the Big East in 2013?

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Can Gary Nova keep the Scarlet Knights near the top of the Big East in 2013?

<p> Rutgers or UCF: Who Will Finish Higher in the Big East in 2013?</p>

Change has seemingly surrounded the Big East for the last couple of years. And the conference is undergoing a massive makeover later this offseason, as it will officially change names to the American Athletic Conference.

Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF join the Big East from Conference USA, with UCF expected to be the best team out of the newcomers.

Rutgers started 7-0 last season but finished just 2-4. The Scarlet Knights suffered some significant personnel losses, including standout linebacker Khaseem Greene.

Although UCF is moving up in the conference pecking order, can it beat Rutgers in the Big East standings?

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Rutgers or UCF: Who Will Finish Higher in the Big East in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas A&M and Boise State are the exceptions. Nearly every other team moving to a new league needed at least a year to feel out its surroundings. UCF won’t need to adjust to Houston, Memphis or SMU, so that helps. Still, Rutgers has challenged for a Big East title before, even if the Scarlet Knights crumbled late last year. Most of Rutgers’ season will depend on Gary Nova’s ability to rebound from his turnover-filled second half of last season. He still has a veteran offensive line with four starters back and a standout receiver in Brandon Coleman. It’s also time for Savon Huggins, one of their top recruits in 2011, to deliver at running back. On defense, Khaseem Greene, Logan Ryan, Steve Beauharnais and Scott Vallone will hurt. Those are three all-league caliber players on all three levels. They’ll need to find answers there, and they can’t afford an offense that put them in bad spots. Meanwhile, UCF has nice momentum, but there’s enough reason to be skeptical. The Knights - especially quarterback Blake Bortles - struggled to get over the hump against teams like Tulsa. UCF will face more teams like that in the new league.
 

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Trying to pinpoint league records in the newly named American Athletic Conference has historically been as impossible as getting Nick Saban to smile on the record. The 2013 campaign shouldn't be any different as four new faces show up in the standings this time around. So gauging how new additions like UCF will perform is extremely difficult, but generally, teams stepping up in competition have growing pains. Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, TCU, West Virginia and Missouri all experienced major struggles in their new league debuts. With brutal non-conference game with Penn State and South Carolina also on the slate, UCF could be in for a rude awakening. Rutgers has recruited at a dramatically higher level and is comfortable playing at this level. Yes, UCF has won plenty of games in C-USA, but this is a different beast. Rutgers will win at UCF on Thursday night late in the year and I wouldn't be shocked if the Knights from New Jersey finish well ahead of the Knights from Orlando.
 

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Even though this is UCF’s first year in a BCS conference, I like the Knights to finish ahead of Rutgers in the Big East standings. And UCF received some extra motivation recently, as its postseason ban for 2013 was been lifted, allowing the Knights to play in a bowl game in their first season in the Big East. UCF has more stability on offense with quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, while the receiving corps returns four players with at least 25 receptions. The biggest question mark for UCF is a defense that returns only four starters. The schedule also favors the Knights, as they won’t play Cincinnati – arguably the No. 2 team in the Big East in 2013.

Despite having some promising talent in the program, Rutgers suffered some heavy losses and it may be too much to overcome. Savon Huggins is a capable running back, but Jawan Jamison will be missed. Quarterback Gary Nova started off 2012 as one of the Big East’s top quarterbacks but struggled in the second half of the year. The defense was decimated by departures, including linebackers Khaseem Greene and Steve Beauharnais, cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. Also, the Scarlet Knights have two new coordinators, so there will be a transition on the coaching staff.

Both teams should be around eight overall wins, but I give UCF the edge to finish ahead of Rutgers in the final standings.
 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
I'll take the Golden variety of Knight here because I have a little more faith in Blake Bortles than Rutgers' Gary Nova under center and I also think the Scarlet Knights lost more on defense even though UCF has fewer returning starters on that side of the ball.

Schedule-wise their conference slates are basically the same, but there is one difference and it could very well decide who finishes above the other. Both teams play preseason favorite Louisville, as well as UConn, Houston, SMU, South Florida, Temple and will face off against one another on Nov. 21 down in Orlando, Fla. The one game that's different? UCF plays at Memphis, while Rutgers hosts Cincinnati.

Even though that's a home game for Rutgers, I think UCF gets the edge in terms of opponent and I think this one game could be all the Golden Knights need to be the top Knight in the conference formerly known as the Big East in 2013.
 

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