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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Even though most of the attention of the football world will be on the Bears/Packers game tonight on the NFL Network, there IS a college football game on the card as well. ESPN’s Thursday Night college package isn’t going anywhere, even if it figures to take a ratings hit going up against the big boys.

Tonight Rutgers and South Florida kick off the Big East season. South Florida is an 8-point home favorite after opening at -9.5 earlier in the week.

Though Louisville and Cincinnati are getting most of the publicity in the conference right now, this game could ultimately loom large in the Big East race down the stretch. You just never know in this league. Things were jam packed at the top last year and could be again here. A brief rundown of what everyone’s done so far:

*Louisville is off to a 2-0 start and is currently ranked #19 in the AP poll. They impressed in a home win over Kentucky in their season opener, and look rightly to be considered the favorite to represent the league in a BCS bowl this year.

*Cincinnati exploded vs. Pittsburgh last week in a TV game…helping establish their bona fides as a title contender. The Bearcats didn’t get any votes from AP pollsters, but currently rank 32nd in the Coach’s Poll, and 31st in the computer ratings from Jeff Sagarin at USA Today.

*South Florida would rank 36th in the Coach’s Poll, and 38th in the AP poll if the Top 25 were officially turned into a Top 40. Sagarin of USA Today has them ranked 34th. You’ll recall that South Florida won a thriller at Nevada last week…just days after that same Nevada team stunned California in Berkeley.

*Rutgers joins the three aforementioned teams on the list of undefeateds two weeks into the season. But, they were far from impressive in context against Tulane and Howard. They missed the spread at Tulane by a TD, and only gained 309 yards against a defense that would allow 651 yards the next week to Tulsa. We’ll find out tonight whether or not Rutgers is ready to compete in this tough road test.

*Connecticut and Temple are both 1-1 thus far, with the victories coming over unheralded Massachusetts and Villanova…and the losses coming to NC State and Maryland of the ACC.

*Syracuse and Pittsburgh are prominently 0-2. Both are heading to the ACC soon, which may be a distraction in what feels like a lame duck season. Pitt has certainly played like lame ducks vs. Youngstown State and Cincinnati! Syracuse lost a heartbreaker to Northwestern, and then showed well vs. Southern Cal last week. Within the league, the Orangemen probably still deserve to be on the short list of contenders up near the top. We won’t see them face a Big East foe until October though.

Of note in tonight’s matchup:

*South Florida has revenge off a 20-17 overtime loss at Rutgers last season. South Florida got the better of it in the trenches, winning rushing yardage 221 to -7, and total yardage 381-228. Yet, when the score was in the books, it was Rutgers celebrating.

*Both teams will be dealing with travel fatigue this week. Rutgers is making its second trip South in three weeks after visiting Louisiana in their season opener. South Florida had to fly cross-country for the Nevada game just before a short preparation week for their conference opener. Big East football isn’t always well executed to begin with. Things could get very sloppy here.

*Rutgers has a new head coach since the last time you watched them on television. Former coach Greg Schiano is now the head man for the Tampa Bay Bucs in the NFL. New coach Kyle Flood is dealing with his first conference game AND his first national TV appearance. It’s the kind of spot where hot young coaches make a name for themselves…or where “in over their head” coaches get exposed.

Thursdays are going to be a whole lot more interesting this year with the NFL, and with ESPN adding West Coast football to the slate (the next three Thursdays will feature BYU/Boise State, Stanford/Washington, and USC/Utah). Use the extra opportunities wisely so you can build bankroll Thursdays that can turn over Saturday and Sunday on the bigger schedules.

If you’d like some help picking winners in Thursday football and pennant race baseball, check out what our VSM handicappers have on tap:

*Jim Hurley has a college-pro PARLAY featuring both of tonight’s TV games for just $25. Play them both individually and shoot for the big return on the 2-0 sweep thanks to Hurley’s NETWORK handicapping juggernaut.

*Kelso Sturgeon has a 25-Unit play in the Bears/Packers game on NFL Network. Pay just $25 on your major credit card for the final word from the Dean of Sports Handicapping.  

*Jim Feist just announced a special “Thursday Steamroller” in Bears/Packers. Get it for just $25 anytime between now and kickoff.

Be sure you visit the VSM home page every day for big play announcements. Additional information is available on the “Buy Picks” page, including details on full season packages for all of our industry legends.

Whether it’s a busy weekend, or a prime-time on a weeknight…hot handicappers are always waiting to hear from you!

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