For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.
Since conference realignment took place back in 2004, either Pitt or West Virginia has won every Big East recruiting crown. In fact, in four of those six years since, the Panthers and Mountaineers claimed the top two spots in the team rankings. But 2011 is a different year and for the first time someone other than those two will claim the recruiting conference championship.
Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. We are currently America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and have been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.
Here are “The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011” in the Big East.
If quarterback turnover is the theme in the ACC this spring, then coaching changes might be the theme of the Big East. In a league that appears to be in a constant state of transition, coaching manuevers once again have dominated headlines so far this off-season.
Doug Marrone, Skip Holtz and Charlie Strong have proven, in short order, that they were solid hires for Syracuse, South Florida and Louisville respectively. West Virginia, Pitt and UConn have totally unique and utterly different issues all together. The conference champion Huskies have lost head coach Randy Edsall to the Maryland Terrapins. Much like Jim Leavitt at South Florida, Edsall defined UConn football. He ushered the Huskies into the FBS era in Storrs and reached an unprecedented level of success, taking Connecticut to its first BCS bowl game in school history this season.
Needless to say, this could be the most important hire in UConn football history. Replacing Jordan Todman and the entire linebacking corps will make it a tough job keeping the Huskies at a BCS bowl level next fall.
While UConn has zero head coaches, Pitt and West Virginia have five — or should I say had. The Panthers will have had three head coaches over a period of weeks after newly hired Mike Haywood got released due to some domestic issues that arose shortly after the ink was dry. They, too, are on the coaching prowl once again. Filling major gaps along the defensive line will be key for whomever is leading the Pitt program this off-season.
Maybe UConn and Pitt should call WVU AD Oliver Luck and see if he could loan them one of his? Bill Stewart (28-12) is entering his final season as the headman at West Virginia after the Mountaineers hired Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgersen as the “Head Coach In Waiting.” Both will coach the 2011 Mounties with the spread-it-all-over-the-field-and-score-bunches-of-points Holgersen taking over the program in 2012. The offense could be the leagues best with Holgersen and quarterback Geno Smith calling the plays — even with losing Noel Devine. Gaps all over the defense will be the biggest issue for WVU and keeping some early NFL entries at home (Keith Tandy, Robert Sands) would help immensely.
Cincinnati’s first season sans Brian Kelly proved that the Mad Scientist really was that important. The 4-8 (2-5) record was the worst since a 4-7 mark in 2005 under Mark Dantonio. After back-to-back Big East titles, the Bearcats have fallen right back to periphery of college football. Much of 2011 success will hinge on Zach Collaros’ arm and legs. His return gives Cincy arguably the best signal caller in the conference next fall.
That leaves Rutgers as the only school in the conference not to have changed head coaches in the last two years (and/or next year). And Greg Schiano’s last place 1-6 finish has Rutgers’ fans antsy as they head into 2011. The Knights will return much of their offense — which could be a good or bad thing — and need to replace half of the defense.
The Bulls and Mountaineers look to be the class of this conference next season with a number of competitors nipping at their heels. UConn takes a clear step back without master architect and leader Edsall. Pitt always has talent and could always surprise but the Panthers have to put the right leader in place quickly in order to compete for a conference crown next fall. Cincy, Louisville and Rutgers simply do not have enough talent, it would appear on paper, to push for a title in '11.
Doug Marrone's bunch could surprise in 2011.
That leaves the improving Syracuse Orange as a big wild card. Ryan Nassib showed the ability to manage the game and will need to take the next step in his development if the Cuse expects to compete for a conference title. Antwon Bailey should be able to fill the void left by Delone Carter. So replacing a couple of starters along the offensive line will be the only issue for what should be a relatively intact offense. The defense is a different story, however, as six seniors started in the Pinstripe Bowl. A reworked defense could be the difference between contending for a BCS bowl and heading to the St. Petersburg Bowl.
2011 Big East Predictions (key losses):
1. West Virginia: RB Noel Devine, WR Jock Sanders, OL Eric Jobe, DT Scooter Berry, DT Chris Neild, LB Pat Lazear, LB J.T. Thomas, CB Brandon Hogan, S Robert Sands*, CB Keith Tandy*
2. South Florida: OL Sampson Genus, OL Jake Sims, WR Dontavia Bogan, DE Craig Marshall, DT Terrell McClain, LB Jacquian Williams, LB Sabbath Joseph
3. Syracuse: RB Delone Carter, OL Ryan Bartholomew, OL Andrew Tiller, DT Andrew Lewis, NT Bud Tribbey, S Mike Holmes, CB Da’Mon Merkerson, LB Derrell Smith, LB Doug Hogue, P Rob Long
4. Pitt: WR Jonathan Baldwin*, OL Jason Pinkston, OL Alex Karabin, DE Greg Romeus, DE Jabaal Sheard, DE Brandon Lindsey*, S Dom DeCicco, K/P Dan Hutchins
5. Cincinnati: WR Armon Binns, WR Marcus Barnett, TE Ben Guidugli, RB John Goebel, OL Sam Griffin, OL Jason Kelce, OL C.J. Cobb, LB Dorian Davis, K Jake Rogers,
6. UConn: QB Zach Frazer, RB Jordan Todman*, FB Anthony Sherman, OL Zach Hurd, OL Mathieu Olivier, LB Lawrence Wilson, LB Greg Lloyd, LB Scott Lutrus, S Kijuna Dabney
7. Rutgers: OL Howard Barbieri, DE Alex Silvestro, DT Charlie Noonan, DE Jonathan Freeny, LB Antonio Lowery, S Joe Lefeged
8. Louisville: RB Bilal Powell, TE Cameron Graham, DE Malcolm Tatum, LB Antwon Canady, LB Brandon Heath, CB Johnny Patrick, QB Adam Froman, QB Justin Burke
Athlon will be awarding postseason honors to each BCS conference in the country. Today we look at the Big East’s best for 2010.
For the sake of this exercise, the Heisman and Bednarik will function as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. The Outland will be given to the offensive lineman of the year while the Lombardi will be given to the defensive lineman of the year. Two fictitious awards, the Adrian Peterson Freshman of the Year honor and the Desmond Howard return specialist of the year award, will be given as well.
Heisman Trophy (MVP/POY): Jordan Todman, UConn
The UConn Husky led the league in carries (302), yards (1,574) and touchdowns (14). His 143.1 per game average was actually second only to LaMichael James nationally. In the five-game winning streak to finish the 2010 season, Todman rushed for 733 yards and six touchdowns en route to the school’s first-ever BCS bowl berth.
Chuck Bednarik Award (Def. POY): Jabaal Sheard, Pitt
The senior defensive end was second in the league in tackles for loss (14.5) and third in the league in sacks (9.0). He led the league in forced fumbles with four and finished with 43 total tackles. He also tallied one fumble recovery, four passes deflected and 15 quarterback hurries.
Davey O’Brien Award (QB): Geno Smith, West Virginia
The Mountaineer quarterback led the league in passer efficiency (149.71) in his first season under center. His 23:6 TD:INT ratio was by far the league’s best, and he was second in the league in yards with 2,567. He led his team to a 5-2 conference record — good enough for a co-Big East championship.
Doak Walker Award (RB): Jordan Todman, UConn
See Heisman Trophy above.
Fred Biletnikoff Award (WR): Armon Binns, Cincinnati
The Bearcat receiver led the league in receptions (75), yards (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (10). His only statistical competitor was teammate D.J. Woods (even though Jonathan Baldwin is probably the best wideout in the league).
John Mackey Award (TE): Cameron Graham, Louisville
Much like Binns, Graham dominated the stats at his position. He led the league in yards (439), receptions (37) and touchdowns (4) for a tight end.
Outland (O-Lineman): Zach Hurd, UConn
The resume includes leading the way the nation’s second-leading rusher — and Big East player of the year — Jordan Todman, winning a conference championship and being named first-team all-conference by the coaches.
Wilson was the league's best LB.
Dick Butkus Award (LB): Lawrence Wilson, UConn
The Husky backer led the league in tackles at nearly 10 per game and was instrumental in UConn’s first-ever BCS bowl berth. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the season finale against USF (a 19-16 win), posted 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the year.
Jim Thorpe Award (DB): Keith Tandy, West Virginia
Tandy led the league in interceptions with six and was second in passes defensed with nine. He finished with 45.5 total tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. The season ended on a four-game winning streak for WVU and Tandy was at his best during that span. He tallied two picks, a sack, seven passes deflected and 20 total tackles to end the year.
Lombardi Award (D-Lineman): Jabaal Sheard, Pitt
See Bednarik above.
Adrian Peterson Award (freshman): Bruce Irvin, West Virginia
Yeah, I know, Irvin is not a freshman. But he is a Big East rookie and newcomer. And since they are my awards, Irvin is the guy. He led the league in sacks despite only playing on third downs for most of the year. His 12 total sacks were good for third-best nationally. Hakeem Smith, a safety for Louisville, posted 68 total tackles and would be the top freshman in the Big East.
Lou Groza Award (K): Ross Krautman, Syracuse
UConn’s Dave Teggart led the league in field goal makes (23) but also missed six kicks. Krautman went 17-for-18 in field goals as only a freshman. His 17 makes were No. 2 in the league and the 94-percent kick rate tops the 79-percent number everytime.
Ray Guy Award (P): Rob Long, Syracuse
The appropriately named punter led the league with a 43.8 average with a second-best (worst?) 64 punts and second-best 2,806 yards.
Desmond Howard Award (KR/PR): Lindsey Lamar, South Florida
Lamar was 13th nationally in kick returns this year with a 28.1-yard average. He finished second in the conference to Vic Anderson’s 30.8 average, but had more than double the number of returns (30 to 12). Lamar also returned two kicks for scores — no other Big East player who was eligible returned a kick for points.
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (HC): Doug Marrone, Syracuse
Randy Edsall is the easy pick here but all he did was accomplish what we thought he should have. Syracuse was picked seventh in the league. They had arguably the worst offensive and defensive lines in the league. The quarterbacks, pass-catchers and secondary were considered amongst the league’s worst as well. The seven wins were as many as the two previous years combined and were the school’s most since the 10-win 2001 campaign.
Broyles Award (Asst Coach): Jeff Casteel, West Virginia
The Mountaineers boasted the nation’s No. 3 rated total defense and obviously led the conference on that side of the ball. The 251 yards allowed per game were nearly 50 yards better than Syracuse’s 295 ypg allowed. WVU also finished second in the league in takaways with 22.
Pittsburgh Panther coach Dave Wannstedt has insisted his team is playing for more than pride when his team visits Cincinnati on Saturday. And he’s correct. If Pitt wins, it will earn a piece of the Big East championship for only the second time in school history.
That, of course, is window dressing during this holiday season. After falling 35-10 last week to West Virginia, the Panthers are all but out of the chase for the Big East’s BCS berth. Pitt would have to win at Cincy, then have Connecticut lose at South Florida and WVU fall at home to Rutgers to realize the dream. If the 6-5 Panthers lose, it would mark the program’s first non-winning season since 2007. Wannstedt’s job status has also been a matter of discussion in the Steel City.
“We’re trying to win Saturday,” said the coach. “I’m not concerned with [job security]. We’re just trying to beat Cincinnati.”
It’s something Pitt hasn’t done the last two seasons. Last year, UC won a wild 45-44 game to cap an undefeated regular season. This year, though, the Bearcats are 4-7 and out of bowl contention. Cincy will miss the postseason for the first time since 2005.
This game could be another high-scoring affair. Cincinnati, behind Big East passing leader Zach Collaros, has the league’s No. 1 offense. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has the league’s No. 2 passing attack and is going against a UC pass defense ranked last in the Big East.
Rutgers at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST
If you break this game down, there’s not much that indicates 4-7 Rutgers will win. Perhaps the Scarlet Knights have the edge in special teams, but that’s about it. The Mountaineers are 20-point favorites and have hopes of a BCS bowl berth.
Yet WVU coach Bill Stewart knows his team was a 28-point favorite at home a few years back and on the cusp of a national championship game when it fell to Pittsburgh.
“[Rutgers] beat UConn,” Stewart said. “They lost by three to Syracuse. They lost by one to USF. That right there is more than enough for me to say that we should spend some time and watch these lads on film and figure out how to beat them.”
If WVU does defeat RU, it can land a BCS bowl berth if Connecticut then loses at South Florida. Otherwise, it looks like a Champs Sports Bowl for the Mountaineers.
On paper, it appears West Virginia should cover the spread. The Scarlet Knights have the Big East’s No. 7 scoring offense and will be going against the league’s best defense across the board. On the flip side, RU has the league’s No. 7 total defense, while WVU’s offense is No. 3.
Rutgers is 0-16 all-time in Morgantown and has lost 15 straight games to the Mountaineers.
Connecticut at South Florida, Saturday, 8 p.m. EST
This isn’t only the Big East’s game of the week. It’s the game of the season.
If Connecticut, a 2-point underdog, can defeat South Florida, the Huskies will earn a share of the Big East title and, more importantly, the conference’s BCS berth. It would be the first for Connecticut.
“The guys have put themselves in a position to accomplish the goals that they want to accomplish,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall.
They’ve done so by winning four straight games to move into a tie for first place at 4-2.
They’ve done so by defeating both West Virginia and Pittsburgh and securing tiebreaker advantages.
Now, however, they must down a South Florida team that’s won four of its last five games and is coming off an overtime victory against Miami, Fla. It’s important to note the game is played in Tampa, because Connecticut is 5-0 at home this season, but just 1-4 on the road. That one win, however, was just two weeks back against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
As always, UConn, 7-4 overall, will rely on the running of Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, averaging 148.1 yards per game. The Huskies have the Big East’s No. 1 rushing attack, but are last in passing.
The big question is whether South Florida can score. The 7-4 Bulls are next-to-last in the Big East in passing and sixth in total offense. Also, starting quarterback B.J. Daniels is suffering from a leg injury and may not be able to go. If that’s the case, freshman Bobby Eveld would get the start on senior day. Eveld did, however, step in last week against Miami and help lead the Bulls to the overtime victory.
At the beginning of the season, Connecticut was looked upon as a dark horse to win the Big East football title. Today, the Huskies are the front-runners.
With only three games remaining within the conference, three teams remain alive for the coveted BCS berth. Five could still lay claim to a share of the conference championship. There are all kinds of possible outcomes in regard to the title. An outright winner could be crowned. There could be three different two-way ties. There could be a three-way tie. Heck, there could even be a five-way tie.
But all eyes will be on UConn this weekend. Because in this case, the Huskies hold the reins.
The men of coach Randy Edsall are in a three-way 4–2 league logjam with West Virginia and Pittsburgh. However, Connecticut holds tiebreaker advantages over both the Mountaineers and Panthers.
The Huskies put themselves in that position by downing Cincinnati 38–17. They also received help from WVU, which drubbed the former first place team, Pitt, by 35–10. Now the task for Connecticut is to win at South Florida this Saturday in an 8 p.m. game.
“It’s on the road, but you know what? It’s what you want. This is why you play the game, to be in this position,” said Edsall.
This past weekend, the Huskies pulled away in what had been a close game late in the second quarter when defensive end Kendall Reyes intercepted a pass at the Connecticut 16-yard line as Cincy tried to tie the game before halftime. Reyes returned the pick 79 yards to set up a UConn touchdown that made the score 24–10 at the break. Back Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher averaging 148.1 yards per game, had two of his three touchdown runs in the second half. Todman had 175 yards to help lift Connecticut to 7–4 overall.
Beating South Florida, however, may not be easy. The Bulls, now 7–4 overall and 3–3 in Big East play, surprised Miami, Fla., this past Saturday 23–20 in overtime. Quarterback Bobby Eveld came off the bench in the second half to manage two touchdown drives, including one that was capped by his own 1-yard scoring run to tie the game with two minutes left in regulation.
If USF can win, West Virginia, 8–3 overall, will benefit after picking up its third straight win. The victory over Pitt in the 103rd Backyard Brawl not only gave WVU hope, but also seemingly cooled the seat of Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart.
“I can’t tell you how big of a win this is for West Virginia, for this staff and for me personally,” Stewart said afterward.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith threw three touchdown passes against Pitt, but, once again, the Mountaineer defense was the story, forcing three first-half turnovers and holding the Panthers to 78 rushing yards on the day.
The Mountaineers need to defeat Rutgers at home this weekend and hope Connecticut loses in order to snatch away the BCS berth.
In other league play last weekend, Louisville defeated RU 40–13 to finish 6–6. The Cardinals’ victory makes the team bowl-eligible for the first time since defeating Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl after the 2006 season.
U of L running back Bilal Powell had two touchdown receptions and a touchdown run before two minutes had been played in the second quarter. He finished with 123 rushing yards. Scarlet Knights freshman running back Jordan Thomas had a career-high 120 yards.
Syracuse, meanwhile, ended its regular season at 7–5 after a 16–7 non-conference loss to Boston College at the Carrier Dome.
Louisville 40, Rutgers 13
West Virginia 35, Pittsburgh 10
South Florida 23, Miami, Fla. 20, OT
Connecticut 38, Cincinnati 17
Boston College 16, Syracuse 7
All weekend there were rumors that West Virginia coach Bill Stewart was retiring at the end of the season. On Sunday, he straightened out those rumors. “First and foremost, let me begin by saying the reports of my retirement are greatly exaggerated,” he said via a teleconference call. “In fact, you’re hearing it directly from me, Bill Stewart, I have no intention of walking away. I’m not focusing on retirement. Lastly, and most importantly, I’m focusing on Rutgers.”
The Big Four?
South Florida’s football program still isn’t considered at the level of the Sunshine State’s Big Three of Florida, Florida State and Miami. But the Bulls are making progress. Last season, USF defeated then-No. 18 Florida State 17–7 in quarterback B.J. Daniels’ coming-out party. Then, Saturday, the Bulls upended Miami in overtime. “This is a big win for the program,” said USF coach Skip Holtz. “This is the level we aspire to be.”
Connecticut running back Jordan Todman injured his right shoulder against Cincinnati and sat out a few series in the first half, but re-entered the game. Rutgers back Joe Martinek tried to play against Louisville, but his high ankle sprain didn’t allow for much success. Martinek may be done for the season. Cincinnati wideout Vidal Hazelton, who tore his ACL early in the season, was cleared to play but did not against Connecticut. He could play against Pitt. Meanwhile, Bearcats receiver D.J. Woods was limited against the Huskies with ankle, knee and shoulder injuries. Also, Syracuse senior Delone Carter left his team’s loss to Boston College with an undisclosed injury. He had a bruised hip earlier in the season.
When Connecticut defeated Cincinnati, it was senior day. The family of Jasper Howard, stabbed to death last year, was in attendance. Huskies coach Randy Edsall said after the game he couldn’t talk about the presence because “I’ll break down.”
The Heat Is On
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano is feeling heat after his team’s 40–13 rout at the hands of Louisville. The Scarlet Knights have now lost five straight games, and the loss snapped RU’s streak of five consecutive bowl appearances. Rutgers quarterbacks have been sacked 55 times this season, which leads the nation.
The heat is on, part two
Fans of the Pittsburgh Panthers are likewise unhappy with coach Dave Wannstedt after his team’s 35–10 home loss to West Virginia. Pitt fumbled six times, turning the ball over four times, against the Mountaineers. The preseason favorite to win the league is now 6–5 overall.
Hitting the canvas
When reigning back-to-back Big East champions Cincinnati fell to Connecticut, it not only bruised the Bearcats’ egos, but it also meant they would not appear in a bowl after four straight. Cincy is assured of its first losing season since 2005.
Powell packing punch
Louisville’s Bilal Powell is the nation’s 10th-leading rusher, averaging 120.91 yards per game. His 123-yard effort against Rutgers gave him seven 100-yard games this season, tying the school record previously set by Frank Moreau in 1999 and Walter Peacock in 1973. He’s third on the U of L all-time rushing list with 1,330.
Quote of the week
From South Florida coach Skip Holtz on his true freshman walk-on quarterback Bobby Eveld, who helped the Bulls upset Miami: “If a dog’s going to bite you, he’ll do it as a pup.”
The countdown to the end of the Big East regular season is two weeks. And there are only two teams one can count out of the chase to at least capture a share of the conference title.
Pittsburgh still has the best chance to grab the league’s BCS bowl, but Connecticut helped itself and others by downing Syracuse last weekend. The Huskies bumped the Orange out of second place and now share that with West Virginia. Both are 3–2 in conference play, while Pitt is 4–1.
“It’s what I’ve tried to instill in these young men,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall.
“Hey, don’t let anybody count you out. You just got to keep fighting.”
Pittsburgh, though, can clinch no worse than a tie for the title by winning this week’s home Backyard Brawl against West Virginia. The Panthers can win the title outright by adding a season-ending road win against Cincinnati. On Saturday, Pitt nudged South Florida by 17–10.
“That was a heck of a win for our football team for a lot of reasons,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “We needed to bounce back (from a loss to Connecticut) and the encouraging thing is we still haven’t put together a complete game.”
Pitt received a game-winning 22-yard touchdown run from Dion Lewis in the fourth quarter in Tampa. Lewis ran for 105 yards and a score, while quarterback Tino Sunseri was 11-for-16 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown to make the Panthers bowl eligible at 6–4. South Florida got a nice 45-yard touchdown run on a reverse from wideout Terrence Mitchell, but allowed a three-game winning streak to end.
Connecticut won at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome behind two touchdown runs from Jordan Todman and three field goals from kicker Dave Teggart. SU could only manage two Ross Krautman field goals. It ended a sometimes wonderful, but always strange Big East season for the Orange. Syracuse, which hosts Boston College this Saturday, became the first team in Big East history to win all of its conference road games, but lose all of its league home games.
West Virginia, 7–3 overall, remained alive on the strength of its defense in a 17–10 win over Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The Mountaineer defense held the Cardinals to nine first downs, 26 rushing yards and 171 total yards. It didn’t allow an offensive touchdown. West Virginia is the nation’s only team that’s held every opponent to 21 points or fewer.
“Our kids are playing hard and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
On the other end of the conference, Cincinnati, the league’s back-to-back reigning champs, managed to escape the cellar and remain alive with a wild 69–38 victory over Rutgers. It was the highest-scoring game in Big East history. UC’s Isaiah Pead scored five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) and the Bearcats offense ripped off 661 yards of offense en route to 10 touchdowns.
Individual numbers? Pead had 213 yards rushing and teammate Zach Collaros completed 23-of-39 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Rutgers wideout Mark Harrison had 10 receptions for 240 yards and a league record-tying four touchdowns, and teammate Chas Dodd completed 19-of- 29 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns.
West Virginia 17, Louisville 10
Pittsburgh 17, South Florida 10
Connecticut 23, Syracuse 6
Cincinnati 69, Rutgers 38
Breaking it down
As stated, Pitt wins the Big East outright by taking its last two games. But Connecticut and West Virginia can still take the outright title as well. Syracuse, South Florida and Cincinnati all remain in the hunt to tie for the league championship.
After Pitt, UConn has the best chance to win the league outright. The Huskies need to win out at home against Cincy and at South Florida and hope Pitt loses at least once. Connecticut holds tiebreaker advantages over Pitt and WVU.
WVU needs to defeat Pitt at Heinz Field this Friday and win at home against Rutgers. It also has to hope Connecticut loses one of its final two games.
This week’s schedule has two Big East games on Friday. Louisville visits Rutgers at 11 a.m. on ESPN2. The U of L can become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006 with a win.
WVU and Pitt meet at noon in the 103rd edition of the Brawl. That game will be televised by ABC.
Saturday league games will be Cincinnati at Connecticut; Syracuse hosting Boston College; and South Florida visiting Miami (Fla.).
Connecticut’s Jordan Todman scored a couple of touchdowns and ran for 130 yards against Syracuse. That performance was good enough to keep Todman No. 2 nationally in rushing with a 145.1 yard average. He’s second only to Oregon’s LaMichael James. Louisville’s Bilal Powell is eighth, averaging 120.7.
West Virginia’s defense, meanwhile, continues to impress. The Mountaineers are fourth nationally in rush defense (88 yard average), scoring defense (12.9) and total defense (245.1). WVU is also No. 8 in pass defense, allowing an average of 157.1 yards.
When Rutgers’ Greg Schiano had the Scarlet Knights on a roll a few years back, many thought RU was rejuvenated. Now it seems like RU is headed for the days of old. With two games to play the team is in last place in the Big East and has a chance to tie Temple for the most last-place finishes in league history. Temple, booted from the league in 2004, had seven.
The good and the bad
During Pittsburgh’s win over South Florida, Panther defensive end Brandon Linsdsey recorded his 10th sack of the season. No Pitt player has reached double digits since Joe Clermond in 2007. Pitt, though, also was whistled for 11 penalties for 116 yards. In the prior three games, the Panthers had been called for 11-90 combined.
South Florida running back Moise Plancher injured a shoulder against Pitt and was limited throughout the game.
When Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead rushed for his career-high 213 yards, it was the first 200-yard game for a Bearcat since Richard Hall had 238 against Miami in 2004.
How bad was it?
Louisville’s offense was shut down to such a degree that the team’s leading rusher against West Virginia was kicker/punter Chris Philpott. He had 21 rushing yards on a fake punt. “Just no execution on offense,” said U of L coach Charlie Strong.
West Virginia (6-3, 2-2) at Louisville (5-5, 2-3), Saturday, noon EST
Since Bill Stewart has taken over at West Virginia, his teams are 18–2 at home, 2–1 in neutral-site bowls — and 5–8 on the road. This week, he’s trying to relieve some of the pressure on his job status and get the Mountaineers back in the Big East title hunt by winning at 5–5 Louisville.
“The road has not been as pleasant as we would have liked it to have been,” Stewart said. “Maybe we can make amends to that this weekend and get back on track.”
Pitt’s loss at Connecticut opened the door for all of the Big East, including WVU, now 2–2 in league play. The challenge for the Mountaineers will be to contain Cardinals back Bilal Powell, who had 140 yards last week against South Florida and is fifth in the country in rushing, averaging 134.1 yards. WVU seems equipped to do that with the nation’s seventh-best rush defense. The Mountaineers are allowing an average of just 94.9 rushing yards per game.
On the flip side, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who threw four touchdown passes in the first half last week against Cincinnati, will have to have success this week against cornerback Johnny Patrick and a Cardinals pass defense that’s ranked ninth nationally, allowing but 163.6 yards per game through the air.
The key in the game may be the running of WVU’s Noel Devine, who has been struggling with injuries and is averaging 85.6 yards. Louisville’s run defense is 48th nationally, allowing 142.9 yards per game.
Pittsburgh (5-4, 3-1) at South Florida (6-3, 3-2), Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh had a comfortable conference lead a week ago. Now the Panthers are in somewhat of an uncomfortable position with but a one-game Big East advantage in the loss column and this contest at South Florida’s Raymond James Stadium.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said this week his team is working on kick coverage after Connecticut’s Nick Williams returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score. Too, USF boasts dangerous return man Lindsey Lamar, who averages 30.8 yards per return. The Panthers are also dealing with the bad news that defensive end Greg Romeus, the Big East’s co-Defensive Player of the Year, is out for the season with a torn ACL after returning from back surgery.
South Florida, meanwhile, is on a high via a three-game winning streak, including last week’s 24–21 overtime road win at Louisville. While Pitt is 3–1 in Big East play and 5–4 overall, the Bulls are 3–2 and 6–3.
The question in this one centers on South Florida’s offense, specifically quarterback B.J. Daniels, going against Pittsburgh’s defense, ranked No. 1 in the conference in scoring.
On the other side, the Bulls will have to slow Pitt QB Tino Sunseri, who has completed 66.5 percent of his passes this season, and the one-two running punch of Ray Graham and Dion Lewis. South Florida has the Big East’s No. 6 pass and No. 4 rush defense.
Connecticut (5-4, 2-2) at Syracuse (7-3, 4-2), Saturday, 7 p.m EST
The Big East is down, but these two teams are up. Connecticut is coming off back-to-back victories against the teams picked to finish first and second in the conference this season. The Huskies won at home against Pitt, last week, and West Virginia. At 5–4 overall and 2–2 in league play, their season is rejuvenated.
Syracuse, meanwhile, is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and is coming off a 13–10 road win against Rutgers. The Orange are in second place in the Big East at 4–2 and is 7–3 overall. SU coach Doug Marrone, however, isn’t taking anything for granted.
“(Connecticut is) a very good football team that was picked by some to win this conference,” he said. “We’re a football team that’s trying to get to the upper level, and get back to consistency and winning, and we have a long way to go.”
The teams seem pretty evenly matched. While Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 2 scoring offense, Syracuse has the league’s No. 2 scoring defense. The Huskies have the conference’s No. 7 scoring defense, while the Orange has the No. 7 scoring offense.
Keep your eyes on UConn back Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 2 rusher, and Syracuse’s Delone Carter, fourth in the Big East in rushing.
Rutgers (4-5, 1-3) at Cincinnati (3-6, 1-3), Saturday, 7:30 p.m. EST
There seems to be only one thing at stake in this matchup: escaping the cellar of what some call the nation’s worst BCS conference. Both are currently 1–3 and tied for last place in the Big East.
It’s someone surprising Rutgers is in the position, but close to shocking that back-to-back reigning league champ Cincinnati is there. Bearcats coach Butch Jones spent the early part of the week talking about keeping his team together. “We have to pull each other through these tough times,” he said.
A start would be winning against a 4–5 Rutgers team at home. The bad news for UC fans, however, is the Bearcats are but 2–3 at home this season and are on a three-game losing streak.
Rutgers, meanwhile, is on its own three-game skid after falling by 13–10 to Syracuse last week. RU did have success running the Wildcat formation with Jeremy Deering’s 166 rushing yards out of the formation. But the quarterback situation with struggling Chas Dodd and Tom Savage remains an issue.
If you’re looking for matchups, the Orange have the league’s second-ranked total defense, while the Bearcats field the Big East’s No. 1 total offense. On the flip side, Syracuse has the conference’s No. 6 offense, while UC has the No. 7 defense.