Pitt's loss opens the door for the Big East title.
Pittsburgh appeared to be kicked back in a comfy recliner heading into last week. The Panthers had a two-game lead in the loss column in the race for the Big East’s BCS bowl berth.
After losing to Connecticut, however, it’s like they’ve moved to an old couch. The cushion is gone.
“It’s disappointing,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt after the 30–28 Thursday loss. “Not the effort, but that we didn’t take a step forward. After everything we went through in Utah and Notre Dame, I thought we would handle it better and we didn’t.”
Now, every member of the conference still has title hopes. The good news for Wannstedt and the Panthers is if they win their last three games, they still take the Big East championship and would advance to the BCS bowl.
Now, though, South Florida and West Virginia are also in control. Both can clinch at least a share of the league title by winning out. The other five conference teams would need help, but remain alive.
Connecticut contributed to the cause by receiving a career day from tailback Jordan Todman, who went for a career-high 222 yards on 37 carries, and some gutsy calls by coach Randy Edsall. The Huskies ran out the final 4:29 in part because of a pair of fourth-down conversions. Pitt, 5–4 overall, had three turnovers.
While the Panthers failed to become bowl-eligible, three Big East teams hit the mark. USF nudged past Louisville by 24–21 in overtime; West Virginia was a 37–10 winner over Cincinnati; and Syracuse slipped past Rutgers 13–10.
South Florida, which has now won three straight games, trailed the U of L 14–3 late in the second quarter, but received a 100-yard kickoff return from Lindsey Lamar to begin a rally. Bulls’ linebacker Mike Lanaris came up with a key stop on fourth-and-1 in overtime, allowing kicker Maikon Bonani to win the game.
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart’s seat cooled a bit after his team won after back-to-back losses to move to 6–3. “We just finally went out there and played like we could’ve played all year,” said Mountaineer cornerback Keith Tandy, who had a tackle for a loss, an interception and four pass breakups. WVU quarterback Geno Smith threw four first-half touchdown passes — two each to Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin. WVU’s defense, now ranked fourth nationally in total defense, shut out Cincy on 12 third-down situations.
Syracuse, meanwhile, became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 and clinched a winning season for the first time since 2001. Two late Ross Krautman field goals were key.
Rutgers, which has lost three straight, was led by a surprising performance from true freshman wideout Jeremy Deering, who rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries from the Wildcat formation.
Connecticut 30, Pittsburgh 28
West Virginia 37, Cincinnati 10
South Florida 24, Louisville 21 OT
Syracuse 13, Rutgers 10
With Syracuse’s second-leading receiver Alec Lemon on the sideline, Marcus Sales rose to the occasion Saturday against Rutgers. After catching just five passes for 39 yards through the first nine games, Sales, a junior, led the Orange with five catches for 73 yards.
Connecticut’s Jordan Todman is playing for a team with a 5–4 record, but his track record on the season is stellar. Todman, averaging 147 yards, is currently the nation’s second-leading rusher behind Oregon’s LaMichael James, who is averaging 158. In the last two games, Todman has rushed for 113 yards against West Virginia’s stingy defense and the career-high 222 against Pittsburgh. The Panthers hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.
With 2:50 remaining in Connecticut’s victory over Pitt, Huskies coach Randy Edsall made a risky call that paid off. On fourth-and-1, with the ball on the UConn 19-yard line, Edsall went for it. Jordan Todman made four yards. The Huskies then ran out the clock. “I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I said I’m going to punt the ball,” Edsall said.
Where to now?
The Rutgers quarterback position has been muddied all year. And it’s not any clearer after Saturday’s RU loss to Syracuse. Chas Dodd started, but was benched at the start of the second half after going 3-of-11 passing for 30 yards with two sacks. Previous starter Tom Savage came in to hit six-of-12 passes for 76 yards. RU coach Greg Schiano didn’t name a starter for next week’s game at Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh defensive end Greg Romeus, previously one of the highest-rated NFL prospects at his position, made his first start since back surgery earlier this year. After starting the game against Connecticut, though, Romeus twisted his knee and didn’t finish the game.
A third chance
South Florida kicker Maikon Bonani received a rare third opportunity to lift his team in a game. At the end of regulation, he drilled a field goal attempt from 52 yards, but Louisville was credited with a timeout before the snap. He missed the ensuing try wide left. In overtime, however, Bonani connected on a 37-yard attempt that proved the difference. “I was really nervous,” Bonani said of the game-winner.
A little running relief
With West Virginia back Noel Devine struggling this season with injuries, Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart has been seeking help at the position. He finally received some Saturday against Cincinnati when Shawn Alston gained 75 yards on 17 carries — 60 on 13 in the second half of the 37–10 Mountaineer victory. “I’ve been waiting for my opportunity and I had to make the most of it,” Alston said.
Cincinnati certainly didn’t help itself in its loss to West Virginia. The Bearcats were penalized 10 times for 96 yards and didn’t convert one third down in 12 attempts. “We will win when we deserve to win,” said UC coach Butch Jones.
Pittsburgh at Connecticut, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST
Connecticut’s football team showed a little life in its last outing, a 16–13 overtime win against West Virginia. However, if the Huskies don’t defeat Pittsburgh on Saturday, it will be the death of UConn’s longshot Big East title hopes.
After three games, Pitt is the only undefeated team in the league. Connecticut, a preseason dark horse favorite, was anchored in the conference’s cellar until upsetting the Mountaineers and moving to 1–2 in league play. With a win over the Panthers, the Huskies would sit just one game back.
Positive thoughts for UConn fans: The series between the teams is tied at three; the Huskies are 4–0 at home this season; the game is at Rentschler Field.
“Games with Connecticut have been very challenging for us,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.
Negative thoughts for UConn fans: Pitt boasts the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense; Connecticut has the league’s No. 7 scoring defense.
Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri has experienced a rebirth of sorts this season after a shaky start. He’s now completed 65.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,672 yards and 12 touchdowns with four picks. On defense, Pitt may experience a rebirth if defensive end Greg Romeus — last season’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year — returns from a back injury. Wannstedt said it would be a game-time decision.
Connecticut will rely on Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 4 leading rusher, but the key will be the play of quarterback Zach Frazer.
Both teams were idle last week.
Cincinnati at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST
There are many storylines to this game. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, for instance, was a wide receivers coach in Morgantown for Rich Rodriguez. Three former Mountaineer players — Jahmile Addae, Brandon Myles and Milo Austin — now help Jones. UC fans are upset that their back-to-back Big East champions are now 3–5 overall and 1–2 in Big East play. WVU fans are ready to run coach Bill Stewart out of the Mountain State because his team is tied for last place in the embattled league.
Perhaps the one area to watch, however, is Cincinnati’s quarterback position. Expected back is Zach Collaros, who missed the Syracuse game with a knee injury. Collaros is leading the Big East in passing and total offense and has thrown 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. If he’s on the field and in mid-season form, UC can give the Mountaineers, ranked No. 1 in the Big East in pass, scoring and total defense, a battle. Cincy leads the league in total offense (425.2 yards average) and ranks second in scoring offense (27.4 point average).
On the flip side, West Virginia’s offense, which has struggled, could get well against Cincinnati’s defense, ranked eighth in the Big East in scoring. The Mountaineers returned a veteran offensive line this season, as well as back Noel Devine, but are ranked No. 7 in scoring offense within the league.
Both teams are on two-game losing streaks.
South Florida at Louisville, Saturday, noon EST
This game should be played at Akron’s old Rubber Bowl, because of the way both teams have bounced back. Louisville, under first-year coach Charlie Strong, is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. The Cardinals snapped an 11-game league road losing streak by defeating Syracuse last week. South Florida, under first-year coach Skip Holtz, has won back-to-back league games after an 0–2 start and is tied for third place with, you guessed it, the Cardinals. The Bulls are also a win away from being bowl-eligible.
USF had some minor injuries in its victory over Rutgers, but all dinged players — quarterback B.J. Daniels, backs Demetris Murray and Mo Plancher, lineman Jamar Bass and safety Jerrell Young — are expected to play.
Statistically, Louisville, 5–4, enters the game with the edge. The Cardinals are ranked third in the Big East both in scoring offense and defense, while the Bulls enter fifth in both categories.
Pay close attention, however, to whether Louisville star running back Bilal Powell, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, and quarterback Adam Froman start. Both missed the Syracuse game because of injury.
Also, as always, check out which Daniels shows up for 5–3 USF. He’s thrown for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns this season. But he’s also thrown 11 interceptions.
Syracuse at Rutgers, Saturday, 3:30 EST
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is the man in his college town. The Orange, a former Big East doormat, need one win in their last three games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004. They have won four road games for the first time since 1996. SU sits in second place within its conference.
Then there’s Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. His program has fallen flat. The Scarlet Knights are coming off back-to-back road losses. They are 1–2 in Big East play and in a four-way tie for last place. In other words, Schiano could sure use a win here.
Rutgers has again listed Chas Dodd as its starting quarterback, but Schiano hasn’t ruled out a return of Tom Savage, the previous face of the program. Dodd has started the last four games after Savage started the first four.
The key, it seems, in this one is for RU to contain Syracuse back Delone Carter, who ranks fourth in the Big East in rushing, averaging 94.8 yards per game. Rutgers, meanwhile, is seventh in the league in rush defense and has allowed five opposing backs to top 100 yards in the past four games.
The Orange boast the Big East’s No. 2 total and scoring defense. Linebacker Derrell Smith is fifth in the conference in tackles with 75.
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said this week that even though his team is 6–2 it really hasn’t accomplished anything this season. That, of course, isn’t exactly correct. The Orange is the surprise team of the Big East, sitting at 3–1 in conference play and in second place, behind only 3–0 leader Pittsburgh. The SU faithful are alive again and should provide a nice crowd for this game in the Carrier Dome.
Offensively, the Orange will rely on back Delone Carter, the nation’s No. 29 rusher, averaging 93.25 yards per game. More than likely, though, Marrone will again lean on his stingy defense, which ranks 13th nationally in total defense and 14th in scoring. There are injury concerns, however, after last week’s 31–7 win over Cincinnati. Right tackle Michael Hay was seen wearing a boot on his left foot this week.
Louisville, meanwhile, enters this at 4–4 after a 20–3 loss to Pitt. The Cardinals will try to snap an 11-game road losing streak without Bilal Powell, who probably will miss this game with a knee injury. Quarterback Adam Froman is also trying to recover from a thigh bruise. The good news for the Cards is that back Victor Anderson is recovered from a shoulder injury and should play. The U of L is second in the Big East in total offense and fourth in total defense.
Big East officials annually try to size up the league’s best football teams and match them in late November. This season, for instance, Pittsburgh, the preseason favorite, is scheduled to take on West Virginia and defending champ Cincinnati late in the season. It’s supposed to serve as de facto title games since the conference has no championship.
This season, however, the two best teams might have played back on Oct. 16. Pittsburgh and surprising Syracuse have started to separate themselves from a crowded pack in the race for the BCS berth. The Panthers are now 3–0 in league play, while the Orange are 3–1. No other Big East team has more than one league victory. Pitt, though, has an extra edge because of its 45–14 decision in head-to-head play.
No one, however, around the SU program is complaining. The Orange took its fourth road win of the season last weekend via a 31–7 decision at Cincinnati. After a scoreless first quarter, Syracuse scored 17 points within a 5:03 span of the second period and pulled away in the second half. SU is now 6–2 overall — to the surprise of many. “I can’t even explain it,” said SU safety Max Suter. “It’s just an awesome feeling.”
SU got 109 rushing yards from Delone Carter and a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Ryan Nassib. Much of the story, however, centered on the Orange defense. The Bearcats, now 3–5 overall and 1–2 in league play, entered the game averaging 30.3 points and 446.4 yards, but were held to just seven points and 277 yards.
Pittsburgh, 5–3 overall, also leaned on its defense in a 20–3 win over Louisville at Heinz Field. The Panthers held Louisville to 185 yards total and 5-for-12 on third down conversions. “I think our defense is really clicking right now,” said Pitt safety Dom DeCicco.
Defensive end Jabaal Sheard had a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles.
Meanwhile, in East Hartford, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall got some relief from the heat and West Virginia coach Bill Stewart received another blast of it. The Huskies picked up their first league win of the season Friday by rallying for a 16–13 overtime win against the Mountaineers at Rentschler Field. The game followed UConn’s season-long theme. It is unbeaten in four games at home this season and winless on the road in four opportunities. As with Syracuse and Pitt, defense proved key. The Huskies kept the Mountaineers out of the end zone for the final three quarters and in overtime. Kicker Dave Teggart won the game with his third field goal of the game — a 27-yard kick in overtime — after WVU’s Ryan Clarke fumbled the ball away on the Mountaineers’ possession.
Huskies’ back Jordan Todman had 113 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 33 carries, while previous third-string quarterback Zach Frazer threw for 166 yards.
West Virginia had 414 yards of offense, but fell to 5–3 overall and into last place in league play at 1–2.
Connecticut 16, West Virginia 13 (ot)
Pittsburgh 20, Louisville 3
Syracuse 31, Cincinnati 7
Powell hurts knee
Louisville running back Bilal Powell, the nation’s No. 5 rusher, left the Pitt game with an apparent knee injury and did not return. Nothing appeared to be seriously wrong with the back. That wasn’t the case, however, in regard to the U of L offense, which was held to its lowest scoring and yardage totals of the season.
Huskies on the spot
Connecticut recovered four West Virginia fumbles, none bigger than Lawrence Wilson’s pickup in overtime, when the Mountaineers had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. WVU fumbled seven times.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said he’s pretty much decided which of his quarterbacks — Chas Dodd or Tom Savage — will start this week against South Florida, but was keeping the decision under wraps for a while. Savage is healthy after healing from injuries to his ribs and throwing hand.
South Florida is expected to be without defensive end Craig Marshall, who has a foot injury, when the Bulls meet Rutgers on Wednesday. Marshall leads USF with four sacks. Junior Patrick Hampton will get the start.
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones had some interesting things to say after his team’s home loss to Syracuse. “There’s a lot of things that people don’t see that go on behind closed doors,” Jones said. “Our big supporters do. They understand where we’re at, but the average Joe Public has no idea.” Cincy played against SU without starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who missed the game with a knee injury. Chazz Anderson threw for 148 yards.
Half of the Big East is off this week. On Wednesday, Rutgers visits South Florida for an ESPN2 game. The only conference game on Saturday has Louisville at Syracuse.
West Virginia at Connecticut, Friday, 8:00 p.m. EST
This should be a game that showcases two of the nation’s best backs: West Virginia’s Noel Devine and Connecticut’s Jordan Todman. The bigger storyline, however, has to do with the courses of the teams involved.
West Virginia seemed to be the class of the Big East, with the only blemish a close loss at LSU. That is, until Syracuse visited Morgantown and ruined Homecoming for the Mountaineers. Now head coach Bill Stewart is back on the hot seat in the Mountain State at 1–1 in league play. “I hope that (the Syracuse loss) serves as a wake-up call to our football program so that we can get back on track,” Stewart said on Tuesday.
WVU, now 5–2, hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2008. But previously steady quarterback Geno Smith threw three interceptions against SU, and the rushing attack the Mountaineers used to be known for is now ranked 73rd nationally.
Connecticut, though, has bigger problems. The Huskies are 3–4 overall and in the Big East cellar at 0–2. Also, Randy Edsall has a mess on his hands at the quarterback position. The team’s best QB this season, Cody Endres, has been tossed from the team. Zach Frazer didn’t appear to be the answer. And redshirt freshman Michael Box, who probably will get this start, has completed 6-of-17 passes for 65 yards with a pick.
Watch the standoff between Connecticut’s rushing attack, led by Todman, the nation’s No. 5 runner, and WVU’s rush defense, ranked No. 11 nationally.
Louisville at Pittsburgh, Saturday, noon EST
Charlie Strong has made some early strides in his first season as the Louisville coach. Evidence could be seen last week when the Cardinals shut out Connecticut 26–0. This week? “We’re going to see exactly where we are as a football team,” Strong said.
Seems that way. Both teams are 4–3 overall, but Pitt has averaged 43 points in winning its two Big East games this season and is now looking like the team picked to win the league in the conference’s preseason poll. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are still trying to prove themselves at 1–1 in league play.
The key matchup in this game will be Louisville’s rushing attack, ranked No. 1 in the Big East, against Pittsburgh’s rush defense, also ranked No. 1 in the league. The Cardinals boast the nation’s No. 4 rusher in Bilal Powell, who is averaging 143.29 yards. Also, Strong says that running back Victor Anderson has a “50-50" chance of returning from a shoulder injury.
On the other side, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt hasn’t ruled out the return of standout defensive end Greg Romeus for the contest. Romeus, who was considered one of the nation’s top ends, is recovering from back surgery.
U of L quarterback Adam Froman has been steady this season. The wildcard, however, is Panthers QB Tino Sunseri, who has been on fire the last two games, completing 74.5 percent of his passes for 588 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception.
Syracuse at Cincinnati, Saturday, noon EST
Check this out. On paper, Cincinnati, the Big East’s back-to-back champions, has a battle on its hands with Syracuse, which has been sweeping the league’s cellar of late.
The Orange has sandwiched a blowout loss at the hands of Pittsburgh with victories over South Florida and West Virginia. The latter win was a stunning 19–14 decision over the then-ranked Mountaineers in Morgantown on Homecoming.
“There was a different sense in the locker room after the West Virginia game,” said coach Doug Marrone.
That sense carries over to this game. SU is now in second place in the Big East with a 2–1 record. The Orange have the league’s No. 2 total defense. And when standout tailback Delone Carter went down with a hip bruise in Morgantown, junior Antwon Bailey stepped in and had 94 rushing yards.
What SU will have to contend with, however, is the Big East’s No. 1 offense, which averages 446.43 yards. There is a question, though, whether UC quarterback Zach Collaros will play after suffering a bruised knee in last week’s 38–30 loss to South Florida. If Collaros can’t go, Chazz Anderson is expected to get the start.
This should be interesting. Cincinnati saw its 14-game winning streak at Nippert Stadium end last week as well as its 13-game winning streak against Big East opponents. The team is 3–4 overall. The Bearcats are also ranked last in the league in total defense and No. 64 nationally, allowing an average of 367.71 yards a game.
South Florida 38, Cincinnati 30
Pittsburgh 41, Rutgers 21
Syracuse 19, West Virginia 14
Louisville 26, Connecticut 0
After all the bashing and teeth-gnashing, Pitt, the preseason favorite to win the Big East, once again is it. Despite a poor showing in non-conference play, the Panthers have overwhelmed their first two league opponents to take the top spot at 2–0. A week ago, they drubbed Syracuse 45–14. This past weekend it was Rutgers by 41–21.
“Pitt is a good football team,” said RU coach Greg Schiano, “and they are hitting their stride now.”
The Panthers were tied with the Scarlet Knights at halftime, but routed the visitors in the second half at Heinz Field. Quarterback Tino Sunseri, who threw four touchdown passes against SU, added three more against Rutgers. The Panthers also received standout performances from back Dion Lewis, who ran for 130 yards and a touchdown, and wideout Jon Baldwin, who had five receptions for 139 yards and a TD.
While the preseason league favorite won, however, teams projected to finish sixth, seventh and eighth in the conference’s preseason poll all defeated teams picked to finish in the top half of the conference.
Perhaps the most surprising uprising came from Syracuse, which upended ranked West Virginia 19–14 at Mountaineer Field on Homecoming. The Orange gave a WVU offense that boasted Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Geno Smith fits all day. SU linebacker Doug Hogue had two of the three Orange interceptions on the day and had 10 tackles. Syracuse had five sacks. “It feels great,” Hogue said, “something I’m going to remember forever.”
It was the signature win SU coach Doug Marrone was seeking and a loss that put WVU coach Bill Stewart back on the hot seat in Morgantown. The win lifted Syracuse into second place in the Big East at 2–1, while West Virginia fell to 1–1.
The wild weekend got started Friday night as South Florida snuffed a pair of notable Cincinnati winning streaks in a 38–30 Bulls win at Nippert Stadium. The Bearcats had won 14 straight on their home field and had a 13-game Big East winning streak that stood as the third-longest in conference history.
USF quarterback B.J. Daniels came out of his shell to complete 13-of-16 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns, while adding a pair of rushing touchdowns. The performance allowed the Bulls to withstand a 590-yard effort by the Cincinnati offense. UC quarterback Zach Collaros put up a 463-yard, three-touchdown effort in a losing cause before being injured. It was USF’s first league win of the year.
Meanwhile, the league’s supposed darkhorse, Connecticut, saw its title chances get darker after being shut out by Louisville 26–0. The Huskies are now alone in the league cellar.
The victorious Cardinals leaned on defense and special teams to even its league record to 1–1. In fact, they scored their 26 points despite getting just one offensive touchdown.
U of L kicker Chris Philpott made four field goals and the Cardinals got a 74-yard return for a score from wideout Doug Beaumont. Coach Charlie Strong’s defense, meanwhile, limited the Huskies to 195 yards.
Louisville back Bilal Powell ran for 105 yards on 27 carries, turning in his fourth straight 100-yard game and becoming just the fourth player in the nation to reach 1,000 yards this season (1,003).
Big Ben back in New York
A Syracuse spoil to winning the West Virginia game is reclaiming the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy for the first time in nine seasons. The award is named after the former SU football coach and Mountaineer center. Schwartzwalder graduated from WVU, but coached the Orange for 25 seasons, including the 1959 national championship.
Support for LeGrand continues
Players from South Florida and Cincinnati offered personal messages to paralyzed Rutgers player Eric LeGrand during the nationally televised Friday game between the teams. South Florida will host Rutgers in its next game. The Scarlet Knights have established an Eric LeGrand Believe Fund.
A new leader in the clubhouse
When Louisville’s Bilal Powell rushed for 105 yards against Connecticut, he nudged past the Huskies’ Jordan Todman to become the Big East leader in the category and No. 4 rusher nationally. Todman was held to a season-low 80 yards and is now averaging 140.17 yards, fifth nationally. Powell is now averaging 143.29.
A knicked up knee might keep Collaros from playing.
Concern over Collaros
Cincinnati, 3–4, needs three wins in its last five games to qualify for a bowl and may be in trouble if quarterback Zach Collaros can’t recover from a knee injury suffered in the loss to South Florida. UC coach Butch Jones said he’d be listed as “questionable” now and an MRI showed nothing that needed surgery. If Collaros can’t go, Chazz Anderson would likely take his place against Syracuse.
Connecticut tried redshirt quarterback Michael Box against Louisville, but the move didn’t pan out. Box left the game with a concussion after completing 4-of-12 passes for 35 yards and an interception. Senior Zach Frazer, who replaced Box, went 6-of-8 for 52 yards.
Sacked — again
After allowing eight sacks against Army, Rutgers allowed seven in its loss to Pittsburgh. The Scarlet Knights are ranked last among FBS teams in the category, allowing an average of 4.7 per game. And it’s not even close. Washington State, ranked No. 119, is allowing an average of 3.88.
Big days in the Steel City
The back-to-back 40-plus point offensive outbursts by Pitt marked the first such occurrence in Big East play. Also, the 513 yards put up against Rutgers were the most since a 2006 blowout of The Citadel.
South Florida at Cincinnati, Friday, 8:00 p.m. EST
There’s not much mystery in what this game means to the participants. South Florida is trying to straighten out its offense and start climbing out of the Big East cellar. The Bulls are 0–2 in league play. Coach Skip Holtz’s team hasn’t produced an offensive touchdown in its last two games against Syracuse and West Virginia. This week, Holtz and his staff looked at changes that could be made to the team’s offense, including checking out freshman Terrence Mitchell, recruited as a cornerback, at receiver.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won two straight and, at 1–0 in Big East play, is setting its sights on a third straight conference title. UC worked all week trying to figure out a ball security problem. It defeated Louisville despite turning the ball over three times. But USF may have a bigger problem to solve. The one area in which the Bearcats are vulnerable is against the pass. They are ranked eighth in the Big East in pass defense. The Bulls, however, are ranked last in pass offense. USF quarterback B.J. Daniels has thrown for 803 yards and four touchdowns, but has tossed a whopping 10 interceptions.
Rutgers at Pittsburgh, Saturday, noon EST
This is expected to be an emotional game for 4–2 Rutgers after Scarlet Knight Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a spinal injury while making a tackle against Army last weekend.
RU true freshman Chas Dodd will again get the call at quarterback, even though season starter Tom Savage is healthy and ready to go. Dodd has led the Knights to two straight wins, including last week’s 23–20 overtime affair against Army. He has a 138.4 passing efficiency rating, while throwing for 755 yards with five TDs and just three interceptions.
Pittsburgh and quarterback Tino Sunseri came alive last week after a disappointing start to the season. The 3–3 Panthers return home to Heinz Field after waxing Syracuse 45–14 in the Carrier Dome. The test here is to see if Sunseri, who had four touchdown passes against SU, can have similar success against the Big East’s No. 2 team in total defense. The Knights have held opponents to an average of 15.3 points and 292.5 yards. RU likes to blitz — it has 23 QB hurries and 33 tackles for a loss — but, oddly, has just five sacks in six games.
On the flip side, Pitt has the league’s No. 2 rush defense. That will make things even more difficult for a struggling Knights offense, which is seventh in the Big East in total offense and eighth in scoring offense.
Syracuse at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh was the overwhelming preseason pick to win the Big East, but when the Panthers stumbled out of the gate, West Virginia surged to the top of the league. Now the question is, can the Mountaineers top what Pitt did to Syracuse last week?
The Orange was the league’s biggest surprise, but fell hard to the Panthers by 45–14 at home. The 5–1 Mountaineers have 4–2 SU at home this week and come in boasting the Big East’s top-rated defense across the board.
Much will depend on Orange QB Ryan Nassib, who has fared well for most of the season. He is fourth in total offense in the Big East, averaging 214.2 yards per game. Also, running back Delone Carter, whose NFL draft stock is rising, is averaging 93.7 yards rushing.
WVU sophomore QB Geno Smith, meanwhile, continues to impress. He’s third in the Big East in total offense (232.2 ypg), second in passing (226.3 ypg) and has a 156.7 pass efficiency rating.
About the only question in this one surrounds the health of WVU back Noel Devine and the Mountaineer rushing attack, ranked seventh in the Big East. SU has the league’s fifth-best rush defense.
Connecticut at Louisville, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
These two teams are so similar it’s almost scary. Both enter this Big East matchup 3–3. Both are 0–1 in league play. Both are coming off close conference losses. Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense, while Louisville’s is No. 2. The Cardinals’ scoring defense is No. 7 in the league, while UConn’s is No. 8. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the Huskies are just 2-point favorites.
Charlie Strong, the coach of the host Cardinals, said this week he was trying to adjust his team’s attitude after it seemed content to simply be in the game at halftime of last week’s loss to Cincinnati. In this one, slowing UConn’s Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 3 rusher, would help with that attitude. Todman is averaging 152.2 yards per game. Connecticut’s passing offense is ranked seventh among the Big East’s eight teams.
The Huskies, meanwhile, have their own rushing attack to worry about. Louisville enters with the league’s No. 1 rush offense, led by the nation’s No. 4 rusher in Bilal Powell. He ran for 209 yards against Cincinnati and has 898 on the season with nine touchdowns on 115 carries.
The Big East is exactly halfway through its football season. Every team has played six games. And the results haven’t exactly been pretty. Only West Virginia at 5–1 is ranked, and only two others — Rutgers and Syracuse — have winning records at 4–2. The other five teams are 3–3.
The league, however, is now entrenched in conference play. Four teams — WVU, RU, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh — have 1–0 Big East records. And this week’s schedule features conference games across the board.
West Virginia took advantage of a tumultuous week in the Top 25 by downing South Florida by 20–6 last Thursday at Milan Puskar Stadium. The story of the game for the Mountaineers was their defense, which held USF to just 202 yards. Three different players registered interceptions.
“I thought it was a physical game,” said WVU coach Bill Stewart. “I thought our defense really did rise to the occasion and we kept them in check pretty good. I was really pleased with the way we disguised. I thought our secondary did a heck of a job in disguising and trying to keep (USF quarterback) B.J. Daniels from getting into a rhythm like he did last year.”
West Virginia QB Geno Smith, meanwhile, threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns on a 24-of-31 passing day.
South Florida, however, did hold Mountaineer back Noel Devine in check and limited the hosts to 79 rushing yards. The Bulls are now 0–2 in league play and alone in the conference’s cellar.
Offense, not defense, was the order of business in Friday’s Big East game as Cincinnati and Louisville combined for 887 yards in the Bearcats’ 35–27 road win.
The Cardinals built a 24–14 lead in the second quarter via two Bilal Powell touchdown runs, but the Bearcats’ duo of quarterback Zach Collaros and wideout Armon Binns was superior. Binns caught three of Collaros’ five touchdown passes on the night, helping Cincy to its 13th straight Big East win. Collaros completed 18-of-28 passes for 275 yards, while Binns had eight catches for 175 yards. Back Isaiah Pead added 145 rushing yards.
Louisville lost even though Powell had his second consecutive game with at least 200 rushing yards. He finished with 209 yards on 24 carries.
Syracuse, the league’s most surprising team this season, crashed against Pittsburgh in a 45–14 home loss, snapping a three-game winning streak. Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri threw touchdown passes to four different receivers — including a 79-yard hookup with wideout Devin Street on the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage — and finished with 281 passing yards. SU wideout Alec Lemon had eight catches for 108 yards.
Rutgers was the lone conference team to play a non-conference game and walked away with a 23–20, come-from-behind win in overtime against Army. Rutgers trailed 17–3 after three quarters, but quarterback Chas Dodd threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to force overtime. Back Joe Martinek won the game with a 1-yard touchdown run after the Scarlet Knights held Army to a field goal. Dodd completed 18-of-30 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns.
West Virginia 20, South Florida 6
Cincinnati 35, Louisville 27
Pittsburgh 45, Syracuse 14
Rutgers 23, Army 20
Rutgers’ football team was understandably shaken after its game with Army because of a violent collision that left junior defensive tackle Eric LeGrand motionless on the field. After being rushed to Hackensack University Medical Center, LeGrand was found to have no movement below the neck following surgery Saturday night for a spinal cord injury. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano spent the night at the hospital and said LeGrand’s spirits were as good as could be expected.
Quote of the weekend
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall on criticism leveled at him with the Huskies at 3–3: “I don’t know if anybody is criticizing me or not because I don’t read anything. I could care less. I could care less what the outside world thinks. I really could.”
It’s time to hand out some mid-season awards to those in the league that have excelled.
Top running back:
It’s a tie between Connecticut’s Jordan Todman (averaging 152.2 yards) and Louisville’s Bilal Powell (averaging 149.7). Todman is third nationally and Powell is fourth. The Big East has six backs (Toddman, Powell, Pitt’s Ray Graham, Cincy’s Isaiah Pead, Syracuse’s Delone Carter and WVU’s Noel Devine) ranked among the nation’s top 50.
Cincinnati’s Zach Collaros take this award. He’s first in the Big East in passing yards per game (242.5 average), total passing yards (1,455) and pass efficiency (163.56). Honorable mention to WVU sophomore Geno Smith, who is second to Collaros in all those categories.
Cincinnati’s D.J. Woods nudges a good field by being first in receiving yards per game (91.67) and total receiving yards (550).
Louisville. New coach Charlie Strong built his name on defense, but the Cardinals are 19th nationally in offense, averaging 456.67 yards a game.
West Virginia. The Mountaineers are fifth nationally in total defense, allowing an average of but 245.83 yards.
A knotty tie between four players. Rutgers’ Antonio Lowery is the league’s leading tackler, averaging 10.83. Pitt’s Jared Holley and WVU’s Keith Tandy are tied for second nationally in interceptions, averaging .67 per game. And Louisville’s Rodney Gnat is tied for seventh nationally in sacks, averaging one a game.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt announced that three freshmen players — T.J. Peeler, Bernardo Nunez and Kevin Adams — have been suspended indefinitely for violations of team rules.
It’s been one year since Connecticut football player Jasper Howard was stabbed to death after a fire alarm was pulled during a school-sanctioned dance. He was 20. Howard’s girlfriend gave birth to Howard’s daughter on March 27.
A good, hard look
South Florida coach Skip Holtz said after his team’s loss to West Virginia that personnel, coaches and scheme will be examined in regard to the Bulls’ offense. “Our offense right now is not very productive,” he said. “I mean, it’s bad. It really is.”
Noel Devine and the Mountaineers look like the class of the Big East.
West Virginia paid around $740,000 for UNLV to make a non-return visit to Morgantown this past Saturday. It was apparently money well-spent. The Mountaineers routed the outmanned Rebels of the Mountain West Conference by 49–10 and again gave the Big East a presence in the major Top 25 polls by re-entering both at No. 25.
WVU held a 35–0 lead at halftime and had four scoring plays of at least 28 yards. Sixty-eight Mountaineers saw action. Wide receiver Brad Starks had a career day with four receptions for 100 yards and three touchdowns as West Virginia improved to 4–1. Hampered by injuries all season, Starks had no catches heading into the game.
“He’s pretty much a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams,” said WVU quarterback Geno Smith, who completed 12-of-16 passes for 220 yards and the three scores. “Add in Jock (Sanders) and Noel (Devine) and Tavon (Austin) and everybody else and that’s a good mix to have.”
WVU’s lone loss of the season, 20–14 to LSU in Baton Rouge, also looks a bit better after the now-No. 9 Tigers defeated Florida in Gainesville.
Meanwhile, conference play got under way with a couple of Big East matchups — decided by a combined seven points.
Rutgers scored the league’s first conference win by downing Connecticut 27–24 on Friday night. The visiting Huskies boasted the Big East’s top-rated scoring offense, while the Scarlet Knights set out the league’s tightest defense. The story of the game, however, was the success of RU freshman Chas Dodd, who played because of an injury to Tom Savage. Dodd responded by throwing for 322 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. He also had a 52-yard touchdown strike to Mark Harrison that tied the game at 24 and hit Jeremy Deering for 45 yards to set up San San Te’s game-winning field goal with 13 seconds left.
“Those are the plays we haven’t made in the first four weeks,” said RU coach Greg Schiano.
Syracuse took a step forward by scoring a 13–9 win against South Florida in Tampa. The story there was SU’s defense, which held the Bulls to 219 yards of offense, recorded two interceptions and four sacks and blocked a point after touchdown. The 4–1 start is the Orange’s first since the 1999 season. Safety Max Suter had a game-high eight tackles with three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
In the highest profile game, Pittsburgh, the preseason favorite to win the league, fell 23–17 to Notre Dame. The Panthers did rally from a 20–3 third-quarter deficit to within six when Tino Sunseri had a touchdown run and connected with Jon Baldwin for another score. But the Panthers couldn’t get the go-ahead points on two possessions in the last 3:15.
Louisville and Cincinnati, meanwhile, blew out Memphis and Miami, Ohio, respectively. The U of L turned in its best effort of the season by rolling to a 56–0 win at Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium. The Cardinals, now 3–2, scored 28 points in the second quarter and, like WVU, held a 35–0 halftime lead. Running back Bilal Powell had 204 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Adam Froman completed 12-of-16 passes for 235 yards and four TDs.
Cincinnati scored 45 points in the first half against Miami and held a 45–3 halftime lead in the annual Battle for the Victory Bell. It was the most lopsided result in the 109 meetings between the rivals, who first played in 1888.
Quarterback Zach Collaros was 14-of-17 for 216 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Isaiah Pead ran for 197 yards and a TD — all in the first half — to lift the Bearcats to 2–3 on the year.
Rutgers 27, Connecticut 24
Syracuse 13, South Florida 9
Louisville 56, Memphis 0
Notre Dame 23, Pittsburgh 17
West Virginia 49, UNLV 10
Cincinnati 45, Miami, Ohio 3
The count and the amount
With four Big East teams finished with their non-conference play, the league’s overall record is now 22-15. Against FBS opponents, though, it’s 13–15 and 2–11 against BCS conference teams. Against Top 25 teams, the record remained at 0–5.
Still a rush
The Big East now has three of the nation’s top 10 rushers. Connecticut back Jordan Todman registered his fifth 100-yard game of the year with 123 yards on 24 carries against Rutgers. He’s third nationally, averaging 152 yards a game. Louisville’s Bilal Powell is eighth, averaging 137.8 yards, while Pitt’s Ray Graham is ninth, averaging 134. Graham is first nationally in all-purpose running, averaging 207 yards.
Rutgers may have a quarterback dilemma in the future after true freshman Chas Dodd led the Scarlet Knights to their victory over Connecticut. On Monday, however, coach Greg Schiano said there is no controversy. Dodd will make the start against Army while the hand of Tom Savage, the previous starter, is healing.
Which way did he go?
After seemingly overcoming a case of homesickness early in the season, West Virginia backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson, a freshman, was nowhere to be found during the Mountaineers’ game against UNLV.
“I don’t know how to combat the mileage,” said WVU coach Bill Stewart.
West Virginia cornerback Brandon Hogan spent the second half of the UNLV game in street clothes after injuring his arm. Mountaineer coach Bill Stewart seemed to indicate Hogan would be ready for this Thursday’s game against South Florida.
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said on Monday that defensive back Blidi Wreh-Wilson had surgery on his hand. Huskies’ representative Mike Enright said Wreh-Wilson is “week-to-week.”
A little trickeration
Louisville pulled out a double reverse pass for a score against Memphis. Running back Bilal Powell took a direct snap and handed the ball to Victor Anderson, who then tossed the ball to quarterback Adam Froman, who lined up at receiver. Froman hit a wide-open Josh Chichester downfield. The play resulted in a 48-yard TD.
Nice game, tough loss
South Florida was stunned when Syracuse visited Raymond James Stadium and walked away with a victory. One, however, can’t point a finger at USF defensive end Craig Marshall. All he did was post a career-high eight tackles and record three sacks. That was the most sacks in a USF game for a player since George Selvie had four in a 2007 game against Elon.