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Friday Big East mailbag

10/2/2009



Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

It doesn't really feel like a Friday, with a West Virginia game last night and a Big East matchup tonight. But my calendar insists that it is Friday, which means it's time to get to your e-mails.

Jason from Cincinnati writes: After four games it is clear that WVU has major flaws and problems the media refuse to talk about and the coaches refuse to address. It is clear to me that WVU is on shaky ground right now because they are not a disciplined team, lack simple fundamentals, and coaching from the top has not been impressive to say the least. And that is tough to say because I see a truckload of talent and speed out there. How about a confirmation from someone else? Or am I just blind?

Brian Bennett: The problems you mentioned are pretty much all I've seen the media talk about, and most of what I've written lately about West Virginia. Is coaching to blame? I'm not sure about that. Is it Bill Stewart's fault when Jock Sanders or Bradley Starks tries to reach out and get a few extra yards and doesn't secure the ball tightly enough? Should Jeff Casteel be blamed when his linebacker makes an interception, then has the ball poked away during the return?

This is the same staff from last year, when the Mountaineers led the Big East in turnover margin, with a plus-12. No one else did better than plus-one. Does West Virginia have some serious discipline and fundamental issues? Yes. The coaches are also putting the players in pretty good positions to succeed. Let's see how the coaching staff addresses those going forward before we toss them under the bus. The team is still 3-1, after all.


Shaun from Morgantown, W.Va., writes: I was just wondering how much longer do you think Noel Devine is going to have to keep rushing like this before he starts grabbing peoples attention and becomes a legitimate Heisman candidate.

Brian Bennett: If he keeps getting 220 yards a night, like he did against Colorado, then he'll have to be talked about. But we all know how this works. Your team has to be in the spotlight for your star player to get the Heisman hype. That's why Tony Pike is getting attention, because Cincinnati is No. 10. West Virginia has a loss and is unranked. They'll have to rip off a bunch of wins in a row with Devine doing his thing before he can get into the thick of any Heisman talk.


Ken from Syracuse writes: My TV is still shaking from "the hit" that Jon Lejiste put on that FSU running back. How much do you contribute it for setting the tone for the USF victory and do you know of any remedy to repair my set?

Brian Bennett: The entire stadium gasped at that hit. It definitely set an early tone and showed that the Bulls were serious. They were the harder-hitting team all day, I thought, and you better believe that had a major impact on why Florida State kept fumbling.


Rodney from New York City writes: After seeing what Fresno State did at Cincinnati do you think UConn is a matchup problem for the Bearcats? Despite all the excuses about the wind and the Tony Pike injury last year, I don't think it was a fluke that UConn won that game. USF might also be a tough matchup with B.J. Daniels. WV,U Pitt and Syracuse have not defended well against the pass. Even so, I think Cincinnati looks a little vulnerable now.

Brian Bennett: Brian Kelly was worried about Fresno State's passing game, because the Bulldogs love to throw deep downfield. And he was dealing with injuries in his defensive backfield, so much so that he started Marcus Barnett at cornerback. So he played Cover 2 the whole game and didn't help out against the run, which is one reason why Ryan Mathews had so much success running the ball. (The other reason is that Mathews is really, really good.)

Now, the Huskies might be the best power running team in the Big East with Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman. But Cincinnati should have time to get healthier before that game, and the Bearcats at this point have no reason to fear the UConn downfield passing game, so they can load the box. The Huskies still will present a challenge, and I think their defense is rock solid. But with the game being at Nippert Stadium, I see Cincinnati winning that game.


John from Woodbridge, N.J., writes: This is a bad idea for a bowl game in Yankee Stadium. This is where baseball is played, not football.. There is a great NEW stadium in N.J. that should be used for a bowl game.. Not the cesspool of upper NYC, the Bronx. Parking stinks and you get ripped off by all the local bars. You are better off having the games at the stadium in N.J., then go through the tunnel for a night out in NYC.

Brian Bennett: John, I'm with you that playing the game in the new Meadowlands stadium would be better from a pure football perspective. There are a couple of reasons why this is going to Yankee Stadium. One, the New York Yankees have been active in pursuing football games there for revenue purposes -- see the Army-Notre Dame, Army-Rutgers games. There's some prestige for the city in having the game in New York, and it helps with the revitalization of the Bronx. And some locals can correct me if I'm wrong, but I remember it being far easier to stay in Manhattan and take a train to Yankee Stadium than it is to get to the Meadowlands if you don't have a car.


Chris from Wallingford, Conn., writes: Trying to follow your logic in putting UConn "About as expected, with potential for more." If I wrote that, it would be perfect sense. But if memory serves correctly you predicted UConn to lose handily to both UNC and Baylor. So you essentially expected them to be 2-2. Haven't they exceeded your expectations? I do agree with the potential for more though. People seem to be forgetting that we've basically played all year without our best defensive player, Scott Lutrus, and a backup QB (who has played well, by they way). And the much maligned offense has shown gradually improvement every week.

Brian Bennett: You make a good point, Chris. I suppose I thought at the beginning of the season that UConn at best would split with Baylor and North Carolina, and I thought they'd probably lose both. So in that regard, yes, the Huskies have exceeded my expectations. I'm just still not sold on Connecticut because of that subpar passing offense. I just don't believe you can compete consistently against the best teams in the Big East without a balanced offense. Maybe they'll prove me wrong again.


Don D. from Cincinnati writes: It would be an interesting read to understand if the Oklahoma defender who put the hit on Dustin Grutza last year and broke his leg had any idea that they basically launched Tony Pike's career and all that has followed. Without that single event, Grutza probably takes most of the snaps last year (see Ben Mauk 2007), Pike is relegated to the sea of backups, and maybe doesn't even start 2009 as the first QB, Heisman candidate, top 10 first time in history, pro prospect/millionaire et. al. ... It's Wally Pipp on steroids.

Brian Bennett: That's a fascinating what-if scenario. Travis Lewis was the guy who tackled Grutza originally, but then there was a pile of Sooners on top of him. What's also interesting is that Grutza was playing really well to start the season, and he was effective when he came back later in the season to relieve Pike a couple of times. So maybe Cincinnati goes to the Orange Bowl last year with Grutza anyway had he stayed healthy. Does Pike then get frustrated and not work as hard if Grutza is the starter all year? Impossible to say. Kelly clearly saw Pike's potential, but I don't think even he could have envisioned how good Pike has turned out to be.


Brad from Raleigh, N.C., writes: Looking at the rankings right now, Cincinnati, Boise State (and even TCU) are getting a lot of love in the rankings. If these guys go undefeated is there any chance the national championship game would put two undefeated teams (like Boise-Cincinnati) over one (or two) loss teams from other conferences? Is it a better argument for a playoff when less nationally prominent schools start to steal the limelight like that?

Brian Bennett: Way to go, Brad. You just made some SEC fan's head explode. Absolutely zero chance that ever happens.