What we learned in the Big East: Week 4

September, 23, 2012
9/23/12
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What did we learn in Week 4? Keep in mind, no do-overs allowed.

1. Rutgers is the real deal. Given the way Arkansas has imploded, the way the Scarlet Knights won Saturday night does not come as much of a surprise. But what was at least some sort of validation is that they played Arkansas at full strength -- with quarterback Tyler Wilson in the starting lineup -- and still won. Incredibly, it was Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova outplaying Wilson with the best game of his very young career, throwing for 397 yards and five touchdowns in the 35-26 victory. Headed into this game, the Rutgers passing game was really inconsistent and at times nonexistent. But on Saturday, Rutgers got the run and the pass working together. Jawan Jamison also went over 100 yards for the fourth time this season and Rutgers controlled the clock for nearly 40 minutes. The defense yielded some big plays (never say the name Cobi Hamilton in Piscataway) but also came up with big plays when they were needed. That was plainly evident when Duron Harmon intercepted Wilson with three minutes to go to preserve the victory. Rutgers now moves to 4-0 for the first time since 2006.

[+] EnlargeGary Nova
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireWith five TDs and 397 yards at Arkansas, Gary Nova erased doubts about Rutgers' passing game.
2. Everywhere else ... misery. The Big East went 2-4 in its games against FBS opponents on Saturday, including 0-2 against the MAC. To put it bluntly, that is simply unacceptable for a league that is constantly the butt of jokes around the country. You want to be taken seriously? You win the games you are supposed to win. It was incredible to see UConn, USF, Syracuse and Temple just fail to show up in their games. Everybody but Temple was favored to win. In those four losses, the Big East teams scored an average of 18.5 points. Syracuse, which went into its game against Minnesota as the No. 1 offense in the Big East, scored a season-low 10 points and had 350 yards of offense -- nearly 200 yards below its average. USF showed once again it could not stop anyone defensively. UConn could not even beat a Western Michigan team that played without starting quarterback Alex Carder for the final quarter. Temple had 13 first downs and went 3-of-12 on third down in a 24-13 loss to Penn State. I will say it again: Unacceptable.

3. But how about Louisville? Louisville has had two consecutive "meh" performances. The Cardinals did not look impressive in the second half against North Carolina on Sept. 15, and they did not look impressive at all in their 28-21 victory over Florida International on Saturday. Yes, they are 4-0 for the first time since 2006, and will remain ranked in the Top 25. Yes, they are a good team. Yes, they still won even when Teddy Bridgewater had a bad day by his standards (first two interceptions of the season, 17 incompletions). But let's just say it this way: Nobody in this league looks unbeatable. Not Louisville, not Rutgers. The first order of business should be figuring out how to play better defensively, particularly up front. Louisville has four total sacks in four games -- right at the bottom of the Big East. Second order of business: shoring up third-down defense. FIU converted 50 percent of the time on third down, right around what Louisville has allowed all season.

4. Pitt seems to have turned a corner. Given the poor performances at the bottom of the Big East this weekend, it is easy to say Pitt belongs in the top half of the power rankings -- this despite losing its opener to Youngstown State and getting blown out in Cincinnati. While I realize Gardner-Webb is not even a very good FCS team, the Panthers are on the right track headed into their bye week, and did not have any letdown following their win over Virginia Tech a week ago. Tino Sunseri had more than 300 yards passing, and he has found a nice groove with receiver Mike Shanahan. Ray Graham also has been extremely productive, with 362 yards in four games. Pitt has to be headed into Big East play with an enormous amount of confidence.

5. USF appears to be a bust. USF followed up its loss to Rutgers with an uninspiring performance in a loss to Ball State, and was plagued by all the familiar bugaboos of a team that has been highly undisciplined over the past several seasons. The Bulls went into the game as one of the most penalized teams in the nation, and they followed suit against Ball State, committing 11 penalties while also turning the ball over twice. USF had the game won, going ahead with four minutes to go. But the Bulls couldn't hold on. This was the preseason pick to finish No. 2 in the conference because of its big senior class. But now the Bulls are in danger of falling off a cliff, with Florida State coming to town Saturday.

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