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Tuesday Big East mailbag

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

We're less than 48 hours away from game day in Tampa, and there's lots to talk about from last Saturday and this coming week. Let's get to your questions:

Jay from New York City writes: A lot of UConn fans are starting to wonder if Randy Edsall is the right guy to take the program to the next level. Are some of them irrationally impatient? Probably. But when you look at the Pitt game, UConn's execution on all the issues that Edsall preaches on (limiting dumb mistakes like turnovers, penalties, big plays on defense) was pretty good. Still, Pitt's offense was talented enough to come back on UConn and win the game despite their earlier mistakes.

Maybe there is a ceiling on how good UConn can get until they get the higher-profile recruits? Edsall has done an incredible job taking this program to FBS. But with success comes with even greater expectations. Does the program need to think about chasing a big recruiter?

Brian Bennett: I got a handful of emails like Jay's this week, and I've got to admit that it surprised me. Get rid of Edsall? The guy has done a fabulous job of bringing UConn up from then Division I-AA to a perennial bowl contender. I understand that the more you win, the more fans want. But let's remember that this is still a new program located in Storrs, Conn., not exactly the hotbed of football recruiting in America. Edsall's strength has been taking guys under the radar and developing them into stars -- witness his four picks in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft this past April.

Now, does UConn need to recruit better athletes, particularly at wide receiver? Definitely, but this is usually the last and hardest thing to achieve when building a program. There have already been some signs of success there, as with the signing of Dwayne Difton out of Florida this past offseason. Edsall prefers a conservative game plan that can sometimes be a detriment against faster and more talented teams. But I can't imagine any one doing a better job at UConn right now than him.


Josh from Simsbury, Conn., writes: Why wouldn't Edsall let them score to get the ball back at the end of the game? Anyone who knows the game knows that in that kind of situation, chances are the team is going to score points. I know that letting them score goes against everything in football, but whether you lose by three or seven, it's still a loss. At least letting them score would have left some time on the clock to try and move down the field.

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question. Pitt had first and goal on the 4 with 2:18 left when UConn called its last timeout. Would the Huskies had been better served by giving up the touchdown there and trying to mount a drive with their two-minute offense? That's a reasonable strategy.

However, we're talking about a team that mustered six total yards in the entire fourth quarter and has really not shown any signs of being able to put together a quick-strike, passing-oriented, full-field march. So I see where Edsall is coming from. Also keep in mind that Pitt has been pretty self-destructive at times under Dave Wannstedt. There was probably as good a chance of a fumble or a botched field goal as there was for UConn to go down and answer with six points of its own.


Mark from Hershey, Penn., writes: How big is the gap between Tony Pike and Bill Stull? Statistically, they're very similar. Pike has about 240 more yards passing, but Stull has thrown about 30 less balls and has nearly an identical completion percentage and yards/attempts as Pike. They both have the same amount of touchdowns (13) and interceptions (3) and Stull has a better QB rating (163.5 to 159.9). I know Stull has not yet had a bye week while Cincnnati has, but the ratio are neck-and-neck. Why does Stull represent Pitt's whipping boy while Pike represents Cincy's wonderboy?

Brian Bennett: If we're talking purely about talent, the gap is pretty wide. Pike is a 6-foot-6 NFL prospect with good mobility and can make every throw in the playbook. Stull is a little more limited with his arm strength, but both are good leaders. There's no doubting that Stull has had a very fine season, and he does not deserve the scorn that is often heaped upon him. But while their numbers are similar, Pike has played far less because of Cincinnati's blowout victories, and he hasn't made the crucial mistakes that Stull has made, like his interception for a touchdown in the UConn game.


Nick from Cincinnati writes: I'm a hardcore Cincinnati fan that goes to every game possible. I bleed Bearcat pride. Two weeks ago my Bearcats were ranked 10th and then somehow jumped Ohio State at 9 to become No. 8 and then this week Ohio State jumped us back. The best in Ohio question keeps getting thrown around. Is it at all possible that the Bearcats could meet the Buckeyes in the postseason and settle the debate on the field rather than on the internet?

Brian Bennett: It would be difficult, but not impossible for that scenario to unfold. For one, as you know, the Rose Bowl will do everything possible to take the Big Ten winner, which is Ohio State's best ticket to the BCS. If Cincinnati wins the Big East, it will most likely end up in the Sugar Bowl, which has the last at-large pick of the BCS games. The Sugar Bowl will take the second SEC BCS qualifier as its other team.

Here's the only scenario in which I can envision a Cincinnati-Ohio State matchup: Florida and Alabama are both 12-0 and play a thrilling SEC title game. The voters like both teams so much that they create a rare rematch in the BCS title game. Ohio State doesn't win the Big Ten but still qualifies as the second BCS team from the league since the Big 12 and Pac-10 don't have viable candidates. Then the Sugar Bowl takes Ohio State and Cincinnati. I still don't think it would work even under those circumstances, since the game would mostly have regional appeal. But it's a possibility, however remote.


Brad from Pittsburgh writes: We have all come to the realization that Pitt is kind of moody; they can beat anyone, yet also lose to anyone. My question is where would you rank both Pitts according to the Big East rankings? Personally, I would put the first-40-minutes-of-the-game-against-UConn Pitt as No. 6. However, I would put the Pitt that played the last 20 minutes as No. 1. Ahead of everyone. Would you say these are accurate positions?

Brian Bennett: Pitt played well in the last 19 minutes of that game, no question. Is that version of the Panthers the best in the Big East? I'd still say Cincinnati and South Florida at their best are a bit better, and West Virginia is right there. Pitt could at least play with those teams and beat any of them, depending on the breaks of the game. The Pitt we've seen at the beginning of that game, at the end of the NC State loss and the first half at Louisville could lose to anybody in the league. I suspect the Panthers might have just enough crucial flaws to end up somewhere in the middle, instead of at the high end of those extremes.


Scott from Houston writes: Have you really been getting a lot of letters from Rutgers fans accusing you of a negative tone towards the program? What a crock! As a diehard RU fan, I can only say thank you. We had lofty expectations that came crashing back to reality with the beatdown by Cincinnati. Wins over several awful teams dont warrant a change in tone towards the RU program. Although, when we chop Pitt I'm sure things will take on a different tone.

Brian Bennett: Scott, all fans are like that. They love you when you say things are good and think you're nuts when you say the opposite. I can only call them like I see them, and Rutgers simply hasn't produced a body of evidence yet that says it has greatly improved from Week 1. But you know what? The Scarlet Knights get their opportunity to show everybody on Friday night against Pittsburgh. Win that one, and things will be looking sunny again in Piscataway and New Brunswick.