What we learned in the Big East, Week 10
Saturday gave us wild (Syracuse over Louisville -- again), wonderful (four overtimes in South Bend) and West Virginia (still on top). Here's what we learned this week in the never-boring Big East:
1. And then there were three: Making pronouncements about this league often leaves you looking silly hours later. But it sure seems like, for now, we've finally got some clarity in the conference title chase. West Virginia, at 3-0, is the favorite, while Pittsburgh and Cincinnati lurk right behind at 2-1. Everyone else has at least two league losses and will need an awful lot of help to reach the top. The beauty is, none of the three teams has played each other yet, making for an exciting November,
2. This isn't the same old Pittsburgh: Previous Dave Wannstedt-coached Panthers teams would have folded under far less difficult circumstances than were presented Saturday in South Bend. Pitt trailed 17-3 at Notre Dame with a struggling replacement quarterback and a re-calibrated offensive line. But this Pittsburgh team rallied back to force overtime and then won it on four Conor Lee kicks. This group has some grit to go along with its plentiful talent. "I really can't describe the heart our football team has," a gushing Wannstedt said after the win. "We've got incredible kids, They never really came unglued." That's why this year's Pittsburgh will still be playing in late December, if not early January.
3. There's plenty of building left in Louisville's rebuilding effort: Just when you thought the Cardinals had gotten back on solid footing, they lay an egg at Syracuse. Just when Steve Kragthorpe had finally gotten the Louisville fan base in his corner, the bandwagon loses its wheels. With games left against Pitt, West Virginia, Cincinnati and resurgent Rutgers, the 5-3 Cards are no lock to finish with a winning record. I thought they were a 6-6 or 7-5 team coming into the season, and that looks to be about where they'll finish.
4. Connecticut needs to recruit and/or develop better passing-game weapons: UConn coach Randy Edsall made what sounded like a pitch to interested high school prospects after his team's 35-13 loss to West Virginia: "We still have to recruit that dynamic wide receiver ... that go-to guy," he said. His frustration is easy to understand. The Huskies' season-long dropsies problem hurt them again on Saturday, none bigger than Kashif Moore's muff of a wide-open, would-be touchdown bomb that could have given them a 20-7 lead. Twelve of quarterback Cody Endres' completions went to running backs or tight ends. Donald Brown is wonderful, and the defense plays its heart out. But against its best competition, like West Virginia and North Carolina, UConn needs to score more. And it needs to be able to pass the ball more effectively.
5. Bill Stewart is more than just a good quote: West Virginia fans gave plenty of grief to their first-year head coach after the Mountaineers lost to East Carolina and Colorado. Those were tough losses, for sure. Still, Stewart is 7-2 and has beaten Oklahoma, Auburn and a well-coached, hungry Connecticut team on the road. I can think of many coaches who have had worst first years (including some guy who snapped Michigan's 33-year bowl streak). What Big East team wouldn't trade places with West Virginia right now? Maybe the guy knows what he's doing.