What to watch in the Big East, Week 4
September, 24, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. Quest for respect, Part II: The Big East made a good impression last week with wins over Oregon State, Northwestern and Baylor. This is another big week, with games on tap against ACC opponents Florida State, NC State and Maryland, plus two strong nonautomatic-qualifying schools in Fresno State and Utah. Once again, the Big East will have to be road warriors, as only the Fresno game is on league turf. Can the conference keep up the strong early showing?
2. B.J. Daniels: Has a Big East freshman quarterback ever made a more-scrutinized midseason debut? Not only does Daniels lead South Florida into a landmark game at Florida State, he'll do so in his hometown. The kid has a lot of talent. He'll need a lot of poise as well.
3. The Bulls' defensive line: South Florida's deep D-line is the strength of the team, led by George Selvie. They will have to win the battle against a much-improved FSU offensive line and get pressure on Christian Ponder, who's been very accurate when he's had time to throw. If the Bulls can't consistently control this matchup, they'll have a hard time winning the game.
4. Carolina line battles: You know when teams coached by Dave Wannstedt and Tom O'Brien meet, it's going to be a physical encounter. Pitt's defensive line is the best in the Big East, and its offensive line has overpowered the first three opponents. NC State has been shuffling its offensive line around all season because of injuries, which would seem to work in Pitt's favor. There are some pretty good defensive ends on display, with Pitt's Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard versus the Wolfpack's Willie Young. This might be one game where it's more fun to watch the line of scrimmage than follow the ball.
5. Russell Wilson vs. Bill Stull: NC State quarterback Wilson is allergic to interceptions, having set an NCAA record for most attempts without a pick. But Stull has actually been more accurate so far this season. Stull has better receivers, while Wilson can make plays with his feet. Both will be pressured, and they'll both have to keep making smart decisions.
6. Big plays in the little house: Is Nippert Stadium big enough to hold all the potential long-yardage plays in the Cincinnati-Fresno State game? Fresno running back Ryan Mathews is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball, and the Bulldogs like to throw deep whenever possible. The Bearcats put up plenty of game-breaking moments themselves. This could turn into an exciting shootout, though Cincinnati would rather make Fresno State have to put together sustained drives.
7. Who is Rutgers?: The Scarlet Knights were embarrassed in the opener against Cincinnati. Then they played two nobodies, with another nobody on tap next week. Maryland isn't good, having just lost to Middle Tennessee State and needing overtime to beat James Madison. So, even though it's on the road, the Scarlet Knights need to win this game to show that they're to be taken seriously in 2009.
8. Rutgers' quarterback situation: Tom Savage is questionable after the head injury he suffered against Florida International. His potential replacement, Dom Natale, did not fare well against Cincinnati. Whoever starts on Saturday will have the chance to make plays against a Maryland defense that gave up more than 30 points to both James Madison and Middle Tennessee State.
9. Big East vs. Mountain West: Louisville is a heavy underdog at Utah and probably shouldn't be expected to win there. But if the Cardinals somehow pull that off or even keep it close until the end, Big East supporters can tell Mountain West backers to shove it. If the MWC is really worthy of an automatic BCS slot, then its defending champ ought to be able to beat last year's last-place Big East team handily. Right?
10. Syracuse and UConn taking care of business: There shouldn't be much noteworthy coming out of the Orange's game against Maine and the Huskies' date with Rhode Island. The Big East has done a good job thus far of dispatching lower-level opponents and avoiding any Maryland-style disasters. Syracuse and UConn, which don't normally operate with a lot of margin for error, need to keep that streak intact.