Thursday, October 29, 2009
What to watch in the Big East, Week 9
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. Can West Virginia solve South Florida's defense?: The Mountaineers have scored 13 points in each of their last two games against the Bulls and have failed to break 20 points in the last three installments of this series. South Florida's defensive adjustments are one reason why Bill Stewart wanted to diversify the West Virginia offense. It's much more balanced now between the pass and the run, and a multiple-touchdown game would serve as validation to the system change.
2. Can South Florida solve South Florida's defense?: The Bulls' defense might have had success recently against West Virginia, but it hasn't done much right in the past two games, surrendering 75 points to Cincinnati and Pitt combined. The pass rush up front with George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul has been curtailed, and the defensive backs are getting burned. West Virginia can score in many ways and will do so many times unless South Florida fixes its gaps.
3. Noel Devine: The star running back is West Virginia's safety valve whenever the offense stalls. USF has the second-worst rushing defense in the Big East. Sounds like a good matchup for the Mountaineers.
4. Collaros in the Carrier Dome: All signs point to Zach Collaros making his second start in place of the injured Tony Pike at quarterback for Cincinnati. Collaros was brilliant last week against Louisville, but he'll have a little tougher task this week on the road against a better defense. Will he be up to it? The Bearcats' BCS title hopes depend on it.
5. Delone Carter: Carter is coming off a career day, with 170 yards and three touchdowns against Akron. He's a strong, physical back in the mold of Ryan Mathews, who gave Cincinnati fits earlier this year. If he can move the chains, that will help Syracuse keep the Bearcats' offense on the sidelines.
6. Mike Williams vs. Mardy Gilyard: Who's the best receiver in the Big East? With apologies to Jonathan Baldwin, these two guys are at the top of the list, with similarly outsized statistics. Williams missed last week because of a one-game suspension and should be plenty motivated to atone for that. He's Syracuse's best playmaker and maybe the best chance to keep this game close. The thought of Gilyard using his speed on the Carrier Dome turf is tantalizing.
7. Remembering Howard at home: UConn will play its first game at Rentschler Field since the death of Jasper Howard. It figures to be the second straight emotionally charged Saturday for the Huskies, who will try to channel those feelings into another inspired effort against Rutgers. "This is the last place we want to lose, especially under these circumstances," UConn linebacker Greg Lloyd said this week.
8. Red alert for Scarlet Knights' offense: Rutgers has not had an easy time scoring against the better teams on its schedule. The Scarlet Knights mustered 15 points against Cincinnati in the opener and 17 versus Pittsburgh. Connecticut has a physical, run-stuffing defense with ball-hawking defensive backs. Can Tom Savage get anything going consistently in the passing game, or will Rutgers have to try to grind it out while hoping its own defense saves the day?
9. Louisville's potential Halloween nightmare: The Cardinals are barely favored at home against Arkansas State, which tells you just about all you need to know about the state of the program. Fans are depressed, and it could well be a sparse crowd at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Red Wolves, who nearly won at Iowa this season, can't be taken lightly. A home loss to this Sun Belt team would likely be the final stake in Steve Kragthorpe's tenuous tenure.
10. The BCS standings: As long as Cincinnati is in the hunt, the Sunday release of the BCS standings remains something to watch in the Big East. Last week, the Bearcats dropped three spots after a 31-point win over Louisville. Beating Syracuse probably wouldn't help their strength-of-schedule much, either. Can Cincinnati get some help from other teams losing or from the pollsters this week?