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Thursday, October 2, 2008
Ten things to watch in the Big East, Week 6


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Once again, this is coming in a day early because the Big East's best game is tonight and there's a light slate the rest of the weekend.

1. Pittsburgh's running game vs. the South Florida defensive front: For the Panthers to have any chance in this game, they need this matchup to go in their favor. South Florida is allowing fewer than 60 yards per game on the ground, but the Bulls haven't seen a team as committed to the run or with as talented a backfield as Pitt. LeSean McCoy was held to a season-low 55 yards last year by South Florida at Heinz Field (though he did score three times). If he doesn't do more than that, his team won't put up much of a threat.

2. Matt Grothe vs. Pittsburgh's defense: Pitt is averaging more than three sacks per game this season and ranks seventh in the country at taking the quarterback down. But if the Panthers pressure Grothe, they'd better wrap him up, because he is adept at making plays on the move. He proved that last year by ripping off an 80-yard touchdown run at Heinz Field. Grothe has been the best quarterback in the Big East so far this season and will pick apart the Pittsburgh secondary if given adequate time.

3. Special teams and tomfoolery in Tampa: One area where Pittsburgh seems to have a clear advantage is on special teams, as it boasts the Big East's most automatic kicker in Conor Lee. This might also be a place where the normally-conservative Dave Wannstedt could dial up some trick plays or fakes in order to give his team another edge. Wannstedt has shown a proclivity for going for it on fourth down the past two weeks, so maybe he's got more of a riverboat gambler side than anyone can see.

4. North Carolina's offensive line vs. UConn's defense: The Huskies' front four got pushed around by Louisville's line last week. Some of that can be pinned on injuries to three defensive tackles. The Tar Heels have a hulking O-line that weighs over 300 pounds per man. Connecticut needs to get better penetration and stop the running game (Louisville averaged 6.4 yard per carry last week).

5. Donald Brown: We'll keep putting him up here until somebody figures out how to slow down the nation's leading rusher. North Carolina is allowing 138.5 yards rushing this season, so Brown should find holes to dash through. He needs only 94 yards to reach 1,000 already for the season.

6. Zach Frazer and Cam Sexton: Both guys began last week's games as backups but came in to rally their teams to victory. UConn's Frazer made his first collegiate appearance after senior Tyler Lorenzen broke his foot and played well after a shaky first couple of series. Sexton relieved the ineffective Mike Paulus -- who was starting because of T.J. Yates' broken ankle -- and went 11-of-19 for 243 yards and two scores in a win over Miami. Sexton lost his job as the starter last year. Are these guys the answer? Or were they one-week wonders?

7. Brandon Tate and Darius Butler: These two athletic, multi-skilled players could have a huge impact on the Connecticut-North Carolina outcome. The Tar Heels' Tate holds the NCAA record for career kickoff return yards and is a dangerous playmaker at receiver. Just ask Rutgers, for whom he burned for 138 yards and a score on just four catches. UConn's Butler is a lock-down corner who has also become one of the team's top options at receiver -- he caught a crucial TD pass last week at Louisville. And he also returns kicks.

8. The QB situation at Cincinnati: The Bearcats are down to the fourth string under center, and coach Brian Kelly will choose between redshirt freshmen Chazz Anderson or Zach Collaros for Friday's game at Marshall. Collaros will most likely start, but both could play some. It's a tricky situation, especially in a short week on the road, and Cincinnati may just have to try to survive with a limited game plan. If one of the youngsters plays very well, it will be a tribute to Kelly's coaching.

9. West Virginia's point total: The Mountaineers seem to be getting their offense pointed in the right direction. They accumulated 316 yards rushing at Colorado and 319 last week versus Marshall. Still, they scored a total of 41 points in both games, a number they used to put up regularly in fewer than four quarters. Can West Virginia finish off drives and convert key third downs against a Rutgers team that has been soft defensively against quality competition?

10. Rutgers' offense vs. the West Virginia defense: Quarterback Mike Teel had been awful so far this season before enjoying a better day against an FCS opponent (Morgan State) last weekend. Did he find his confidence, or was that just a byproduct of easy scheduling? Rutgers has had more success running the ball with Jourdan Brooks, and the return of receiver Kenny Britt from a one-game suspension means Teel should have plenty of weapons. They'll have to get something going against a West Virginia defense that has grown up the past two games, allowing no touchdowns in the past seven-plus quarters.