Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NCF Nation [Print without images]

Friday, October 17, 2008
Ten things to watch in the Big East, Week 8


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. Pitt's defense vs. the Navy triple option: The Midshipmen tore through the Panthers' defense last year for 331 rushing yards (497 total) on their way to a 48-45 double-overtime victory. The health of Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who had 122 of those yards, is uncertain, as he's been dealing with a hamstring injury. If he's not ready, that might help Pitt's cause. But more importantly, the Panthers' defensive ends and outside linebackers -- whose strength is getting penetration and pressuring quarterbacks -- have to stay with their assignments and not try to get too aggressive. Or else they might be watching Navy players taking pitches and running past them all afternoon in Annapolis.

2. Shady vs. the sailor boys: As much of a challenge as Navy's offense poses to Pitt's defense, the reverse might pose an even bigger mismatch. LeSean "Shady" McCoy has had back-to-back 100-yard rushing days behind an offensive line that's getting nastier by the week. Navy's 3-4 defense will have to find a way to slow him down, and like most service academy teams, it's undersized. The four starting linebackers weigh an average of just over 211 pounds, or just one more pound than McCoy.

3. Donald Brown: The Connecticut star grew up about 30 miles away from the Rutgers campus but was lightly recruited by the Scarlet Knights. Hard to blame Greg Schiano, who had Ray Rice at the time. But Brown sure seems to relish showing Schiano what he missed. As a freshman, he ran for 199 yards and two scores in his first start against Rutgers. Last year, he punished the Scarlet Knights for 154 yards. Given that he's running better than ever this season, who knows what kind of numbers he will put up against his home-state school.

4. Zach Frazer: The sophomore quarterback was strong in the second half against Louisville in relief of the injured Tyler Lorenzen but shaky in his first start at North Carolina. Look at it this way: He threw three picks against the Tar Heels, but they lead the nation in interceptions. Rutgers has yet to create a turnover against an FBS opponent this season. With a bye week to prepare for this one, Frazer needs to have a mistake-free effort on Saturday.

5. Rutgers circling the wagons: Sure, the Scarlet Knights are 1-5. But their last three losses have come by a combined 12 points, and all were on the road. If the team hasn't given up on the season yet, it should rally to the occasion when regional rival UConn comes to town. Why wouldn't Schiano fire all his bullets, including trick plays and fake punts? There's nothing left to lose.

6. The Bulls' bounce-back: It's been 15 days since South Florida lost its perfect season and national title dreams to Pittsburgh. Few things serve as better salves than Syracuse. The Bulls have won their three Big East games against the Orange by a combined score of 95-20. Syracuse has shown improvement recently, but South Florida needs a big, confidence-boosting blowout victory. Which would be helped by ...

7. South Florida's health: The chipped-up defense appears to be rounding into shape. Defensive end George Selvie and linebacker Brouce Mompremier are expected to start for the first time in three games. How close to 100 percent are they? And can they stay that way for the stretch drive?

8. The Louisville defense: Here's a weird stat: The Cardinals have not won consecutive games against FBS opponents under Steve Kragthorpe. That should change Saturday against Middle Tennessee -- unless the Louisville defense reverts to last year's form, when the Blue Raiders hung a triple-nickel (555 yards) and nearly pulled off an upset. The Cardinals have been much better this season but were shaky against the Memphis spread offense last week.

9. Hunter Cantwell: The Louisville quarterback was clearly nowhere near his usual self in the Memphis game because of an ankle injury. He was never the most mobile guy anyway, but the bum wheel made him a statue and limited what the Cardinals could do on offense. Cantwell won't have to be full strength to beat Middle Tennessee State, but Louisville will need him healed a week later when South Florida comes to town.

10. Greg Robinson: This is one to watch throughout the weekend and possibly into early next week. If the Orange lose at South Florida, the intrigue over their coach will begin. Syracuse has a bye week before playing Louisville on Nov. 1, so if athletic director Daryl Gross wants to make a change, this would seem like a good time. And he can't be accused of having the itchiest trigger finger since Clemson has already parted ways with Tommy Bowden.