Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Top 10 moments of the Big East season
By Brian Bennett
There were wins and losses, big games and duds. But when the statistics and records become foggy in our brains, we'll still remember some of the indelible moments from the 2009 Big East season. Here are my top 10 moments:
Connecticut's emotional win over Notre Dame will be remembered for a long time.
1. UConn celebrating in South Bend: The top story in the Big East this year, at least in my eyes, was how Connecticut dealt with the tragedy of losing teammate Jasper Howard in the middle of the season. And so it was heartwarming to see the Huskies -- after working so hard to honor Howard's legacy but coming up just short in three straight games -- finally break through and win in overtime at Notre Dame, of all places. Randy Edsall's goosebump-inducing postgame interview, in which he dedicated the win to Howard's family, will be remembered for a long time.
2. The Cincinnati comeback at Pitt: In two years of doing this blog, I haven't seen a wilder game than Cincinnati's 45-44 win over Pitt in the season finale after the Bearcats were down 31-10. I made my way down to the field for the last couple of minutes and just happened to be standing in the corner of the end zone where Tony Pike's beautifully-thrown pass landed in the outstretched hands of Armon Binns for the game-winning touchdown. That play, and the looks on the faces of players from both sides, was something to behold up close.
3. West Virginia welcomes UConn: West Virginia fans showed solidarity with Connecticut when the Huskies traveled to Morgantown the week after Howard was killed. Signs of support, a moment of silence and Bill Stewart hugging Edsall were just some of the ways the Mountaineers displayed their empathy in a classy, heartfelt way.
4. Greg Paulus playing quarterback: This was one of the biggest -- and strangest -- stories of the offseason, as Paulus came back to the sport after four years of playing point guard for the Duke basketball team. Doug Marrone gambled by making Paulus his starter right away. Paulus had his ups and downs -- he completed 67.7 percent of his passes, but also threw 14 interceptions -- but it was a fascinating experiment to watch.
5. Tim Brown streaking to victory: In yet another moment involving UConn, it looked like the Huskies had beaten Rutgers after they scored with 38 seconds left to take the lead. But on the very next play from scrimmage, Tom Savage hit Brown over the middle, and the senior receiver darted 81 yards untouched to the end zone for the victory.
6. Dion Lewis bouncing off tackles: The Pitt true freshman had an unbelievable year, rushing for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns. What I'll remember is not one specific play, but just the way Lewis always seemed to emerge from a crowd, running through stunned defenders, as he kept slipping away for more yardage.
7. B.J. Daniels' homecoming: While it may have lost some luster later in the season, South Florida's upset at Florida State was pretty special at the time. And the fact that freshman quarterback Daniels led the way in his hometown of Tallahassee while making his first start in place of the injured Matt Grothe made it a storybook tale.
8. The Brian Kelly drama: Cincinnati's perfect 12-0 finish was nearly overshadowed by the rumors of its three-time Big East coach of the year leaving for Notre Dame. And when Kelly finally confirmed he was going to South Bend at the postseason banquet, many players angrily stormed out of the room. Then they had to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl without their coach. While maybe it shouldn't be the most memorable thing about the Bearcats' season, it's near the top of the list, for sure.
9. Pitt drives into a Meineke: Pittsburgh could have folded up shop after losing its last two regular-season games in the final minute. But the Panthers showed a lot of resilience in the Meineke Car Care Bowl by marching on an epic 17-play, 8:47 scoring drive to beat North Carolina.
10. Devine on the run: When I think of West Virginia's season, I'll always picture Noel Devine dashing to daylight. It's not just the fuzzy lens of nostalgia. Devine had seven runs of at least 56 yards this season, including an 88-yarder against Pitt, a 77-yarder versus Colorado and a 70-yard sprint in the Gator Bowl. Will he keep running to the NFL or come back to create more memories in the Big East?
Those are my top 10 moments from 2009. What are some of your favorites that I didn't include?