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Friday, October 24, 2008
10 things to watch in the Big East


Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

You'll probably sense a pattern here. Star running backs versus solid defenses will be the story in all three Big East games this weekend. Those story lines top our 10 things to watch:

1. Victor Anderson and Brock Bolen vs. the South Florida run defense: The Cardinals are averaging 211 yards rushing per game, which is 18th best in the nation. Anderson is the speed and Bolen the power, making it tough for defenses to key on either one. South Florida got chewed up on the ground by LeSean McCoy and Curtis Brinkley for more than 100 yards each in its last two games. The more Louisville can run, the better its chances of pulling off the upset.

2. Matt Grothe and his receiver circus against the Louisville defense: The last time the Cardinals faced a true spread offense, they surrendered 481 total yards at Memphis and needed three non-offensive scores to survive. South Florida is the epitome of spread; Grothe has spread it around to 15 different receivers this season, has a plethora of running backs and can tuck it and take off himself. Louisville's defense is much-improved but hasn't seen an offense this varied and talented all season.

3. The Connecticut quarterback situation: Zach Frazer is a game-time decision for the Huskies with a head injury. That doesn't sound promising. If he can't go, the responsibility falls to inexperienced redshirt freshman Cody Endres. Cincinnati has one of the best secondaries in the country, so even Frazer would be challenged to hit deep passes on Saturday. How does Randy Edsall handle the offense if Endres is called upon?

4. Donald Brown vs. the Cincinnati run defense: The simplest answer for UConn will be to put the ball in the hands of their star running back, who leads the nation in rushing and has gone over 100 yards in every game. Cincinnati is allowing only 94.5 rushing yards per game, but the Bearcats have yet to face a top-flight tailback this season.

5. Tony Pike: The Cincinnati quarterback returns after missing two games with a broken non-throwing arm. He played extremely well in his first two career starts, but the opposition -- Akron and Miami (Ohio) -- was not as good as what he'll see on Saturday. Will Pike be rusty, and can he take a hit, or several hits, on that arm?

6. LeSean McCoy vs. the Rutgers run defense: McCoy has been on fire, posting three straight 100-yard rushing days, including 156 yards in a little more than a half last week at Navy. The Pitt offensive line has gotten better and better each week. But Rutgers' rush defense has been strong this season and has held Navy's Shun White, West Virginia's Noel Devine and Brown well under their season averages. Whoever wins this battle will have a large say in the final outcome.

7. Jonathan Baldwin: If Pitt gets stonewalled running the ball, it can always go over the top to its emerging star at receiver. The true freshman has hauled in long touchdown passes the past two weeks and is doubly dangerous because teams have to respect the play-action to McCoy. Look for him to become a major part of Pitt's game plan.

8. The Pitt pass rush vs. Mike Teel: The Panthers' defensive line has gotten all kinds of penetration the last few weeks and made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. Teel has had a miserable season as it is, and the unsettled Rutgers offensive line means he could be running for his life against guys like Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus.

9. Special teams: With three games that could be close, special teams might play a major factor this weekend. Connecticut has made mistakes in the kicking game the past two weeks in its losses, while Louisville has scored special teams touchdowns its past two games. And Rutgers will have to get good play there in order to have a chance at the upset.

10. Greg Robinson. The Syracuse coach will remain on this list, especially amid reports this week that athletic director Daryl Gross is already working on finding his replacement (Gross subsequently denied those reports). It wouldn't seem to make sense for Gross to fire Robinson on the weekend after a bye week, but this situation has and remains volatile and worthy of watching.