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Thursday, September 16, 2010
What to watch in the Big East: Week 3

By Brian Bennett

Zach Collaros
Zach Collaros was sacked a whopping eight times against Fresno State.
1. Cincinnati's offense vs. the NC State blitz: The Bearcats' offense has gotten off to a sluggish start in 2010, and now it faces a test at NC State, where defensive coordinator Mike Archer and linebackers coach Jon Tenuta are known for their aggressive blitzing style. The Wolfpack forced five turnovers last week and will try to get after Zach Collaros, who was sacked eight times in the opener at Fresno State. Linebackers Nate Irving and Audie Cole will try to break through an offensive line that's still searching for its identity.

2. Cincinnati's defense vs. Russell Wilson: The NC State quarterback put on a show last year in Raleigh to defeat Pittsburgh. He's an athletic, mobile quarterback who will force Bearcats defenders to mind their assignments. Central Florida was able to contain Wilson and get heavy pressure on him last week. Can Cincinnati do the same?

3. Cincinnati's road legs: The Bearcats will be playing their third game since Sept. 4 on Thursday night. That stretch includes a long West Coast trip in the opener and now another road adventure. The Indiana State blowout allowed Butch Jones to rest some his starters in the second half last week, but it's still worth watching to see how fresh Cincinnati is late in the game.

4. Hogan's heroes?: The loss of Brandon Hogan leaves a big hole in the West Virginia secondary. The most likely replacements are Brodrick Jenkins and Pat Miller, who have talent but not a lot of experience. Maryland hasn't thrown it around much in its first two games -- quarterbacks Jamarr Robinson and Danny O'Brien have completed just 13 of 29 passes thus far -- but the Terrapins would be foolish not to test the new starter at cornerback.

5. Slow vs. fast starts: Getting out of the gate quickly has been a problem for West Virginia for the past two seasons. That's an area Bill Stewart wanted to see improve this year, but so far it hasn't happened. On the flip side, Maryland has scored on all five of its first-quarter possessions this year. Will the Mountaineers have to play from behind for the second straight week?

6. West Virginia's offensive line: Maryland has great defensive statistics -- allowing just 8.5 points per game -- but it's hard to know how good the Terps D truly is. They continually stopped Navy near the goal line in the opener and then had an easy time of things against Morgan State. West Virginia's offensive front was dominated at times by Marshall, though coaches and players insisted that had a lot to do with Marshall's familiarity with the Mountaineers' cadences and personnel. Regardless, the offensive line needs a better showing this week.

7. Connecticut's improvement: What are we to make of the Huskies thus far? They lost by 20 to Michigan and then beat a badly outmatched Texas Southern outfit by 59. We should get a truer measurement of where UConn stands Saturday when they travel to 2-0 Temple. The Owls have played Connecticut tough in the recent past, but if the Huskies truly are a legitimate Big East title contender, they should win this game.

8. Pierce vs. Todman: The Temple-UConn game should be a showcase for good running backs. The Owls' Bernard Pierce ran for 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns last year as a freshman, though he has yet to top 75 yards this season. The Huskies' Jordan Todman leads the Big East in rushing and is coming off a huge game against Texas Southern. Temple is allowing just 91 rushing yards per game so far this season.

9. Louisville vs. the Rodgers brothers: The Cardinals' undersized defense has played pretty well since surviving a first-half blitzkrieg against Kentucky. But how will it handle an explosive Oregon State offense led by James and Jacquizz Rodgers? The Beavers will almost certainly get plenty of yards and points. The real question is whether Louisville's offense, which is lacking playmakers like the Rodgers brothers, can keep up.

10. Syracuse handling its business: Finally getting back home after two road games to start the season, will Syracuse take a breather against FCS opponent Maine? Coach Doug Marrone says no way. "If we were a top team that had won consistently for a long period of time, some people refer to these games as trap games," Marrone said. "We’re not even close to that stage." The Orange have a rare chance to start 3-1 this season if they take care of Maine and Colgate in the next two games. Any slip-up could do a lot of damage to the program's development.