Thursday, October 28, 2010
What to watch in the Big East, Week 9
By Brian Bennett
1. The Mountaineer streak: West Virginia plays at Connecticut on Friday night, and the Mountaineers have never lost to the Huskies. In fact, most of the games haven't even been close. Of course, West Virginia also had won eight straight against Syracuse going into last week. The Mountaineers' speed has been too much for UConn over the years; will that be the case again in East Hartford this week?
Zach Frazer gets another chance to lead the Connecticut offense.
2. Back comes Frazer: With Mike Box ruled out with a head injury, Connecticut has little choice but to turn back to Zach Frazer as its starting quarterback. The Huskies once held high hopes for Frazer, but the senior was inaccurate and ineffective in his first four starts. Has his time on the sideline helped? UConn fans will have to hope he has a strong finish to the season like he did last year.
3. Getting offensive: West Virginia's offensive struggles have been a hot topic in Morgantown and throughout the state all week, particularly after the team was shut out for the last 46 minutes against Syracuse. Quarterback Geno Smith will have to have a better performance than he did in his three-interception stumble against the Orange, and the Mountaineers are still trying to get their running game going. Look for them to try and unleash some things against a struggling UConn team.
4. Road warriors, Part III?: Syracuse has already won at South Florida and at West Virginia. Can the Orange do it again at Cincinnati on Saturday? Nippert Stadium had been the toughest home venue in the Big East the past couple of years before the Bearcats slipped up against USF last week. At 3-4, Cincinnati badly needs a win, while Syracuse is looking to remain a factor in the conference title race.
5. Zach or Chazz?: The biggest question for Cincinnati this week is whether quarterback Zach Collaros can play. He suffered a bruised knee in Friday's loss against South Florida and has been limited in practice this week. Collaros is leading the Big East in passing yards, touchdowns and passing efficiency. If he can't go, backup Chazz Anderson will get the start. Anderson is 2-0 as a starter in his career, but he hasn't played very much the past two years and isn't the all-around threat that Collaros is.
6. Scott Shafer vs. the Cincinnati offense: The Syracuse defensive coordinator has come up with game plans that have shut down both the South Florida and West Virginia offenses. Now he must devise a strategy to counter the Big East's top scoring and top total yardage attack. Syracuse loves to pressure the quarterback, while Cincinnati likes its passers to get rid of the ball quickly out of the shotgun. The Bearcats receivers could also give the Orange problems as Pitt's did two weeks ago in a 45-14 Syracuse loss. It's going to be a fascinating chess match to watch.
7. Can Pitt stay hot?: Pittsburgh has been the best team in the Big East through two weeks of league action, averaging 43 points per game and blowing out Syracuse and Rutgers. The Panthers host Louisville this week, and the Cardinals come in with a lot of confidence after their 26-0 shutout of Connecticut. If Pitt continues to stay balanced on offense and play good defense in the second half, it has a good chance of getting to 3-0 with a bye week coming up.
8. Bilal Powell vs. Dion Lewis: Saturday offers a look at last year's top Big East rusher -- Pitt's Dion Lewis -- versus this year's No. 1 -- Louisville's Bilal Powell. Lewis is starting to look like his old self after running for 130 yards last week against Rutgers. Meanwhile, Powell went over 1,000 yards for the season last week and surpassed UConn's Jordan Todman for the league lead. Whichever team controls the line of scrimmage and the rushing game will have a great chance to win this game.
9. Pitt's receivers vs. Louisville's secondary: Mike Box and the UConn passing game didn't really offer many challenges to Louisville last week. But the Cardinals had all kinds of problems guarding Cincinnati's receivers in a loss two weeks ago. The Cardinals' secondary is still vulnerable, and it will be facing the league's tallest trio of receivers in Jon Baldwin, Mike Shanahan and the emerging Devin Street. Look for Pitt to try and take advantage by having Tino Sunseri go deep.