Thursday, November 11, 2010
What to watch in the Big East: Week 11
By Brian Bennett
1. Battle for bowls: Not a single Big East team has qualified for a bowl yet, but that will change this week. Five different teams (Pitt, West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville and Syracuse) can clinch postseason eligibility with a win this week. Someone will definitely do it, since South Florida and Louisville play one another.
2. Follow the leader: Everybody in the Big East will be watching Pittsburgh's game at Connecticut Thursday and hoping the Panthers lose. Not because they hate Dave Wannstedt or anything, but because Pitt has a two-game lead on the other seven teams. A Panthers loss would give a lot of teams hope.
3. Running in the "Rent": Thursday's game offers a high-profile duel between top tailbacks. Pitt's Dion Lewis won the Big East rushing title last year, while Connecticut's Jordan Todman could run away with it this year. Add in Lewis' counterpart, Ray Graham, and there is no shortage of star power in the backfield. Both of these teams have a run-first mentality, and whichever establishes the ground game will have the edge. And remember Pitt has the best rush defense in the Big East, while UConn has the worst.
4. Can UConn score? The Huskies are averaging just 13.3 points per game in Big East play and scored only 13 in regulation in their signature victory over West Virginia last time out. Meanwhile, Pitt is putting up more than 35 points a game in league action, and its passing game with Tino Sunseri is really coming along. Does UConn have enough firepower to hang in there?
5. Streak-busting Bulls: South Florida has never won at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, dating back to its Conference USA days. But these Bulls have already gotten over the hump against Rutgers and at Cincinnati. If Skip Holtz can lead his team to victory at Louisville, it will truly signal the dawn of a new day in Tampa, not to mention a third straight conference win.
6. Running against the Bulls: Louisville's offensive line has been the best in the Big East this season and kept the running game strong last week at Syracuse despite the loss of star Bilal Powell. The senior tailback's status is iffy again this week, but the Cardinals feel like they can run on anybody, and backup Jeremy Wright earned offensive player of the week honors last week. South Florida has one of the league's best defensive fronts and is allowing just a hair over 100 rushing yards per game in Big East play. This should be a fun strength vs. strength matchup to watch.
7. West Virginia offense vs. the Cincinnati defense: This is more like a weakness vs. weakness matchup. The Mountaineers have struggled mightily to score points in league play and have yet to reach the end zone in the second half in three Big East games. The offense has been heavily criticized, and Bill Stewart said he performed a complete evaluation of it during the bye week. He might like what he sees against a young and generous Cincinnati defense that's given up an average of 32 points its last three games.
8. Zach Attack is Back: Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros should return from a knee injury this week. The Bearcats mustered only seven point against Syracuse without him, but they're clearly a different team with the league's most productive quarterback at the helm. He'll have to go to work against a West Virginia defense ranked No. 4 in the FBS. Who'll win out?
9. Rutgers offensive line vs. Syracuse: The Scarlet Knights gave up a whopping nine sacks last year in a 31-13 humbling at Syracuse. Now they come into this year's rematch with the nation's least protective offensive line. The Orange have terrorized opposing quarterbacks all season, especially on the road, with their aggressive pressure. Can this O-line, which collapsed again last week late at South Florida, do anything to stop the pass rush?
10. Delone Carter vs. the Rutgers defense: Rutgers' defense has allowed three straight Big East teams to produce a 100-yard rusher against it. Now comes Carter, the Syracuse workhorse tailback who ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards. The Orange passing game hasn't done a whole lot lately, so much of the game plan figures to revolve around Carter and the ground attack as it did in last year's win.