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Thursday, October 20, 2011
What to watch in the Big East

By Andrea Adelson

Here are the top storylines to watch in the Big East for Week 8:

1. Bowl eligibility. Cincinnati, Rutgers and West Virginia all have a chance to become bowl eligible this week. But they all are on the road, and Big East teams are 1-5 in conference road games this season. Which team will break through and become the first from the Big East to secure its postseason future?

Smith
West Virginia QB Geno Smith has thrown 17 touchdowns with just three interceptions this season.
2. West Virginia offense vs. Syracuse pass defense. It is no secret how good the Mountaineers have been on offense with Geno Smith running the show. The scary part is coach Dana Holgorsen insists he has not even reached maximum potential. Smith has a talented group of receivers in Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and Ivan McCartney, who each have more than 400 yards receiving this season. How will Syracuse cover them? The Orange have faced their share of top-notch receivers already this season, and have given up more than 300 yards passing in four of six games. Getting pressure up front will help take pressure off the back end.

3. Pressure on Smith. That leads to the next point. Syracuse has not generated much of a pass rush this year, with 13 sacks in six games, and that is something the Orange did well against the Mountaineers last season. Can they turn things around against an offensive line that has been excellent at protecting Smith? Chandler Jones returns, which should help.

4. USF rush offense vs. Cincinnati rush defense. This is a great matchup of the No. 1 run offense in the Big East against the No. 1 run defense in the Big East. Twice already the Bearcats have held opponents to negative rushing yards. But they might have a difficult time doing that against the Bulls. Their lowest rushing total came in the opener -- 126 yards at Notre Dame. Darrell Scott, B.J. Daniels and Demetris Murray all rank in the top 10 in the Big East in rushing, and each has a vastly different running style that the Bearcats will have to stop.

5. Isaiah Pead. He might not have the high rushing total, but Pead is having a terrific year, mainly because of his ability to break off game-changing plays. Pead ranks No. 6 in the nation, averaging 6.78 yards a carry, and already has touchdown runs this season of 40, 65 and 50 yards. His 50-yard run last week put the Bearcats ahead for good against Louisville. Remember, this is a USF defense that gave up more than 200 yards to Ray Graham, and Pead is just as good as him.

6. Freshman QBs. Louisville and Rutgers will feature a battle between true freshman quarterbacks as the Cardinals are expected to start Teddy Bridgewater against Gary Nova. Both were highly touted coming into school, and both took over their teams after the season began. Both have shown flashes, but you can bet that the No. 1 goal of these aggressive defenses will be to rattle the young quarterback.

7. Dee-fense. Not much scoring is expected between Louisville and Rutgers, that is for sure. Rutgers ranks No. 1 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 16 points a game. That is about what Louisville averages on offense. Meanwhile, the Cards rank No. 3 in the Big East in scoring defense, giving up an average of 17.7 points a game. No team has scored more than 25 points on them this season.

8. Turnovers. Rutgers and Cincinnati have gotten off to their fast starts because they have done well in the turnover battle. Can they win that all-important stat again? Last week against Louisville, the Bearcats had an uncharacteristic interception return for a touchdown and put the ball on the ground four times, though they recovered them all. They now face a USF team that is plus-5 in turnover margin on the season -- but minus-3 in two league games. Louisville has had a hard time creating takeaways, with just six on the season. Contrast that to Rutgers, with 24.