Thursday, November 3, 2011
What to watch in the Big East: Week 10
By Andrea Adelson
Here are the top storylines to watch in the Big East in Week 10.
1. Separation. The top four teams in the league play each other, as Cincinnati travels to Pitt and Louisville plays at West Virginia. The Bearcats are 2-0 in the Big East; the other three each have one loss. If Cincinnati and West Virginia win, they would set up a huge conference showdown next week with Big East championship hopes on the line. Cincinnati, West Virginia and Pitt control their own destiny. If one of those teams wins out, it wins the conference.
2. Fast start? Cincinnati has won five consecutive games, but the Bearcats have scored just 23 first-half points in their past three. That is a trend coach Butch Jones wants reversed. While it says plenty about the ability of this team to be able to bounce back after falling behind in its past two games, there also is a sense that it has to start putting together complete games with the toughest part of their schedule ahead.
Senior Zach Brown will step in as Pitt's starting running back following the season-ending injury to standout Ray Graham.
3. Life without Ray Graham. Pitt embarks on life without its best player Saturday. How will Wisconsin transfer Zach Brown do in his place? Will Tino Sunseri be able to shoulder increasing responsibility without the best player on offense? The Panthers did just fine without him last week against UConn, but they are playing a much better team Saturday. The Bearcats have the No. 1 run defense in the league, and no doubt will try to make Sunseri beat them.
4. Which West Virginia D shows up? The one that played against Syracuse and the first half against Rutgers? Or the one that dominated in the second half of a comeback victory against the Scarlet Knights? Even defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has been puzzled by the inconsistent personality of his unit. One player to watch has got to be Louisville tight end Josh Chichester. The Mountaineers could not cover the tight ends in a loss to Syracuse a few weeks ago; Chichester presents major matchup problems.
5. Hostile environment? The West Virginia game provides a crucial challenge for Louisville, winners of two straight. Not only are the Mountaineers one of the best teams they have faced, but the environment may also be extra hostile because of the way both schools fought to get into the Big 12. Louisville reportedly threw a last-minute wrench into the plan for West Virginia to join the new conference, delaying the move a few days. The Cardinals remain in the Big East.
6. Coach P reunion. UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni might be downplaying it, but the fact remains that his first game against his old team is one of the biggest stories going into this game. Pasqualoni took Syracuse to BCS games and a string of success before a downward spiral ended up dooming him. There is one other important connection in this game -- UConn offensive coordinator George DeLeone has served as a mentor to current Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, and the two remain close.
7. Bounce-back Syracuse? The Orange have been a hard team to figure out because they have been so inconsistent. It is hard to think about BCS games when they missed a chance to build momentum off an important win over West Virginia. The offense really struggled in the face of the Louisville pressure last week, while the defense came out flat and allowed Louisville to score 14 first-quarter points. It was the first time all season Louisville scored that many points in the first quarter against an FBS opponent. How do the Orange respond against a team they should beat? Hint: Throw the ball. A lot.
8. UConn desperation? The Huskies (3-5) are on the verge of being in a BCS game one season and on the couch the next, a similar fate to that which befell Cincinnati in 2010. There is a variety of reasons why this season has not gone well for UConn, and now fans are wondering why Pasqualoni insists on sticking with Johnny McEntee as his starter. McEntee has shown little since being named to the job, but Pasqualoni could not keep going rotating three quarterbacks. He did say this week that freshman Michael Nebrich would not redshirt, so he could get more playing time down the stretch.
9. Gary Nova improvement. You wonder how much longer Rutgers coach Greg Schiano will stick with true freshman Nova, who has had a hand in nine turnovers over the past three games. Schiano still believes Nova gives his team the best chance to win, but also admitted the mistakes have got to stop. Will they against a USF defense that has been shaky at times? If Nova throws more interceptions, how would Schiano handle it during the game?
10. USF oh-fer? It is possible that a team most pegged as being in the top tier of the conference could begin conference play 0-4. USF needs the ship righted, and fast, to stop its three-game slide. The Bulls are coming off a bye, but is that a good thing? The last time they played after a bye, they lost 16-10 to UConn in a game riddled with missed opportunities inside UConn territory, turnovers and penalties. The Bulls are not playing disciplined right now (23 penalties in three losses) and that has to change.