Thursday, November 10, 2011
What to watch in the Big East: Week 11
By Andrea Adelson
Here are the top story lines in the Big East headed into Week 11.
1. Offense vs. Offense. The top two scoring offenses in the Big East meet Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The Bearcats average 39.1 points a game; West Virginia averages 38.2 points a game. West Virginia has scored a league-high 44 touchdowns; Cincinnati has scored 40, placing the Bearcats at No. 2. Is there any doubt this game has all the makings of a shoot out?
West Virginia's Geno Smith has passed for 3,125 yards with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions this season.
2. Geno Smith vs. Zach Collaros. Then there is the quarterback debate that has raged since the preseason. Fans of both teams believe their guy is the best in the league. The numbers Smith has put up this season have been eye-popping to say the least. Smith is actually on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards and could eclipse the Big East single-season record of 4,024 yards, set by Brian Brohm of Louisville in 2007. If Smith keeps up his average, he would have 4,167 yards at the end of the regular season. Brohm is the only quarterback in Big East history with a 4,000-yard season. Collaros does not have the gaudy numbers, but he has a running game to help him, and his team is winning. Who do you choose to lead your squad?
3. Get physical. Cincinnati plays a physical brand of football. Can West Virginia match up, especially on defense? The Mountaineers have been sorely lacking in that area the past three games and are going to have a monster challenge trying to tackle Isaiah Pead, the best running back they have faced this season.
4. Louisville encore. Can the Cardinals avoid another letdown after a big win? They beat Kentucky only to follow that up with a three-game losing streak. They beat West Virginia last week and now ... ? Pitt has won the past three matchups with Louisville by a total of 76 points. The Cardinals haven’t scored more than 10 points in any of those three losses. Luckily for them, their offense appears to be hitting their stride. Now they just have to avoid overconfidence.
5. Pitt rebound? The Panthers (4-5) have not given up on the season, that is for sure, but they are going to need to pull a few upsets if they are going to get back to a bowl game. They get their first chance at Louisville. It will be interesting to see how this team responds after coming so close to upsetting Cincinnati last week. The Panthers have made it a trend this year to win a game, then drop two in a row. Can they break that trend Saturday and win their first road game of the season?
6. Desperation bowl. USF and Syracuse are reeling heading into their game Friday night. Maybe playing in a nationally televised game will inspire them. Syracuse has been inconsistent in its past two losses; USF has had breakdowns in all three phases at some point in its four straight losses. A bowl bid hangs in the balance for both. Syracuse (5-4) needs one more to become eligible; USF (4-4) needs two more.
7. Ground it out. The Orange really have to get Antwon Bailey going. After getting more than 100 yards rushing in four straight games, he has a combined 120 in the past two. Both are losses. Syracuse is best when it has a run-first mentality, so that could be part of the game plan against USF.
8. Finish. The question for the Bulls is whether or not they will run out of gas at the end of the game. USF has scored first in all eight of its games this season and has outscored its opponents by an 82-27 margin in the first quarter. But the Bulls have failed to hold onto second half leads in their past three losses.
9. Chas Dodd returns. Rutgers coach Greg Schiano made the decision to go back to Chas Dodd as his starting quarterback, after Dodd led the Scarlet Knights to a comeback win over USF last week. Will he make the most of his opportunity? Or will he be looking over his shoulder, worried that a mistake could send him back to the bench again? He has a good chance to make a big impression against an Army team that is struggling this season.
10. Sanu record? Rutgers receiver Mohamed Sanu needs 12 catches to break Larry Fitzgerald's Big East record for single-season receptions. Fitzgerald set the mark of 92 in 2003. Sanu has five games this season with double-digit receptions, and had 11 in a win over USF last weekend. So he could get the mark this weekend.