Thursday, December 1, 2011
What to watch in the Big East: Week 14
By Andrea Adelson
Here are the top story lines in the Big East as the regular season comes to a close.
1. Who is going to the BCS? You want to know as badly as I do. So do Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati. No matter what happens in the West Virginia game against USF on Thursday night, we will not have our answer until Cincinnati plays UConn on Saturday. Just as a quick refresher: West Virginia needs a win and a Cincinnati win to force a three-way tie atop the Big East standings. Tiebreaker goes to the BCS standings, where the Mountaineers are currently the highest-ranked Big East team at No. 23. Louisville needs Cincinnati to lose. Cincinnati needs a win and a West Virginia loss.
With a win Thursday and a Cincinnati win Saturday, West Virginia could be laughing its way to the BCS.
2. Bowl hopes in the air. USF, UConn, Pitt and Syracuse all have a chance to become bowl-eligible with victories. Only three of them have a shot, as Pitt and Syracuse play each other. USF has made it to six consecutive bowl games; UConn to four in a row; and Pitt to three. Syracuse broke its long bowl drought last season. USF and UConn are underdogs; Pitt is favored to beat the Orange. An upset or two will have to happen for the Big East to get more than five bowl-eligible teams this season. The last time the Big East did not have six bowl-eligible teams was 2007.
3. USF magic. In all three USF wins over West Virginia, the Bulls have pulled an upset on a ranked Mountaineers team. Will it happen a fourth time? West Virginia has not won in Tampa since 2005, but USF does not exactly play well on Thursday nights. Shall we hearken back to Week 5, when USF got beaten badly at Pitt? USF is now 0-7 in Thursday night games as a member of the Big East.
4. B.J. Daniels' status. That leads to the next story line. Will the USF quarterback be able to play? Daniels missed last week's game against Louisville with a bruised sternum, and his status is questionable for Thursday. Backup Bobby Eveld has lost both games he has started in his career. The last time West Virginia visited Tampa, Daniels threw for three touchdowns and ran for 100 yards in a 30-19 win. He didn't fare as well last year, throwing three interceptions in a 20-6 loss in Morgantown.
5. Isaiah Pead vs. UConn D. Pead had 246 all-purpose yards in a win over Syracuse last week, and has proven to be the best player on the Bearcats offense. You can bet Cincinnati will try to get him the ball as frequently as possible, but he will be facing one of the better run defenses in the league and the nation. UConn ranks third nationally against the run, allowing 2.7 yards per carry. On the season, no running back has gone over 100 yards on this defense. That's because teams have had much better luck passing on what has been a lackluster secondary.
6. Best QB combos. Which team has the best dual-threat quarterback situation: Cincinnati with Munchie Legaux and Jordan Luallen, or UConn with Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings? The Huskies have used both for nearly the entire season, and have been most effective of late -- McCummings has four of his five touchdown runs in the past three games. The Bearcats used Luallen for the first time in a win over Syracuse last week, and he ran for 77 yards. On two of his runs, he came up just short of the goal line.
7. Does the losing streak end? Syracuse has lost four straight, and coach Doug Marrone said he wanted to make sure his players stopped pressing and starting having more fun on the football field. Perhaps a more carefree attitude will help a team that has had a tough time scoring — and stopping opponents. Syracuse ranks No. 89 in the nation in total offense, and No. 71 in total defense. The Orange face another tough challenge against an active Pitt defensive front, which has 36 sacks on the season.
8. Sunseri rebound?Tino Sunseri had a rough outing in a 21-20 loss to West Virginia last week in the Backyard Brawl. He was sacked 10 times -- nine on the final 25 plays of the game. Many were his fault because he held onto the football too long. Sunseri has followed up his subpar performances with good ones of late. After a bad game against Utah, he threw for 419 yards against UConn. After two turnovers in a loss to Cincinnati, he managed the game effectively in a victory over Louisville. So which Sunseri shows up Saturday?