Sunday, December 4, 2011
What we learned in the Big East: Week 14
By Andrea Adelson
The regular season is a wrap, folks. So what did we learn in Week 14?
Dustin Garrison and West Virginia are likely bound for a BCS bowl game after beating USF.
1. West Virginia is almost certainly in the BCS. West Virginia rallied to beat USF 30-27 and Cincinnati beat UConn 35-27 to force a three-way tie atop the Big East standings. The Bearcats, Louisville and Mountaineers can all call themselves champions, but it is West Virginia that most likely claims the BCS bid. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, No. 23 West Virginia will finish as the highest-ranked Big East team in the final BCS standings when they are unveiled Sunday night. Nobody believed Louisville and Cincinnati would finish as champions, but West Virginia was the preseason choice to win the league so you can say the Mountaineers met expectations. They may have not done it in dominating fashion -- they needed comeback wins in their final three games -- but good teams find a way to win the close matches. Just ask USF. Now the Big East is faced with quite the awkward situation. It is embroiled in a lawsuit with its BCS rep.
2. Cincinnati roared. When the game kicked off between Cincinnati and UConn, the Bearcats knew they were on the outside looking in when it came to a BCS spot. Some wondered whether that would affect their performance. Cincinnati vowed it was all about the ring, and indeed the defense came out with an inspired showing -- two defensive scores, six sacks, 13 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. Walter Stewart had one of the highlight plays of the year when he stripped Johnny McEntee in the end zone. J.K. Schaffer had 11 tackles and finished with more than 100 for the third straight season. Derek Wolfe had 10 tackles, five for loss. John Hughes had nine tackles, four for loss. The Huskies made a game of it late, but the overall performance on defense was pretty stellar.
3. Pitt salvages season. No way did anybody in Pittsburgh, let alone coach Todd Graham, think that the Panthers would go 6-6 this season. He came into the job boasting of lofty goals with his spread, no-huddle offense. But reality hit early, when it became apparent that he simply did not have the personnel to run the offense the way it should be run. Still, becoming bowl eligible after a 33-20 win over Syracuse has to take some of the sting off a season that fell short of expectations. The offense wasn't exactly a well-oiled machine against the Orange -- six Syracuse turnovers essentially saved the day. Graham will gladly take the extra practice time that comes with bowl preparation, and another opportunity to send the senior class out the right way.
4. USF, Syracuse, UConn staying home. All three of these teams made bowl games last season -- UConn was in the BCS -- but all three fell short this year. Each finished 5-7, for a variety of reasons. USF and Syracuse ended the season on major losing skids. The Bulls opened 4-0 and dropped six of their final seven. Syracuse opened 5-2 and lost five straight after failing to generate much offense. UConn was never able to win consecutive games, gave up too many big plays in the passing game, and could never quite get its quarterback situation figured out. Syracuse finished 1-6 in Big East play for the fifth time in six years.
5. Bulls disappoint. Preseason expectations were highest for USF, so its collapse probably is the most disappointing in the league. The Bulls end with their first losing season since 2004, when they went 4-7, the year before they joined the Big East. Four of its losses came on the final play of the game. Five of them featured blown second-half leads. That includes its loss to West Virginia. Just when it appeared USF might work its magic on West Virginia in Tampa yet again, it killed itself with turnovers and penalties. The final five minutes were a microcosm of the season. B.J. Daniels fumbles deep in West Virginia territory. The ensuing Mountaineers drive is aided by a personal foul penalty on USF. As West Virginia lines up for the field goal, USF gets flagged again, making it a chip shot for Tyler Bitancurt. Bulls fans want Skip Holtz on the hot seat, but he's not going anywhere just yet.