Thursday, October 1, 2009
What to watch in the Big East, Week 5
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. Return of conference play: Big East league play began on Labor Day and then took the rest of September off. It's back this week with two games, each featuring a supposed contender (Pitt, South Florida) against an expected pretender (Louisville, Syracuse). Can either of the underdogs flip those preseason prognostications -- and the league race -- upside down?
2. West Virginia's self-control: You know how coaches like to call mistakes "teaching moments"? Well, Bill Stewart and his staff have had a lot of those moments in the 12 days following the Auburn loss. Six turnovers will do that. Let's see how the Mountaineers respond tonight against Colorado. That will tell us whether that coughing-up fit on the Plains was a temporary setback or symptomatic of a long-term concern.
3. Noel Devine's touches: It's become a sticking point among some West Virginia fans that Devine only got 17 touches -- while producing 154 and three touchdowns -- at Auburn. The Mountaineers have a fine Devine line to straddle; they don't want to overwork him, and they've got plenty of other weapons on offense. Still, I suspect we might see a heavier workload for the star tailback tonight, unless the game gets out of hand.
4. Pitt's discipline: We've been talking about it all week. The Panthers haven't looked like themselves on defense, especially in the NC State game, and have incurred too many penalties. Can they shore that up in time for Friday's game at Louisville? The secondary must tighten up against the Cardinals, or else Scott Long, Doug Beaumont and Trent Guy will be running free and putting a dent in Pitt's Big East hopes.
5. Louisville's defensive front: Can the Cardinals' defense, which had trouble slowing Utah's backup running back last week, contain the powerful Dion Lewis? Pitt's offensive line has given up the fewest sacks in the league, while Louisville's defense has notched fewer sacks than anybody in the conference. Bill Stull may not be the greatest quarterback in the country, but if he has all day to throw, he'll find his many playmakers.
6. Pitt's defensive front: This should be the best defensive line Louisville has faced all year. The Panthers lead the league in sacks and should be able to get penetration and at the very least, force Justin Burke to roll out of the pocket. Emphasis on should, because while guys like Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard got through the NC State offensive line, they couldn't wrap up and finish off quarterback Russell Wilson. They need to hit Burke and get him on the ground to swing the game their way.
7. B.J. Daniels: After his celebrated win at Florida State, the South Florida redshirt freshman quarterback starts his first conference game. Syracuse will now have seen plenty of tape on him. Daniels will need to improve some of his decision-making from the second half of the FSU game, but his speed could be something to behold on that Carrier Dome turf.
8. Syracuse's offensive line: The Orange O-line has been a pleasant surprise thus far, but the challenge really ramps up this week. The Bulls' defensive front was downright intimidating against the Seminoles and will come into this week with a ton of confidence. Will Greg Paulus have time to throw, or will he be running for cover most of the day?
9. Mike Williams vs. the South Florida secondary: Williams will be the best receiver the Bulls have faced this season and Syracuse's top threat to pop a big play. The South Florida secondary has been improved this year, but some of that is a function of the pressure applied up front. Do the Bulls double cover Williams and make someone else try and beat them?
10. Pike pile-up: Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike is in the Heisman Trophy discussion now, and Saturday should provide a good opportunity for him to stuff his stats. Miami of Ohio has been virtually defenseless against the pass this season, and they haven't seen anyone near the caliber of Pike and Mardy Gilyard. A five-touchdown type of day is not out of the question.