Sunday, October 4, 2009
What we learned in the Big East
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. There is separation in the league race: Cincinnati and South Florida are clearly the two most dominant teams in the Big East right now, and they will battle for superiority on Oct. 15 in Tampa. West Virginia and Pittsburgh have some issues but will be in the thick of the race the whole season. Connecticut is lurking and gets a chance to prove itself this week at Pitt. Those are the five contenders, and probably in that order.
2. The Bulls are ball-hawks: Joe Tresey's defense at Cincinnati was known for creating turnovers. Now that he's at South Florida, the Bulls have taken on that same personality. They forced a whopping seven turnovers Saturday at Syracuse, including five interceptions of Greg Paulus. That comes on the heels of four fumble recoveries at Florida State. Last year, South Florida was minus-7 in turnover margin. This year, it's at plus-8.
3. Cincinnati can run the ball: Miami (Ohio) double-teamed star wideout Mardy Gilyard, and the Bearcats' second-leading receiver, D.J. Woods, missed the game with an illness. So instead Cincinnati went to the ground, running for 164 yards. Jacob Ramsey became the first Bearcat to rush for 100 yards in more than two years. It was only Miami (Ohio), but Cincinnati will need to rely on its running game down the line. On Saturday, the Bearcats found out they could do so.
4. Louisville is in for another long year: The problem with labeling an early-season game as a must-win, as at least one Cardinals player did last week, is figuring out what to do if you lose it. Louisville is 1-3 and still has games remaining at West Virginia, at Cincinnati and at South Florida. Now every game truly is a must-win for the team to have any shot at bowl eligibility. But the Cardinals haven't shown any reason to make you believe they're suddenly going to reel off a bunch of wins in a row. It looks like another postseason at home, and the heat on Steve Kragthorpe is reaching a boiling point.
5. The Big East is not for mudders: Let the Big Ten and SEC have their grind-it-out defensive battles. If you want to win in the Big East, you'd better bring your track shoes. Cincinnati is one of the top scoring teams in the nation. West Virginia can score 35 points with its speed even while turning the ball over multiple times. South Florida has big-play receivers, and Syracuse is looking more and more dangerous with perhaps the league's best wideout, Mike Williams. Pitt scored 35 on Louisville and has become a quick-strike offense. There won't be many boring, low-scoring games in this league this year.