NCF Nation: Big East midseason review

Big East midseason review

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
11:13
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

At the midway point of the college football season, this much we know for sure about the Big East: Rutgers and Syracuse need an act of God to contend for the league title.

Just about everything else remains up in the air. The Big East as a whole has had a rough first half, compiling a meager 15-12 record against nonconference FBS opponents. The conference doesn't have a single team ranked in the first 18 of either top 25 poll. The league's supposed banner team, West Virginia, started 1-2. South Florida and UConn each began 5-0 but then got thumped. Pittsburgh, which lost its opener to Bowling Green, sits in the best position of any league team right now. Cincinnati and Louisville are still lurking around and have a puncher's chance, but neither owns a signature victory.

The conference's BCS bid has never seemed so attainable to so many teams at this point in the season. What other league can say that 75 percent of its teams still have a legitimate shot at claiming the title? Picking a winner or even a favorite right now would be folly. The second half promises to be a wild, unpredictable ride where fortunes change week to week.

Biggest surprise: Most of the surprises in this league involve disappointments. But among those who have exceeded expectations, Connecticut stands out. That's more a reflection of how many people, including yours truly, didn't give the Huskies enough preseason attention after they returned the bulk of the team that won a share of the 2007 league title. UConn was picked to finish sixth in the preseason media poll but has made that look silly by getting off to a 5-1 start.

Biggest disappointment: (Tie) Rutgers and West Virginia's offense. The Scarlet Knights earned enough votes in the preseason coaches' poll to rank 29th in the country. Right now, they're closer to 109th. A 1-5 start has defied even the lowest of projections and includes no wins over FBS teams. Rutgers' main problem is its offense, a problem it shares with West Virginia. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 8 to start the year largely on the basis of its returning offensive stars like Pat White and Noel Devine. But that attack has averaged just 17 points against FBS opponents so far.

Midseason offensive MVP: Connecticut running back Donald Brown. For a long stretch, Brown was the Huskies' offense, and he still accounts for about half the team's yardage this season. The amazing part is, hardly anybody talked about Brown in the offseason as he did not even lead UConn in rushing last year as a sophomore. Now he's tops in the country, and easily the most valuable skill player in the Big East.

Midseason defensive MVP: Pittsburgh linebacker Scott McKillop. A tackling machine (he's averaging 10.4 stops per game, nearly three more than the second-best Big East defender), McKillop anchors a Pittsburgh defense that's gotten better as the season goes along. The senior uses his smarts and instincts honed from his high school wrestling days to bring down an opponent. McKillop made plays all over the field in the upset at South Florida as last year's defensive MVP, George Selvie, hobbled around on a bum ankle.

Newcomer of the year: Louisville running back Victor Anderson. The speedy, sprite-sized Anderson ranks fourth in the league in rushing and has scored more touchdowns than everybody except Brown and LeSean McCoy. He announced his stardom against Kansas State last month, when he ran for 176 yards and reached the end zone three times.

Midseason coach of the year: Cincinnati's Brian Kelly. Last year's Big East coach of the year has probably done an even better job this season. Kelly has kept the team together despite the loss of his top two quarterbacks -- top three, if you count Ben Mauk, who lost an appeal to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility. Somehow, the Bearcats are still 5-1 and primed for a run in the second half. Kelly gets the nod over UConn's Randy Edsall, for now.

Bowl bound: Pittsburgh, South Florida, Connecticut, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Louisville.

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