NCF Nation: Delone Carter

Kansas State led the nation in scoring defense and total defense after its first two games.

The problem? The impressive numbers came against FCS Eastern Kentucky and Kent State from the MAC.

"They didn’t give us much credit after we played well the first two nonconference games," said Wildcats safety Tysyn Hartman. "People didn’t expect us to play well against Miami."

[+] EnlargeKansas State's Arthur Brown
AP Photo/J Pat Carter"He really moves at a different speed than everybody else," teammate Tysyn Hartman said of Kansas State's leading tackler, Arthur Brown.
The reason? Kansas State had one of the nation's worst defenses a year ago. They were one of just two teams to give up 3,000 yards rushing and ranked 106th nationally in team defense.

After the strong start against weak competition, there was reason to doubt how long it would be before Kansas State slipped down the national rankings.

Last week, though, the Wildcats gave up just three first-half points to Miami and won the game with a goal-line stand.

"A week ago, they were in a similar situation with the exception of the game wasn’t on the line, but the shutout was, and played as well at that time and had a great goal-line stand," said coach Bill Snyder. "I think it’s given them a great deal of confidence."

This week, an even tougher test awaits Kansas State in its conference opener against Baylor. Slow the red-hot Bears offense, and nobody will doubt the change from 2010 to 2011.

"We struggled last year. It was one of the big concerns of the offseason and we got better and better as the offseason progressed, and really, I don’t think people expected us to play this well," Hartman said. "We’ve been flying under the radar for awhile, but if we put up the numbers we did in the first few games, I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore."

K-State couldn't ask for a better test. Baylor comes into Saturday's game with a quarterback that's shined as one of the brightest stars of the season, and an offense that's outscoring every team in college football but Georgia Tech and Oregon.

"Hopefully we can change that up a little bit, but he’s hot right now. He’s playing great football and then he has great weapons around him," Hartman said. "It’s not really about who we’re playing, it’s about us getting better. As long as we’re getting better week in and week out, that means we can beat anybody and that showed up last week when everybody counted us out."

The change started in the offseason. Last season's struggles were obvious, and the season ended with Syracuse's Delone Carter rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl, a Kansas State loss. Goal No. 1 in the offseason was to get faster, a weakness a defense can't afford in the wide-open Big 12 where offenses seek to take advantage of space and athletic ability.

"You can’t stop the run unless you have all 11 guys pursuing to the ball, and just training secondary to trigger it and get down there on the run and that’s really helped," Hartman said.

The defense also added juco transfer Nigel Malone, who now leads the team in interceptions and former blue-chip recruit Arthur Brown. Brown, a former Miami Hurricane, has nine more tackles than any other Wildcat.

"He really moves at a different speed than everybody else. If you’ve got a chance to watch him, really just instincts how fast he gets to the ball and he doesn’t miss tackles," Hartman said. "Once he gets you wrapped up, I mean, you’re going down."

Snyder credits another year of experience and maturity for players like Hartman and cornerback David Garrett, as well as sophomores Ty Zimmerman and Tre Walker, who won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after making three tackles in last week's game-winning goal-line stand.

"We’ve gotten a little bit faster. We’ve played a bit better up front. We’ve gotten more sizeable and quicker linebackers," Snyder said. "Our secondary certainly has gained experience as well and has been reasonably responsible. There’s just a number of things and if you had to identify one, you probably would say the experience factor and the maturity factor combined would probably give us a little reason to believe we’re a little better."

How much better? We'll find out Saturday.
Scouts Inc. has come up with comprehensive draft boards for every position as we draw ever closer to the 2011 NFL draft (and, hopefully, a 2011 NFL season).

Let's start on the offensive side of the ball and take a look at where some Big East hopefuls are ranked. First, the skill positions:
Now, the offensive linemen/tight ends:
Now let's move to the defensive side and see where Scouts Inc. rates some Big East defenders:
  • Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse: sixth round

These projections aren't gospel by any means, but they should give you a pretty good idea of how Big East hopefuls are being viewed right now.
I'm borrowing an idea from Big 12 blogger David Ubben and taking a look at the top individual performances by a Big East player in 2010.

Ubben's list was restricted to offensive players in conference games, and only players whose team won the game were eligible. I'm going to be a lot more inclusive than that. But I will give extra weight to performances in victories and in games against league competition or other high-caliber opponents. Sorry, but no stat-stuffing feats against FCS opponents were considered.

Here, then, is my Top 10:

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Pead
Frank Victores/US PresswireIsaiah Pead scored half of the Bearcats' 10 touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights.
1. Jordan Todman versus Pittsburgh: Todman -- with a heaping dose of help from his offensive line -- was simply unstoppable against Pitt's defense, running for 222 yards on 37 carries in a key win that changed the conference race. He was so good that Randy Edsall felt confident going for it on fourth-and-short from deep in his own territory late in the game, and of course Todman picked up that first down.

2. Isaiah Pead versus Rutgers: Granted, the Scarlet Knights' defense was a shell of its former self by this point. Still, Pead racked up a whopping five total touchdowns, most by a Big East player in a league game in 2010. He had 213 rushing yards and four scores on 31 rushing attempts and added a touchdown reception. Rutgers had no answer.

3. Sio Moore versus West Virginia: The Connecticut linebacker, often overshadowed by Lawrence Wilson and Scott Lutrus at his own position, was a one-man wrecking crew in the win that changed the Huskies' season. He collected 17 tackles, forced two fumbles and recovered two of them in the hard-fought upset.

4. Dion Lewis versus Cincinnati: The Bearcats had seen this show before. For the second straight year, Lewis was a load that the Cincinnati defense couldn't stop. He carried 42 times for 261 yards and four touchdowns in the snow at Nippert Stadium for what turned out to be his final regular-season college game.

5. Geno Smith versus Marshall: Down 21-6 in the fourth quarter, West Virginia looked like it would suffer its first loss to its in-state opponent. But Smith came to the rescue. He calmly led two scoring drives in the final minutes and delivered perfect strikes for the tying touchdown and two-point conversion plays attempt near the end of regulation. He finished 32-of-45 for 316 yards, and that's even more impressive when you consider it was just his second career start.

6. Bilal Powell versus Cincinnati: Our first performance on the list that came in a losing effort. It wasn't Powell's fault. The Louisville senior rushed for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries and had perhaps the highlight of the season with his bruising, 85-yard scoring run. Powell also rushed for 204 yards on just 18 carries the week before, but it came against a truly terrible Memphis defense (not that Cincinnati's was all that much better).

7. Delone Carter versus Kansas State: Carter had a strong year but lacked a lot of explosive plays. That changed in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl against Kansas State's admittedly shaky defense. Carter crushed the Wildcats for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries as the Orange held on for the postseason win.

8. Mark Harrison versus Cincinnati: There were a lot of great performances against the Cincinnati defense, but Harrison's was truly breathtaking -- and record-breaking. The Rutgers wideout had 10 catches for 240 yards and four touchdowns against the helpless Bearcats secondary.

9. Ray Graham versus Florida International: Not an elite opponent by any means, but what Graham did was still mighty impressive. Subbing for an injured Lewis, Graham nearly broke the Pitt single-game rushing record with 277 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.

10. Joe Lefeged versus Florida International: FIU appears again as a victim here in a ridiculous performance by the Rutgers safety. He had an interception, forced two fumbles and blocked a pair of punts to almost single-handedly ensure his team's narrow victory.

Honorable mention: Zach Collaros versus South Florida and Rutgers; B.J. Daniels versus Cincinnati and Clemson; Pead versus Oklahoma; Todman versus Cincinnati; Armon Binns versus Louisville; Chas Dodd versus Connecticut; Dave Teggart versus South Florida; Doug Hogue versus West Virginia; Marcus Sales versus Kansas State.

The Big East's all-bowl team

January, 14, 2011
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Let's put a final bow on bowl season with the Big East's All-Bowl team:

Offense

Quarterback: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

Nassib, who struggled down the stretch of the regular season, took advantage of Kansas State's shaky defense to complete 13-of-21 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

[+] EnlargeSyracuse's Delone Carter
William Perlman/US PRESSWIRESyracuse's Delone Carter ran over Kansas State for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Running backs: Delone Carter, Syracuse, and Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

Carter ran 27 times for 198 yards and two scores in the Pinstripe Bowl. Lewis rumbled for 105 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries in the BBVA Compass Bowl before declaring for the NFL Draft.

Wide receiver: Marcus Sales, Syracuse

Sales came almost out of nowhere to record five catches for 172 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas State. No other Big East receiver had even a fraction of his stats in the postseason.

Tight end: Cameron Graham, Louisville

The league's best tight in the regular season kept it up in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, catching three passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive line: Jacob Sims and Sampson Genus, South Florida; Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh; Mark Wetterer, Louisville; Justin Pugh, Syracuse.


Sims and Genus were part of a USF line that pushed back Clemson's talented defensive front in the Meineke Car Care Bowl; Sims in particular helped keep Da'Quan Bowers quiet, which is not an easy thing to do. Pinkston showed some fire in protecting his quarterback after Tino Sunseri was hit late, and the Panthers ran for 261 yards while surrendering zero sacks against Kentucky. Wetterer and Pugh helped open holes for their high-scoring postseason offenses.

Defense

Defensive line: Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh; Terrell McClain, South Florida; Bruce Irvin, West Virginia.


Lindsey stepped up his game in the regular season when Greg Romeus was hurt and did so again in the bowl with Jabaal Sheard out. McClain didn't record many stats but was his usual dominant self in the middle against Clemson. Irvin had two sacks and a forced fumble against NC State in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Linebackers: Derrell Smith, Syracuse; J.T. Thomas, West Virginia; Brandon Heath, Louisville; DeDe Lattimore, South Florida.


I went with a 3-4 look on defense to recognize the many strong performances by linebackers during bowl. Just about all of these guys had double-digit tackles and/or a couple TFLs.

Cornerbacks: Johnny Patrick, Louisville; Quenton Washington, South Florida

After getting burned on a play early, Patrick was all over the field. He forced a fumble and blocked a punt. Washington also blocked a punt and had a 45-yard interception return.

Safeties: Dom DeCicco, Pittsburgh, and Robert Sands, West Virginia

DeCicco had nine tackles and a forced fumble, while Sands had eight tackles and a sack.

Specialists

Punter: Cole Wagner, Connecticut

Wagner punted seven times for an average of 46.9 yards -- with a long of 52 yards -- against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Placekicker: Chris Philpott, Louisville

Philpott only got the call once, but he made the game-winning 36-yarder in the fourth quarter.

Kick returners: Jeremy Wright, Louisville, and Robbie Frey, Connecticut

Both Wright and Frey returned kickoffs for touchdowns in their bowl games. Wright's was especially crucial, as it tied the score in the fourth quarter.

Punt returner: Terrence Mitchell, South Florida

Mitchell had a 34-yard punt return against Clemson.
1. If the Big 12 is going to impress on big stages against other conferences, it has to get better at stopping the run. You saw it in last year's national championship game, which was part of the reason Texas committed to a downhill running game in 2010. This time around, it was no different. Iowa kicked things off by running all over Missouri. Marcus Coker finished with 219 yards against the Tigers. Baylor couldn't stop Illinois' running game. The Illini ran for 291 yards against the Bears. Syracuse was two yards away from having a 200-yard rusher against Kansas State and had 259 yards on the ground as a team. Washington went for 268 against Nebraska. LSU did whatever it wanted against Texas A&M and finished with 288 yards. Try not to be too surprised, but every aforementioned Big 12 team lost those games. Any team that had a downhill running game beat a Big 12 team. Oklahoma was the only team who could stop it, and the Sooners beat Connecticut 48-20.

2. Oklahoma really can get it done in the BCS. Yes, critics will crow about Connecticut's lack of a ranking, but like I wrote last week, this was as much about Oklahoma's poor play in BCS games as it was about their losses. To quote one Gene Chizik (and Lil' Wayne, too, I guess), the Sooners could say they "DWWD" against the Huskies. That is to say, OU successfully "Did What We Do" and won a game that was never really in doubt after the first half. It's been awhile since OU could say that, and it might enter 2011 as the preseason No. 1 because of it. If it hangs on to that spot, it won't have to worry about the BCS asterisk hanging over its head later in the year, either.

3. Nebraska's finish left a lot to be desired. The ugly loss to Texas A&M aside, Nebraska was still in position for a Big 12 title and a BCS bowl appearance. So much for that. The Huskers squandered an early 17-0 lead against Oklahoma in the championship, and then laid an absolute egg against Washington, losing 19-7 despite being favored to win by two touchdowns. That's not exactly the momentum the Huskers would have liked heading into the Big Ten. Instead they are looking for a shoulder to lean on (Dan Beebe's, perhaps?) during an offseason that needs to feature a long look and perhaps changes to what the Huskers do offensively. Forcing Taylor Martinez to be a drop-back passer a la Terrelle Pryor is not a good look, and Nebraska did it plenty (if only because of injury during the regular season) during its 1-3 finish to the season.

4. So did the Aggies' finish. Texas A&M's ugly loss to LSU doesn't erase the momentum established during its six-game winning streak to close the season, but it certainly delivers a blow. The Aggies should be ranked to begin the season, and don't have an easy run to start. SMU, Arkansas and Oklahoma State are all scheduled to play against the Aggies in their first four games. Stumbling out of the gate like Texas A&M did this year when real competition arrived won't fly. Of course, keeping Jeff Fuller will make avoiding that outcome a bit easier.

5. Late in games, celebrate at your own risk. We've written about "The Bronx Salute" plenty this bowl season, and by now, there's not much left to say. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops really said it best, relaying a message every coach should pass along to his players next year: "... it is a judgment call. Everybody's judgment is different," Stoops said. "So if you open the door for it to be called, then don't be -- if it is called, don't be saying 'All I did was this.' You opened the door, gave them the opportunity, and everybody's judgment's different. So don't go there." Adrian Hilburn went there, and paid dearly for it. Ultimately this was a meaningless bowl game between two seven-win teams. Please, Mr. Late-Game Touchdown Scorer, don't make an official's flag, unnecessary or otherwise, become a focal point for your team's season.

Final 2010 Big 12 Power Rankings

January, 11, 2011
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

It's been a fun year with a fun finale last night, but here's how the Big 12 sits to end the 2010 season.

For reference, here's how I ranked the league before the bowl games.

1. Oklahoma (12-2, 6-2, last week: 1) For all the bumps that 2010 brought the Sooners, they did what everyone picked them to do: Win the Big 12. They did the same in the Fiesta Bowl: Beat Connecticut handily.

2. Oklahoma State (11-2, 6-2, LW: 3) The way Texas A&M, Missouri and Nebraska played in the postseason, there's no doubt that Oklahoma State was playing the second-best football of anyone in the conference to close the year.

3. Texas A&M (9-4, 6-2, LW: 2) The Aggies played by far the best team of anyone in the Big 12 in their bowl game, and didn't play well on offense or defense, but Missouri and Nebraska don't warrant a jump after losing to unranked teams.

4. Missouri (10-3, 6-2, LW: 4) Missouri had the closest loss among the Big 12's top tier of teams in the league's weak bowl showing, but outside of Blaine Gabbert's inexplicable late interception, the Tigers played pretty well in the second half.

5. Nebraska (10-4, 6-2, LW: 5) Not many positives to the Huskers' flat showing in San Diego. Something to learn from, but Nebraska can't afford to get out-muscled up front in the Big Ten like they were against Washington.

6. Texas Tech (8-5, 3-5, LW: 6) The Red Raiders were one of just three Big 12 bowl winners, and got nice days out of long-time friends and teammates Lyle Leong and Taylor Potts to do it. Nice job to hold off an impressive Northwestern comeback, too.

7. Kansas State (7-6, 3-5, LW: 8) The Wildcats got robbed on a call, but there's nothing saying they would have won. K-State still needed a two-point conversion and would have had to stop Syracuse in overtime. The Orange racked up almost 500 yards of offense, and Syracuse running back Delone Carter had 198 rushing yards. Not a good recipe for a win, bad call or otherwise.

8. Baylor (7-6, 4-4, LW: 7) Baylor flopped in its return to a bowl, losing 38-14 to Illinois. But look for the Bears in the postseason again in 2011 and to turn in a better performance on a big stage. Bears didn't respond well to big games this year.


9. Colorado (5-7, 2-6, LW: 9) Not many common threads for Colorado from 2010 to 2011. New coaching staff, new league. Should be an interesting future.

10. Texas (5-7, 2-6, LW: 10) Texas has four of its five coaching vacancies filled. Know any good offensive line coaches? Longhorns new look should be fun to watch through the spring and into next season.

11. Iowa State (5-7, 3-5, LW: 11) Iowa State missed a pair of opportunities -- on the road against Colorado and at home against Missouri -- to qualify for a bowl, but Year 3 is perhaps the most important under Paul Rhoads and certainly the most telling of where this program is headed.

12. Kansas (3-9, 1-7, LW: 12) The Jayhawks managed a nice recruiting class in the middle of the Big 12, and snatched early-enrolling quarterback Brock Berglund from Colorado. A nice start for Turner Gill on the recruiting trail in his first full year.
Here is the list of players from the Big East who will be participating in the East-West Shrine Game, a showcase for seniors and NFL hopefuls:
  • Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse
  • Greg Lloyd, LB, Connecticut
  • Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut
  • Ryan Bartholomew, OL, Syracuse
  • Scott Lutrus, LB, Connecticut
  • Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida
  • Zach Hurd, OL, Connecticut

The 86th annual game will be held Jan. 22 in Orlando.
Instant analysis from the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, which Syracuse won 36-34 over Kansas State:

How the game was won: Syracuse was offensively-challenged most of the season and especially so down the stretch; the Orange had only 46 total points in their final four games. The porous Kansas State defense proved a good cure for that. Both coaches called aggressive games, with plenty of flea flickers and other trick plays on a slick Yankee Stadium field. Syracuse scored on every second-half possession as its offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. The defense just made one stop in the second half, and the Wildcats passing game went wild. But a couple of questionable fourth-quarter decisions allowed the Orange to win an entertaining shootout.

Turning point: Kansas State fans will be mad about this one for a long time. The Wildcats' Adrian Hilburn caught a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 left to bring his team within two points. But Hilburn was flagged for excessive celebration after he saluted the crowd in the end zone. That 15-yard penalty moved the ball back to the 18 for the two-point conversion attempt. Kansas State couldn't pick it up, and the Wildcats were left to fume over the officials' decision.

Turning point II: The Wildcats might not have needed the two-pointer had they taken three earlier in the quarter. They tried a fake field goal on the Syracuse 14 that failed miserably. That was the only time in the half that either team failed to score on a drive, other than when the Orange took a knee late.

Player of the game: Syracuse receiver Marcus Sales. All season, the Orange lacked playmakers at the wideout spot. With Van Chew and Alec Lemon banged up, Sales came through in a big way. The guy who had only one touchdown catch all season had five grabs for 172 yards and three scores in the bowl game.

Player of the game II: Delone Carter ran for 202 yards on 28 carries and scored twice as the Orange offensive line plowed over Kansas State's defense.

Stat of the game: Syracuse averaged only 274 yards per game in Big East play, last among eight teams. Against Kansas State, the Orange had 498 yards.

Second-guessing: Did Hilburn deserve that excessive celebration call? He definitely made a celebratory gesture, but it was not taunting in any way. You absolutely hate to see a crucial point of the game be influenced by that kind of call. But, again, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder should be questioned for the fake field goal on a fourth-and-five when his defense could not stop Syracuse. And the officials made some highly questionable calls that went against the Orange in the first half.

What it means: Syracuse caps a terrific bounce-back year with its eighth win. The Orange hadn't been bowling since 2004 and came away with a postseason victory that should give a boost to recruiting. The offensive performance was encouraging, though Kansas State's defense had a major influence on that. Despite the controversial ending, the Pinstripe Bowl was a success in its first year and will have people talking about how entertaining it was. The Big East got its first postseason win over a BCS AQ team this season and improves to 2-1 in bowls.

video
What a wild game, won by Syracuse, 36-34. Great entertainment and one of the best games of the bowl season, but an ugly finish that was, in the end, decided by officials. Nobody likes to see that.

How the game was won: Kansas State's Adrian Hilburn scored a touchdown on a 30-yard pass from Carson Coffman with 1:13 to play that brought the Wildcats within two. Hilburn, however, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct when officials ruled that his simple salute was excessive celebration. That forced Kansas State to try and tie the game with an 18-yard two-point conversion, but Coffman's pass fell incomplete and the Wildcats couldn't execute an onside kick.

Turning point: The flag after the touchdown. We might have been headed to overtime, but Kansas State had to settle for a low-percentage conversion and couldn't do it. Officials should have kept the flag in their pocket on a celebration that was hardly excessive, and especially a flag that had such a profound impact on the final score. Kansas State and its fans have a right to be angry. You feel bad for Hilburn, whose celebration (of his second career touchdown, by the way) was by no means out of line, but ended up costing the Wildcats the game. He didn't deserve that.

Player of the game: Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse. Kansas State had no answer defensively for the balanced back who ran over and around Wildcats defenders all day. He finished with 202 yards and a pair of TDs on 28 carries.

Unsung hero: Carson Coffman, QB, Kansas State. The Orange keyed in on Daniel THomas, but the maligned senior quarterback made play after play to keep the Wildcats alive, including catching a 29-yard pass from Daniel Thomas earlier in the game to set up a touchdown. He finished 17-of-23 for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and ran for 26 yards on nine carries.

Best call: Trailing 33-28 in the fourth quarter after a Syracuse touchdown, Kansas State ran a flea flicker and completed an underthrown ball to Aubrey Quarles for 41 yards, setting up what they hoped was an eventual go-ahead touchdown, but the drive ended in the failed fake field goal.

Second guessing: I loved the late fake field goal from Kansas State, but hated the execution. That deep, there wasn't going to be enough room to run the ball up the middle, and the Wildcats needed some misdirection or trickery in the form of a pass to the kicker or a leaking receiver to make that play a success.

What it means: The Big 12 drops to 1-3 in bowl season now, with a pair of losses to Big Ten teams and one the Big East. The late flag will overshadow a bit of the loss, but the Wildcats return to the postseason for the first time since 2006 had an ugly finish.

Record performance: With his performance, Thomas moved into second place all-time for rushing yards at Kansas State. Only Darren Sproles has more, but most impressively, Thomas did it in two years as a juco transfer.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Keys for K-State

December, 29, 2010
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1. Stop giving up big plays. It's become a bit of what Kansas State's defense does, but it has to stop if the Wildcats are going to win this game. They gave up 75 plays of more than 10 yards in 12 games. Only Kansas surrendered more, and it gave up 76. K-State gave up 28 plays of more than 20 yards and 19 plays of more than 30 yards. Longer than 40 yards? 11 plays. Seven went for more than 50 yards and four went for more than 60. No team in the Big 12 gave up more than all of those, and Kansas State's offense isn't explosive enough to keep up if that continues in the Pinstripe Bowl.

2. Keep playing disciplined football. As bad as Kansas State has been defensively, they've been solid when it comes to not making mental mistakes that give opponents free yards. Kansas State has allowed just 466 penalty yards, which is eighth fewest nationally, and if they eliminate the above character flaw of big plays and accentuate the discipline they've displayed elsewhere, the Wildcats will be tough to beat. Syracuse, meanwhile, ranks 95th nationally in the stat with 741 penalty yards on 90 flags to the Wildcats' 66.

3. Win the rushing battle. It's pretty simple here. Everything that comes with doing this -- time of possession, points, momentum -- can mean a win in a game that'll feature a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Syracuse's Delone Carter and Kansas State's Daniel Thomas. It's not a cure-all -- turnovers and missed opportunities can swing the game one way or the other -- but the safe bet in this game is whichever team rushes for more yards leaves with a win.
The inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl will almost certainly be known for its weather. Fans and media experienced travel troubles thanks to 20 inches of snow in New York City on Sunday, which forced a Kansas State team practice to become a walk-through in the Wildcats' hotel.

There's still a game to be played, though, snow or else.

WHO TO WATCH: Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. Wildcats running back Daniel Thomas earns the headlines, and senior quarterback Carson Coffman plays more, but when Klein's legs get churning, Kansas State's offense can look unstoppable. Against Texas, the Wildcats jumped to a 39-0 lead and threw just four passes because the duo of Klein and Thomas was gashing the Longhorns defense every time either carried the ball. Coffman said Tuesday he wasn't sure if he was going to start, but whether he does or not, Klein should get plenty of playing time, and the more effective he is, the more he'll play. For a Kansas State quarterback situation that's "complicated," it's that simple.

WHAT TO WATCH: Kansas State's defense vs. Syracuse running back Delone Carter. Earlier this week, Carter had this to say about his team: "Once we get out there and I’m healthy and my O-line is healthy and our receivers are healthy, we’re going to dominate. I know defenders don’t like to get hit when it’s cold out, and that kind of gets me excited. I won’t mind the cold. ... I’m used to it. It’s not going to bother me. I’ll go a little harder."

That may be true, and considering the way the Wildcats defense has played lately, he's got reason to believe that's what will happen. K-State gave up 270 yards on the ground to North Texas' Lance Dunbar and 195 yards to Colorado's Rodney Stewart in its final two games. Carter could be due for another big day, or the Wildcats defense could be due for a big statement. The outcome of the game depends on it.

WHY WATCH: For all the action in baseball stadiums this year, the Big 12 hasn't been affected by it yet. The allure and novelty of playing at new Yankee Stadium is a bit new for us folks in Flyover Country, and hosting a bowl is new for the folks at Yankee Stadium, who haven't done so since the 1962 Gotham Bowl.

PREDICTION: Kansas State 28, Syracuse 24. I'm going against my gut a bit here, but not much about Syracuse's offense excites me, and if it's a cold, windy day at the ballpark, I'll take the zone-read scheme with Klein and Thomas over anything Syracuse will bring.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl keys for Syracuse

December, 29, 2010
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Three keys for Syracuse in Wednesday's New Era Pinstripe Bowl matchup with Kansas State:

Make the Wildcats throw it: Kansas State ranked 20th nationally in running the ball and has a star player in tailback Daniel Thomas. In the latter part of the season, backup quarterback Collin Klein gave the Wildcats another running threat. Like Syracuse, though, they don't own a fearsome passing game. Klein is mostly a runner, and Carson Coffman has been erratic at times as a passer. Scott Shafer's defense works best when it can load the box and bring pressure against quarterbacks. Syracuse needs to make Kansas State one-dimensional -- in the dimension it doesn't want to use.

Run, Run, Run: Kansas State had the third-worst rushing defense in the FBS this season, a stat which must make Doug Marrone smile. You can count on one hand the number of 30-plus yard plays the Orange offense produced in the final weeks of the season, but the one thing they do well is run the ball hard between the tackles. The Syracuse offensive line should control the line of scrimmage and free Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey to get into the second level and make things happen. It could be a cold day at Yankee Stadium; if the Orange can keep the ball on the ground and burn clock, that would provide a huge advantage.

Special teams: Not having punter Rob Long, who is recovering from brain surgery, is a big loss for Syracuse. Long also handles kickoffs and is the holder for the Orange. Meanwhile, Kansas State kick returner William Powell led the nation by averaging 34.6 yards per return. No one knows quite how the winds will work at Yankee Stadium with its unique setup. Special teams can often be rusty after a long pre-bowl layoff, and in a game that could be low-scoring, the kicking game could be the difference.
Syracuse is bowling again. The Orange are back in the postseason for the first time since 2004, and they celebrate by ringing in the inaugural New Era Pinstripe Bowl in their home state. Here's a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Syracuse running back Delone Carter. The Orange offense really struggled down the stretch of the regular season, and Carter remains its one true, dependable force. The muscular, 215-pound senior isn't a big-play threat most of the time, but he can wear down defenses with his straight-ahead, physical style. He went over 1,000 yards this year for the second straight season, and Syracuse must establish the ground game with him and Antwon Bailey to set up play-action. And in cold, potentially snowy conditions, the running game becomes even more vital.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Syracuse defense vs. Kansas State's run game. There's little secret to what the Wildcats like to do: Get the ball in the hands of playmaking tailback Daniel Thomas as much as possible. They're not a big passing team, so Thomas gets the bulk of the work and will take snaps out of the Wildcat formation. The Orange defense was this team's strength all season. The suspension of tackle Andrew Lewis could hurt, but Chandler Jones, Bud Tribbey and Mikhail Marinovich are stout up front, while linebackers Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith are among the best in the Big East. The Orange will need safety help in the box as well.

WHY TO WATCH: To see Syracuse return to the postseason. To see postseason football being played for the first time in new Yankee Stadium. To see an old-school, grind-it-out physical game in cold weather, the way football was meant to be played. To see an up-and-coming coach (Syracuse's Doug Marrone) against a living legend (K-State's Bill Snyder).

PREDICTION: Syracuse should have a home-field feel in the Bronx, and I think the Orange defense can do a good job slowing down Thomas. Still, Kansas State has the ability to make big plays, while Syracuse has only lurched forward in small chunks and will be missing an underrated field-position weapon in punter Rob Long. The Orange keep it close, but fall 17-14.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 11

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
10:30
AM ET
1. Battle for bowls: Not a single Big East team has qualified for a bowl yet, but that will change this week. Five different teams (Pitt, West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville and Syracuse) can clinch postseason eligibility with a win this week. Someone will definitely do it, since South Florida and Louisville play one another.

2. Follow the leader: Everybody in the Big East will be watching Pittsburgh's game at Connecticut Thursday and hoping the Panthers lose. Not because they hate Dave Wannstedt or anything, but because Pitt has a two-game lead on the other seven teams. A Panthers loss would give a lot of teams hope.

3. Running in the "Rent": Thursday's game offers a high-profile duel between top tailbacks. Pitt's Dion Lewis won the Big East rushing title last year, while Connecticut's Jordan Todman could run away with it this year. Add in Lewis' counterpart, Ray Graham, and there is no shortage of star power in the backfield. Both of these teams have a run-first mentality, and whichever establishes the ground game will have the edge. And remember Pitt has the best rush defense in the Big East, while UConn has the worst.

4. Can UConn score? The Huskies are averaging just 13.3 points per game in Big East play and scored only 13 in regulation in their signature victory over West Virginia last time out. Meanwhile, Pitt is putting up more than 35 points a game in league action, and its passing game with Tino Sunseri is really coming along. Does UConn have enough firepower to hang in there?

5. Streak-busting Bulls: South Florida has never won at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, dating back to its Conference USA days. But these Bulls have already gotten over the hump against Rutgers and at Cincinnati. If Skip Holtz can lead his team to victory at Louisville, it will truly signal the dawn of a new day in Tampa, not to mention a third straight conference win.

6. Running against the Bulls: Louisville's offensive line has been the best in the Big East this season and kept the running game strong last week at Syracuse despite the loss of star Bilal Powell. The senior tailback's status is iffy again this week, but the Cardinals feel like they can run on anybody, and backup Jeremy Wright earned offensive player of the week honors last week. South Florida has one of the league's best defensive fronts and is allowing just a hair over 100 rushing yards per game in Big East play. This should be a fun strength vs. strength matchup to watch.

7. West Virginia offense vs. the Cincinnati defense: This is more like a weakness vs. weakness matchup. The Mountaineers have struggled mightily to score points in league play and have yet to reach the end zone in the second half in three Big East games. The offense has been heavily criticized, and Bill Stewart said he performed a complete evaluation of it during the bye week. He might like what he sees against a young and generous Cincinnati defense that's given up an average of 32 points its last three games.

8. Zach Attack is Back: Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros should return from a knee injury this week. The Bearcats mustered only seven point against Syracuse without him, but they're clearly a different team with the league's most productive quarterback at the helm. He'll have to go to work against a West Virginia defense ranked No. 4 in the FBS. Who'll win out?

9. Rutgers offensive line vs. Syracuse: The Scarlet Knights gave up a whopping nine sacks last year in a 31-13 humbling at Syracuse. Now they come into this year's rematch with the nation's least protective offensive line. The Orange have terrorized opposing quarterbacks all season, especially on the road, with their aggressive pressure. Can this O-line, which collapsed again last week late at South Florida, do anything to stop the pass rush?

10. Delone Carter vs. the Rutgers defense: Rutgers' defense has allowed three straight Big East teams to produce a 100-yard rusher against it. Now comes Carter, the Syracuse workhorse tailback who ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards. The Orange passing game hasn't done a whole lot lately, so much of the game plan figures to revolve around Carter and the ground attack as it did in last year's win.

Syracuse leads Louisville at half

November, 6, 2010
11/06/10
1:55
PM ET
Syracuse leads Louisville 17-14 after an entertaining and surprisingly high-scoring first half.

The Cardinals led 14-7 late in the first quarter, but the Orange made some nice adjustments to the Louisville defensive pressure in the second quarter. Louisville was getting to Ryan Nassib with a lot of blitzing up the middle, but Syracuse finally started picking it up and pounded the ball on the ground in a 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive.

And it was pressure by the Orange that led to the go-ahead score. Defensive end Mikhail Marinovich came in unblocked and drilled quarterback Justin Burke, knocking the ball free near the Louisville 20 late in the half. Syracuse cashed in with a short field goal.

As Doug Marrone said this week, these teams are evenly matched. Syracuse has done a great job of slowing down the Big East's best rushing offense as Louisville tailbacks have produced 56 yards on 10 carries in the half. Of course, it hurts that Bilal Powell isn't playing.

The Orange found some running room of their own in the second quarter, and Delone Carter already has 78 yards.

Both teams are playing a physical style and applying lots of pressure defensively, which could lead to some big plays in the second half. Syracuse is 30 minutes away from clinching its first bowl bid since 2004.

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