NCF Nation: Derrell Smith

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.

The Big East's all-bowl team

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


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.


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.


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.
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.'s All-Big East team

December, 8, 2010
Welcome to the 2010 All-Big East team. Unlike the official league team, we don't do ties here. One man, one spot.

I compiled the following list after watching each team the entire season and through consultation this week with some coaches throughout the league. Later on today, I'll offer up some thoughts on the selections, explaining my picks and the toughest omissions.

Here is the team:


QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Jordan Todman, Connecticut
RB: Bilal Powell, Louisville
WR: Armon Binns, Cincinnati
WR: Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh
TE: Cameron Graham, Louisville
OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh
OG: Zach Hurd, Connecticut
C: Sampson Genus, South Florida
OG: Mark Wetterer, Louisville
OT: Byron Stingily, Louisville


DE: Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh
DT: Chris Neild, West Virginia
DT: Terrell McClain, South Florida
DE: Julian Miller, West Virginia
LB: Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut
LB: Derrell Smith, Syracuse
LB: J.T. Thomas, West Virginia
CB: Brandon Hogan, West Virginia
CB: Johnny Patrick, Louisville
S: Robert Sands, West Virginia
S: Sidney Glover, West Virginia


K: Dave Teggart, Connecticut
P: Dan Hutchins, Pittsburgh
KR: Lindsey Lamar, South Florida
PR: Doug Beaumont, Louisville

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 6, 2010
Kansas State Wildcats (7-5) vs. Syracuse Orange (7-5)

Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Kansas State take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Take me at my word, I'll spare you any sort of Apple humor for the duration of this game's coverage. That said, the two Manhattans will be linked when Kansas State heads to the Pinstripe Bowl, even though Yankee Stadium is in the Bronx.

Daniel Thomas carried the Wildcats to an early 4-0 start, but Kansas State struggled to a 1-4 finish in conference play before finishing the season with a win over North Texas to finish 7-5. Thomas, a senior, will get a chance to prove his worth to NFL scouts with a big game against Syracuse, and he'll be coming off a 269-yard performance in the win over North Texas.

Kansas State found a new offense late in the season when it leaned on quarterback Collin Klein, who played receiver last season. Carson Coffman still sees plenty of time, but the Wildcats offense, even if it's one-dimensional with Klein, can be dangerous. In a 39-14 win over Texas earlier this year, the Wildcats needed just four pass attempts to jump out to a 39-0 lead. They ran for 261 yards in that game, and Klein and Thomas both topped 100 yards.

If Syracuse doesn't see enough Cats on Broadway, its front seven will have its hands full with these 'Cats.

No promises on other New York/baseball humor.

Syracuse take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Syracuse won't even be leaving its own state for its bowl game, but there was a time not long ago when the postseason seemed far, far away.

Second-year coach Doug Marrone has engineered a remarkable turnaround, leading the Orange to their first bowl game since 2004. They actually were still in position to win the Big East title in their final conference game, but losing three of the past four to end the year took a little cheer out of the banner year.

Defense powered the improvement, as coordinator Scott Shafer's heavy blitz schemes caused problems for Big East teams all year. Led by tackling-machine linebackers Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue, Syracuse ranked sixth in the FBS in total defense.

This is an offensively-challenged team that sputtered to the finish line, scoring just 26 points in its final three games combined. That could spell trouble against a Kansas State team that averaged 33.5 points per game this season. The Orange are in no way built for a Big 12-style shootout.

But they should have a heavily pro-Syracuse crowd at Yankee Stadium. And after such a long absence from the postseason, the Orange are just happy to be bowling anywhere.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 13

November, 24, 2010
1. Battle for first place: The three-team jostling match for the Big East's BCS bid could be down to two, or possibly just one team by Saturday. Pittsburgh can clinch the title with a win over West Virginia and a Connecticut loss to Cincinnati. West Virginia could force a first-place tie by beating Pitt, and UConn hopes for a Pittsburgh loss since it holds the tiebreakers over the Panthers and Mountaineers. This thing could be decided this weekend or set us up for an exciting finish next week.

2. Desperate measures: The margin of error is gone for three Big East teams. Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers each have six losses and must win this weekend in order to preserve bowl hopes. Louisville and Rutgers play in a postseason elimination game, while the Bearcats hope to get back to any bowl after winning the past two conference titles.

[+] EnlargeTino Sunseri
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTino Sunseri has led Pitt to victories in four of the team's past five games.
3. Brawl, y'all: The Backyard Brawl is always worth watching, especially with the stakes raised this year. And it should be a brawl. West Virginia's defense is allowing just 12.9 points per game, while Pitt has held opponents to under 16 points in conference play. A lot will ride on the shoulders of sophomore quarterbacks Tino Sunseri and Geno Smith, who could be making the first of three starts against one another. Can either offensive line handle the pressure from the opposing defense? Can either team mount a successful running game? This one might come down to one or two big plays, and both teams have the playmakers to spring one.

4. Pitt receivers vs. West Virginia's secondary: The Panthers and Mountaineers are the two most-talented teams in the league, which leads to some outstanding individual matchups. There's the head-to-head rushing battle between Noel Devine and Dion Lewis, Bruce Irvin versus Jason Pinkston on third down, Tino/Geno, etc. But the one I'm most looking forward to seeing is the Panthers wideouts going against the Mountaineers defensive backs. Jon Baldwin had eight catches for 127 yards last year, but West Virginia's Robert Sands had a key interception in the fourth quarter. Baldwin will likely get matched up against the Big East's best cornerback, Brandon Hogan, while league interceptions leader Keith Tandy will take on Mike Shanahan. Pitt has the tallest receivers in the league, but the 6-foot-5 Sands can give them trouble. Should be fun to watch all day.

5. Heinz special: In a game expected to be close and defensive-minded, special teams could make the difference. Watch what Pitt does if it stalls outside the West Virginia red zone. Panthers kicker Dan Hutchins has been money from inside the 40 but is just 1-for-5 from 40 yards and out, including last week's miss at South Florida that could have sealed the game. Pitt has struggled with special-teams plays in big games (see: Cincinnati 2009, UConn 2010). West Virginia won last year's game on a Tyler Bitancurt field goal. And remember the Heinz Field turf will be chewed up, which could affect footing on kicks.

6. Revved-up Bearcats: An arena football game broke out at Nippert Stadium last week as Cincinnati put up 69 points and 661 yards against Rutgers. The Bearcats got back to balance, as the previously missing running game exploded behind Isaiah Pead's 213-yard effort. And they had only one turnover. The performance was no surprise to Connecticut, which saw Cincinnati put up 711 total yards in last year's 47-45 win over the Huskies. But this year's Bearcats have been far more inconsistent. Did they finally find a groove, or was last week's outburst a product of Rutgers' implosion? West Virginia and Pitt will be hoping for the former.

7. UConn pass attack: The book on beating UConn has been to load up against the run and make quarterback Zach Frazer make plays. The Huskies, after all, have the Big East's worst passing offense. But Cincinnati can't stop anybody through the air; receivers often roam wild in the Bearcats' secondary. The last four Big East opponents have scored at least 31 points against Cincinnati, so Connecticut should have plenty of opportunities to connect on big strikes.

8. A little respect: The Big East went just 2-11 against BCS conference opponents this season, with the wins coming over Maryland (West Virginia) and Vanderbilt (UConn). This week brings a final chance to salvage a little nonconference respect before bowl season, and the opportunities involve the BCS league with which the Big East is most closely aligned: the ACC. In fact, both games (South Florida at Miami and Boston College at Syracuse) feature former Big East teams. The Bulls will be playing for more than league pride; they're looking to score another victory over one of the Big Three in their own state. The Orange, meanwhile, are trying to put a positive cap on a breakthrough season, and to finally give their home fans something to cheer about.

9. Points at a premium? Syracuse has mostly won games in spite of its offense, and the same can be said for Boston College. The Eagles rank just 106th nationally in scoring and will be without star tailback Montel Harris this week. The Orange, meanwhile, are 94th in the country in points scored. Neither Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib nor BC counterpart Chase Rettig will blow you away with stats. This could be a big-time defensive battle featuring some outstanding linebackers: Luke Kuechly and Mark Herzlich for the Eagles, and Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue for the Orange. And speaking of tough sledding for the offense, how is South Florida going to move the ball on a fast, aggressive defense that turned Pitt into mush earlier this season?

10. Louisville's pressure vs. Rutgers' offense: Just about every week, we wonder how Rutgers' offensive line is going to hold up against an opposing defense. It's clear by now what the answer is: not well. The Scarlet Knights have another major challenge Friday against a Cardinals defense that is second in the league in sacks and has been playing great overall for the past month or so. Both teams really need this game (see No. 2) and Louisville would like nothing more than to clinch bowl eligibility in the same place it was humiliated at the end of the 2008 season.

Jordan Todman proves doubters wrong

November, 18, 2010
After running for nearly 1,200 yards as a sophomore, Connecticut's Jordan Todman already proved he was a major talent. But that was not enough. Todman wanted to show that he could be a workhorse, too.

Todman split carries almost evenly last season with Andre Dixon, a bigger back who often took the between-the-tackles duties while the smaller Todman ran off the edges. With Dixon gone, there were questions coming into this year whether the 5-foot-9, 193-pound Todman could be the every-down tailback or whether UConn would go with another tandem.

[+] EnlargeJordan Todman
AP Photo/Jessica HillJordan Todman has proved this season that he can be an every-down running back.
Nobody is asking that question anymore. Especially not after Todman's 37-carry, 222-yard performance in last Thursday's win over Pittsburgh.

"I heard people saying, 'Maybe he's too small' or 'He doesn't weigh enough to withstand all the carries,'" Todman said. "Well, 37 carries might have caused them to say 'Maybe he can do it.' I enjoy proving people wrong."

The Pitt game was the second time this year that Todman has had 37 carries and his third game of at least 33 attempts. Why wouldn't the Huskies keep handing him the ball? He has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of his past 10 games (last month's Louisville game, a fiasco for the entire offense, was the only exception).

Todman has rushed for 1,176 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing a game with an elbow injury earlier this season. He ranks as the No. 2 running back in the FBS, continuing UConn's outstanding running back tradition. Donald Brown led the nation in rushing in 2008, and Dixon joined Todman as a 1,000-yard back last year.

(Yet, inexplicably and indefensibly, the Doak Walker Award voters don't seem to notice. They didn't include Brown as a finalist in 2008 and left Todman off the list of semifinalists this year. "It doesn't bother me," Todman said. "That's something based on everybody else's opinion.")

Despite his heavy workload, Todman said he hasn't been sore or "walking around limping." He credits that to his offseason work, in which he attacked the squat rack and ran every sprint and suicide as if it were the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl.

"He made a concerted effort in the weight room last winter, spring and summer," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "He's more durable this year. He's stronger and a little bit thicker.

"We ran him outside most of time last year, but now he's running outside, running inside and doing everything we ask of him. And not too many times do people get good shots at him, because he's a little bit slippery."

Connecticut's game plan always revolves around running the ball behind its terrific offensive line, and that will be the case again Saturday against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Todman ran for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Orange in last year's UConn win.

"He's got good speed, good burst and he breaks out of cuts really fast," Syracuse linebacker Derrell Smith said. "It doesn't matter how big you are if you've got heart, and he's definitely got a lot of heart."

Todman doesn't come from a major recruiting hotbed. He grew up in New Bedford, Mass., not far from the Rhode Island border. He was the second-leading rusher in Massachusetts history, yet many prospective colleges wanted him to switch to defensive back. ESPN's recruiting profile of him ranked him as only the 118th-best running back in the class and said his "physical tools may be more suited on defense for the Division 1 level."

But Connecticut told him he could play running back and see time right away as a true freshman, and it helped that the school was within close driving distance for his two families: his biological one and the Cruz family that he lived with during his high school years. He chose the Huskies over Purdue and Boston College.

Soon, he'll face the same decision that Brown did in 2008: whether to go to the NFL a year early.

"That's in the back of my mind," he said. "But at the same time, I'm focusing on Syracuse and us winning out and possibly winning the Big East. Obviously, [going to the NFL] is everybody's dream in the game of football. At the end of year when it's time to look at it, I'll take it from there."

Whenever he decides to make the jump, Todman will have to prove himself all over again. Good thing he enjoys doing that.

Syracuse happy but not done yet

November, 17, 2010
For his first four years, Derrell Smith put in all the hard work that goes with being a football player with none of the rewards at the end.

"It sucked," the Syracuse senior linebacker said. "I know a couple people from back home who went to Penn State, and they'd go to bowl games. I'd watch them on TV and think, 'I wish I just had one opportunity to do that.'"

Smith and the other Orange players could rejoice after last week's 13-10 victory over Rutgers, their seventh win of the season. Syracuse is finally going bowling again for the first time since 2004 and is one of the feel-good stories of the 2010 season.

Head coach Doug Marrone set that as a goal way back in January, and his team delivered.

"He told us, 'Look at the schedule, and a find a game that you think you can't win,'" Smith said. "Every game we saw, we thought it was possible we could win. If you just believe, you can do it and be successful."

But while the Orange are thrilled to have achieved their goal, they're not googling "Beef 'O' Brady's" or dreaming of their bowl gift bags just yet. There's still important business at hand.

They host Connecticut on Saturday in their Big East finale. A win there would make Syracuse 5-2 in conference play and would be assured of at least a share of the league title if Pitt loses one more game. A BCS bid is still very much possible. Add in the regular-season finale, and the Orange could actually win -- can you believe it? -- nine games.

That's why Marrone, who is making a case for national coach of the year in just his second season, isn't squawking about achieving bowl eligibility.

"We can’t really say what we’ve accomplished when we still have games left to play," he said. "I would lie to you if I said we haven’t accomplished anything; we’ve accomplished a lot of what our goals were.

"I’ll talk about it after the season is over. Right now the only thing on my mind is Connecticut."

Smith and his teammates know that they've helped the program take a big step -- "hopefully this will help bring in some recruits and people will start to respect us more," he said. But instead of feeling satisfied with going to a bowl, they can help themselves get to an even bigger bowl by winning some more.

"The season's not over, so we can't just dwell on it," he said. "We have to look forward to the future."
Take that and rewind it back ...

Team of the week: Connecticut. Well, we can't give this award to Syracuse every week. Congrats go to the Huskies, who looked dead in the water a week earlier before rallying to beat West Virginia for the first time ever on Friday night.

Game of the week: UConn's 16-13 victory at least had the drama of overtime, though it was by no means a thing of beauty. None of the weekend's three games will be remembered as instant classics (unless you're a fan of the winning team, perhaps).

Biggest play: Can't pick just one, so I'll go with a three-way tie.

[+] EnlargeRyan Clarke
David Butler II/US PresswireRyan Clarke's fumble cost West Virginia a chance to win in overtime.
Ryan Clarke's fumble near the goal line on West Virginia's overtime possession cost the Mountaineers a shot at victory and could make the rest of Bill Stewart's fall very uncomfortable.

Syracuse linebacker Derrell Smith's interception at the goal line prevented Cincinnati to cutting the score to 17-14 early in the second half, and he returned it 60 yards to boot.

And finally, Pittsburgh defensive end Jabaal Sheard slammed into Louisville quarterback Adam Froman and jarred the ball loose, resulting in Myles Caragein's rumble the other way to the Cardinals' 5. Pitt would then score to go up 20-3 and basically salt the game away.

Best call: Doug Marrone decided to go for it on 4th and 3 from the Cincinnati 36 on the first play of the second quarter. Syracuse completed a 19-yard pass and went on to score the game's first touchdown. Marrone said he planned on going for the long field goal until the first quarter ended and the wind that was at the Orange backs suddenly was in their face. Even time is on the Orange's side right now.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse. This was a weird weekend where there were no real standout offensive performances. Carter wins almost by default for his 19-carry, 109-yard effort.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Connecticut linebacker Sio Moore had 17 tackles, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the Huskies' win. His play to strip the ball out of Noel Devine's hands in the second quarter was especially impressive.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): UConn kicker Dave Teggart was 3-for-3 on field goals, including the 27-yard game-winner in overtime.

Worst hangover: West Virginia. For the second straight week. After a week of criticism over their offense, the Mountaineers responded with just one touchdown against a Huskies defense that had been giving up big plays all season.

Strangest moment: A two-way tie between two off-the-field occurrences.

The first was UConn fans rushing the field after their team beat West Virginia in overtime. I get it that the Huskies had never beaten the Mountaineers and it was an exciting finish, but rushing the field after beating an unranked, 5-3 team still qualifies as odd.

And then there was the surreal site Saturday of Cincinnati fans leaving en masse and booing the home team as Syracuse thrashed the two-time defending Big East champs. Last time the two played at Nippert Stadium, the Orange were in their last game under a lame-duck coach while Cincinnati was on its way to the Orange Bowl. The irony was not lost on Syracuse players.

"We were talking about that on the sidelines," Derrell Smith said.

Want a strong argument for Big East expansion? Just check out this week's schedule, which features only one weekend game (Games listed in descending order of interest/importance):

Louisville (4-4, 1-2 Big East) at Syracuse (6-2, 3-1): A Louisville-Syracuse matchup that has meaning? You betcha. The Orange can clinch bowl eligibility, while the Cardinals need to find a couple of victories still to get there. Basement Bowl no more. (, Noon ET)

Rutgers (4-3, 1-1) at South Florida (4-3, 1-2): On Wednesday, it's business time for the Scarlet Knights and Bulls as both battle to move up in the league pecking order. (ESPN2, Wednesday, 7 ET).

Byes: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Connecticut.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 30, 2010
Sio Moore, LB, Connecticut: Moore had 17 tackles, three of them for loss, and two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in the Huskies' 16-13 overtime victory over West Virginia.

Derrell Smith, LB, Syracuse: Smith had a 60-yard interception return and a fumble recovery in the Orange's 31-7 win at Cincinnati.

Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh: Sheard had two forced fumbles and two sacks in the Panthers' 20-3 win over Louisville.

Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse: Carter ran 19 times for 109 yards in the Orange victory.

Doug Marrone, head coach, Syracuse: Marrone is loathe to accept much congratulation right now lest his team lose focus. But he and his staff deserve recognition for getting the Orange to six wins and assuring the team's first non-losing season since 2004.

Orange prove they're here to stay

October, 30, 2010
CINCINNATI -- Yes, it's Halloween weekend, and yes, Syracuse's mascot is an orange spheroid.

But, no, this is not the story of the Great Pumpkin.

These Orange can no longer be discounted as an October tall tale. They are, in fact, for real -- and pointing toward a big November.

Doug Marrone
AP Photo/Al BehrmanLed by Doug Marrone, Syracuse has won its first three league road games for the first time since 2001, holding those foes to 10 points per game.
Incontrovertible proof arrived Saturday at what used to be a haunted house for Big East visitors: Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium. Two years ago, Syracuse trudged out of here a 20-point loser in the last game of the Greg Robinson era as giddy Bearcats fans pelted the field with oranges.

Midway through the fourth quarter this time, orange was again the dominant color scheme, but only because the visiting fans dotted the otherwise empty stands. The longtime league basement dweller ushered in a new Big East world order with a 31-7 humbling of the two-time defending league champs.

"Yeah, I remember," senior safety Max Suter said when asked about the last trip here. "It was a terrible feeling. They knew they were going to win and everybody brought their oranges. I feel like people aren't going to do that anymore."

It's no longer even safe to schedule your homecoming around the Orange visit. Once mere parade dressing, Syracuse has spoiled three other teams' fall celebrations in a row (South Florida, West Virginia and Cincinnati) while winning its first three league road games for the first time since 2001. More importantly, the Orange improved to 6-2 overall to guarantee the school's first non-losing season since 2004.

"This is the most games I've ever won in college," senior linebacker Derrell Smith said. "We may be approaching the most games I've won throughout my college career. It feels great to go out with a bang."

The bang could get louder. The Orange have already navigated what looked like the most difficult portion of the schedule, and here is how the closing stretch shapes up: Home games against Louisville (4-4), Connecticut (4-4) and Boston College (3-5) with the lone road game at Rutgers (4-3). Who's to say that Syracuse can't win all of those?

"I don't want this dream to end," defensive tackle Bud Tribbey said.

Neither did the small but giddy Syracuse contingent who stuck around in their seats long after the game to cheer players and coaches exiting the locker room. When head coach Doug Marrone emerged to talk to the media, the fans shouted, "We love Doug!" Marrone quickly retreated back up the visitors' tunnel, seeming uncomfortable by the adulation.

The second-year head coach has worked wonders at his alma mater, but he's not embracing the success yet. He remained reserved in his postgame comments, allowing only that the sixth win was a "step in the right direction."

"We haven't accomplished anything," he said. "We have a long way to go and a lot of improvement to make, and we can make it. We're a 6-2 football team trying to fight and scratch and get another win."

Perhaps Marrone realizes how amazing this turnaround has been. The program is still so low in numbers and depth that the team hasn't practiced in full pads for the past several weeks, fearing injury.

Defense has carried them this far. The Orange limited the Big East's top scoring team to one score Saturday, a week after shutting out West Virginia for the final 46 minutes. They've held Big East road opponents an average of 10 points per game.

And after years of suffering, Syracuse seems to be catching some breaks.

Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros, whom Orange defensive coordinator Scott Shafer called his "favorite player in the league" sat out with a bruised knee, and replacement Chazz Anderson couldn't replicate his production. Balls are bouncing the Orange's way, too; they picked up two Cincinnati fumbles Saturday, and when fullback Adam Harris lost the ball on the goal line, center Ryan Bartholomew fell on it for a touchdown.

[+] EnlargeDerrell Smith
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDerrell Smith's 60-yard interception return for Syracuse thwarted a crucial drive by Cincinnati.
When the Bearcats drove down the field to start the second half and threatened to make the score 17-14, Anderson inexplicably threw the ball straight to Smith. He returned it 60 yards, setting up yet another short field for the offense -- four of the team's five scoring drives began in Cincinnati territory. Syracuse capitalized by scoring its most points this year against an FBS opponent.

Are the Orange for real? They're real enough for this year's Big East. Cincinnati has lost its edge, dropping to 3-5 and at severe risk of missing the postseason. West Virginia has lost two straight and is tied for last place. Only Pitt has outplayed Syracuse in Big East action, and the Panthers' 45-14 win in the Carrier Dome gives them a virtual two-game cushion in the league standings.

This is a team playing with passion, physicality and confidence, and the upperclassmen say Marrone has instilled a togetherness they've never before experienced.

"Words can't even explain it," Suter said. "It's awesome that this team came from what it was to what it is right now. It's awesome. Just awesome."

And it's a story you can now safely believe in.

Cincinnati can't stay out of own way

October, 30, 2010
CINCINNATI -- Remember last year when it took forever for Cincinnati to lose a fumble? The Bearcats almost never turned the ball over.

Turnovers are like injuries. They're unpredictable and seem to even out over the years. Maybe that is what's happening this year with Cincinnati.

The Big East's worst team in turnover margin has shot itself in the foot over and over again today.

The Bearcats came out in the second half with a really nice drive, picking up four third downs on the way to the Syracuse 6-yard line. But then Chazz Anderson inexplicably threw the ball right to Derrell Smith on the goal line, and Smith returned it to the Cincinnati 37. Anderson had a lane and it looked like he could run right into the end zone, but he threw it, and none of his teammates were near the throw.

And so it was another short field for Syracuse, which has done a great job of capitalizing on all three Cincinnati turnovers. This time, it was a touchdown pass from Ryan Nassib to Antwon Bailey for a 24-7 lead.

The new world order in the Big East appears to be taking shape, and Cincinnati has itself to blame for falling from the top.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 6

October, 7, 2010
1. Conference play begins: The Big East was brutal in nonconference play, but the plus side of that is every team must feel like it can compete for the league title. The race for the league crown officially begins this weekend with two league games as we start to sort the contenders from the pretenders.

[+] EnlargeJordan Todman
AP Photo/Jessica HillJordan Todman has rushed for 638 yards and seven touchdowns this season for Connecticut.
2. UConn's run game vs. Rutgers' defense: It's your classic push/pull conflict in Friday night's conference opener. Connecticut leads the Big East in rushing at 209 yards per game and has the league's top tailback in Jordan Todman. Rutgers is ranked seventh nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 80 yards per game on the ground. Odds are that the Scarlet Knights are going to score a lot in this game, so if they can't win this battle, it could be a difficult night.

3. Rutgers' quarterback situation: Can Tom Savage play despite bruised ribs and busted-up fingers on his throwing hand? Will true freshman Chas Dodd be asked to win a conference game? Will Mohamed Sanu spend the night in the Wildcat? Rutgers has all kinds of questions at the most important position as its most important games begin.

4. How real is Syracuse?: The Orange are off to their best start in years at 3-1 but now must do something they've never accomplished: beat South Florida. Ryan Nassib leads the Big East in passing efficiency, but the Bulls are tops in the league in pass efficiency defense. Both teams have feasted on the chaff of their schedules; let's see how they do with the wheat.

5. B.J. vs. the blitz: One thing we know Syracuse defensive coordinator Scott Shafer likes to do is bring pressure. You can bet Shafer saw Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels toss four interceptions against Florida and would like to get him similarly rattled under heat on Saturday. Has Daniels' decision-making improved? He'll get Sterling Griffin back at receiver, which should help his options. But he'll have to keep his cool when guys like Chandler Jones, Doug Hogue and Derrell Smith are chasing after him.

6. Pitt vs. the spread: It's no secret that Pittsburgh has had trouble defending the spread offense and particularly Brian Kelly's brand of playcalling. The Panthers will face their old Big East nemesis in South Bend this week, but Notre Dame's attack should look pretty similar. Moving Dom DeCicco down from safety could be a boost for the linebackers trying to cover guys like Theo Riddick and Kyle Rudolph in space, but Pitt's defense will have to play a whole lot better than it did against Miami or Utah to give the team a chance.

7. Can Pitt's offense get going?: Other than Ray Graham, the Panthers' offense hasn't done a whole lot this year. Even against Florida International last week, Pitt had 16 points after three quarters. Notre Dame's defense isn't special, but the Irish have enough playmakers to cause problems if the newly restructured offensive line isn't sound. Dion Lewis will also return to the starting lineup and try to help Graham and the running game. It would be nice if Jon Baldwin, who had five catches for 142 yards last year against the Domers, could get involved, too.

8. Devine's durability: Noel Devine is still trying to recover from a bone bruise underneath his right big toe. Bill Stewart has a decision to make this week against UNLV: Let Devine work his way back or rest him for next Thursday's conference game against South Florida? Stewart will want to protect his star running back as much as possible, but job No. 1 is to beat the Rebels.

9. Cincinnati's comeback: The Bearcats finally looked like the defending Big East champs in a close loss to Oklahoma. That was two weeks ago. Can Cincinnati carry that momentum over into what should be a fairly sweat-free win against Miami of Ohio at home? Zach Collaros and the offense should slice through the RedHawks defense. At 1-3, Cincinnati needs to keep the positive vibes going, but mostly it just needs a victory.

10. Louisville over .500?: The Cardinals are heavily favored to beat a bad Memphis team at home, and their fans always enjoy defeating their old conference rivals. A win would make Louisville 3-2 for its first winning record of the season. For a team that won just four games a year ago, that would represent some pretty good work by Charlie Strong and his staff.

Big East stock report: Week 6

October, 6, 2010
Stock up

1. Ray Graham: Yeah, a 277-yard running day will make your stock go up. The Pittsburgh running back is averaging a whopping 9.5 yards per carry, and his 164 yards per game ranks third nationally.

2. UConn's second halves: In the past two weeks against Buffalo and Vanderbilt, the Hu have outscored their opponents 50-7. Now if UConn can just put together two halves like that in the same game.

3. Adam Froman: The Louisville quarterback has had two solid games in a row and now leads the Big East in total offense despite having several inexperienced receivers to work with.

[+] EnlargeRay Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicRay Graham rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns against Florida International last week.
4. Jeremy Deering: The Rutgers true freshman had four catches for 66 yards and was one of the lone bright spots in the loss to Tulane.

Stock down

1. Jon Baldwin's production: Baldwin had only two catches for 14 yards against Florida International and has just 15 catches for 211 yards on the season. It seems like he should put up those kinds of numbers every game, not over a four-game span.

2. Rutgers' offensive line: The Scarlet Knights have already allowed 13 sacks and have been a main cause of the school's continual offensive struggles.

3. Eric Schwartz: The USF kicker is just 1-of-5 on field-goal attempts this season and has now lost his job to Maikon Bonani.

4. D.J. Shoemate: Even with Robbie Frey injured, the USC transfer can't move up to No. 2 running back on UConn's depth chart right now.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Has more than 150 more rushing yards than the next closest player in the Big East.

2. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh: At this pace, he'll make a serious case.

3. Zach Collaros, QB, Cincinnati: Leads league in passing yards; will need big finish.

4. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: If bone bruise is healed, he should keep putting up stats.

5. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse: Top-rated passer in the league; schedule about to stiffen.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Robert Sands, S, West Virginia: Back on top after idle week.

2. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Leads league in tackles, is as steady as it gets.

3. Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers: Drops a bit because of poor team performance.

4. Derrell Smith, LB, Syracuse: Leader of a solid defense that needs to prove it in league play.

5. Jabaal Sheard, DE, Pittsburgh: Stepped up his game with Greg Romeus out.

Freshman of the year race:

1. Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia: Redshirt freshman has 10 catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns.

2. Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse: True frosh is starting at linebacker and has 24 tackles this season.

3. Terrance Mitchell, DB/KR, South Florida: Mitchell has already made an impact on special teams and is pushing for more playing time on defense.

4. Shamar Stephen, DT, Connecticut: Redshirt freshman has become a starting defensive tackle for Huskies.

5. Jeremy Deering, WR, Rutgers.

Big East stock report, Week 4

September, 22, 2010
Ring the bell. Time for the stock report to open.

Stock up

1. Ryan Nassib: It was only Maine, but still the Syracuse quarterback threw for five touchdowns in just his third college start. Nassib is completing nearly 59 percent of his passes and has eight scores. Says Doug Marrone: "I think he can be a special player."

2. Chandler Jones: Another Syracuse player makes the list. I thought this could be the year Jones turned in a breakout season, and the defensive end might be on his way after recording two sacks and a pair of forced fumbles against Maine.

3. Bruce Irvin: There was plenty of preseason hype about West Virginia's junior-college transfer, but there wasn't much production in the first two games. Then Irvin recorded three sacks against Maryland, and fans began chanting "Bruuuuuce!" He is looking pretty boss.

4. D.J. Woods: Cincinnati hasn't had a lot of bright spots in September, but Woods is one of them. The junior receiver had six catches for 146 yards and two scores in the loss at NC State.

Stock down

1. Zach Frazer: The UConn quarterback hasn't thrown an interception, but he's also completing only about half his passes. As a senior, he should be playing with more consistency, and the return of Cody Endres from suspension may put some pressure on him to get better.

2. Pitt's police blotter: Taken individually, the three arrests of Pittsburgh players since this summer don't have much in common with one another. The latest incident involved a walk-on offensive linemen fighting someone. But given the spotlight the program was already under after the earlier incidents involving Jabaal Sheard and Jason Douglas, you'd think Pitt's players would be on their best behavior.

3. Cincinnati's returns: The Bearcats rank second-to-last in the Big East in kickoff return average, with only one return over 30 yards this season, and last in punt return average. It's clear that Mardy Gilyard doesn't work here anymore.

4. West Virginia's big-play defense: The Mountaineers gave up 60- and 80-yard touchdown passes against Maryland, a week after giving up a 96-yard pass at Marshall. Think LSU might try to hit a few deep balls?

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Has eclipsed 100 yards in all three games for the Big East's lone ranked team. But he'd better watch out for teammate ...

2. Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith has simply been terrific since midway through the fourth quarter of the Marshall game and is the Big East's top-rated passer.

3. Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Leads the Big East in rushing and had a 192-yard day against Temple. But late fumble marred his performance.

4. Jon Baldwin, WR, Pitt: He can make a statement on Thursday versus Miami.

5. Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse: He leads the league with eight touchdown throws.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Joe Lefeged, S, Rutgers: He was great in the first two games. Let's see what he can do against North Carolina.

2. Robert Sands, S, West Virginia: Still a force, but he's obviously dealing with some health issues.

3. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Leads league in tackles, though his team needs to play better.

4. Derrell Smith, LB, Syracuse: Second behind Schaffer in tackles and had a big game against Maine.

5. Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut: Mostly held in check against Temple, though he did have a sack.