NCF Nation: Desi Cullen
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Bulls and bears are the lingo of the stock market, while Bulls and Bearcats are the top teams in the Big East. Coincidence? Well, yeah. But that's one way to introduce this week's Big East stock report (with special teams our bonus category this week):
1. Nate Allen: The South Florida safety has always had NFL-caliber talent, and he's living up to that his senior year. He played great at Florida State and had two interceptions at Syracuse.
2. Mike Williams: His stock was already high, but now it's soaring. The Syracuse receiver continues to shine and had 13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns against South Florida despite the Bulls knowing he's their best playmaker. Is Williams the best receiver in the Big East? Right now, yes.
3. West Virginia special teams: After looking shaky in the spring and earlier in the season, the Mountaineers are improving in the kicking game. Punter Scott Kozlowski was the Big East special teams player of the week. West Virginia allowed 25.5 yards per return on its much-maligned kickoff coverage team -- not great, but better than its season average.
4. Cincinnati fundraising: The school announced that donors had matched a $1 million private gift for an athletics project that includes long-awaited football practice fields. No better time to strike than when your football team is in the top 10. Construction of those fields is the only way the school has a prayer of keeping Brian Kelly.
5. Ray Graham: Dion Lewis isn't the only freshman running back capable of big things at Pitt. Graham bounced back from a first-half fumble to post 75 yards and a touchdown at Louisville. He's got a little LeSean McCoy flair to his game as well.
1. Cincinnati's time of possession: Opponents are trying their best to keep the Bearcats off the field, and Cincinnati has had the ball for a little more than 35 minutes in its last two games combined.
2. West Virginia's pass defense: The losses of Ellis Lankster and Quinton Andrews have hurt more than expected. The Mountaineers have been sliced up by both Auburn and Colorado, though they did pick off the Buffaloes' Cody Hawkins three times last week.
3. Syracuse's pass defense: Without starting defensive back Phillip Thomas, the Orange gave up two huge passing plays against South Florida. Thomas will be back this week. Could we see a shootout in the Carrier Dome this Saturday between Greg Paulus and Jarrett Brown?
4. Steve Kragthorpe: Just when you thought the Louisville coach's stock couldn't get any lower, his home stadium empties in the second half as Pitt outscores the Cardinals 28-0. Kragthorpe took over as offensive coordinator this season, and his team is last in the Big East in scoring. Speculating on the next coach has become a full-time obsession in Louisville. Kragthorpe had better beat Southern Miss this week.
5. South Florida's kicking game: Eric Schwartz missed a field goal and an extra point at Syracuse, one week after missing two at Florida State. The Bulls may lose a game because of their field goal troubles at some point this year.
Player of the year race: Offense
1. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati: Has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,493 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions.
2. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Has rushed 73 times for 540 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 7.4 yards per carry.
3. Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse: Has 41 catches for 623 yards and five touchdowns.
4. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Has 38 catches for 517 yards and seven touchdowns.
5. Dion Lewis, RB, Pitt: Has rushed 107 times for 580 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
Player of the year race: Defense
1. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Still the anchor for the Bulls' dominant defensive front.
2. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: This week's game at Pitt will be big to prove whether he was an early-season wonder or a yearlong force.
3. Nate Allen, S, South Florida: See above.
4. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Has three interceptions and 31 tackles on the year.
5. Greg Romeus, DE, Pitt: Had 3.5 sacks last week and is now second in the league in that category.
Player of the year race: Special teams
1. Ryan Lichtenstein, K, Syracuse: Has converted 9 of 10 field goals this season, including the game-winner against Northwestern.
2. Mardy Gilyard, KR, Cincinnati: Numbers are down for last year's winner of this award, but he does have a punt return touchdown.
3. Cameron Saddler, KR, Pitt: Freshman is averaging 31.5 yards per return.
4. Trent Guy, KR, Louisville: Senior is averaging 30.2 yards per return.
5. Desi Cullen, P, UConn: Leads league with a 43.9-yard average.
Feast on these links. They're low-carb.
- Rutgers made waves in recruiting this summer by landing a bevy of high-profile, early commitments. But that recruiting class might be falling apart. The Star-Ledger's Tom Luicci writes that Malcolm Bunche, a 6-foot-6, 318-pound defensive tackle from Delaware has reopened his recruitment. Rutgers already lost running back Desmond Scott, who changed his commitment to Duke, and top center prospect Mark Brazinski has reopened his recruitment as well.
- Cincinnati players are expressing full confidence in redshirt freshmen Zach Collaros and Chazz Anderson at the quarterback position, Bill Koch says in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Brian Kelly has not announced a starter and won't do so until game time.
"My sense right now is that I want Marshall to prepare for multiple quarterbacks, and I think each one of them brings something different to the table."
- Kicker Tony Ciaravino and punter Desi Cullen are two of the unsung heroes for Connecticut, Desmond Conner writes in the Hartford Courant.
- South Florida is carrying the biggest target in the Big East now, a role the Bulls have had limited experience in handling, Greg Auman writes in the St. Petersburg Times.
- How much has coordinator Ron English meant to the Louisville defense? One Cardinal says "everything." The Courier-Journal's Michael Grant has the story.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Greetings from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, site of the first Big East league game of 2008 between Connecticut and Louisville.
Walking into the stadium this evening, I heard a local radio DJ trying to fire up some fans. He yelled, "There won't be a fair catch tonight!" And people cheered. So yeah, that play from last year at UConn is still on Louisville fans' minds. Will it have any effect on the game? I think the Cardinals players want some revenge but won't do anything like hit a UConn punt returner. Should be a funny reaction from the crowd, though, when the first Husky signals for a fair catch.
I'm expecting this to be a really close game. I noticed that, for amusement purposes only, Louisville is a three-point favorite. Three points is usually the benefit given to a home team. So the wise guys think these teams are closely matched as well.
Weather: It's a perfect early fall day here, with temperatures in the high 70s at kickoff. It is windy, though, which could play a role in the kicking game and maybe some deeper passes.
Speaking of special teams, UConn punter Desi Cullen is a Louisville native who was photographed in The Courier-Journal hanging from a Papa John's goal post after the Cardinals beat Florida State in 2002. Cullen calls himself "The Kentucky Hammer" because he likes to deliver hits after he kicks.
Injuries: Louisville will be without safety Richard Raglin (wrist) but should get All-Big East left tackle George Bussey (ankle) back after he missed one game. Receiver Scott Long (foot) looks doubtful, and wideout Troy Pascley (hip) may not play at all. For UConn, defensive tackle Alex Polito (ankle) did not make the trip and will be replaced by Kendall Reyes.
The game is sold out. Louisville is wearing its all black uniforms for the second week in a row.
That's all for now, but I'll have much more throughout the evening ...