NCF Nation: Dom Natale
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Backup quarterbacks are not just the most popular guy on campus -- sometimes they're the most important. Just ask South Florida and UConn, who have each had to go to their No. 2 signal-callers this season already; neither team has lost since the backup has taken over. And in the most famous recent example in the Big East, Tony Pike stepped in for an injured Dustin Grutza last year. The rest, as they say, is history.
So let's take a look at how each team's backup quarterback situation stands right now, with a series of three categories:
Ready to roll
Cincinnati: The Bearcats went through a full deck of quarterbacks last year, and though Pike might be the best player in the league, at least Brian Kelly knows he has replacements at the ready. Zach Collaros would probably get the first call if something happened to Pike, but Chazz Anderson won games under center last year as well.
Pittsburgh: Though Tino Sunseri has barely played, he was in a heated three-way competition throughout the preseason to replace Bill Stull. And if Sunseri wasn't the answer, Pitt could call upon junior Pat Bostick, whose last two starts were wins at West Virginia and at Notre Dame.
Rutgers: Dom Natale was the starter on Labor Day but lost that status by halftime to rookie phenom Tom Savage. Natale stepped in for Savage last week at Maryland and may have to do so again as Savage overcomes a concussion. Natale is a fifth-year senior, but he's merely a game manager at this point; he was just 4-of-12 for 42 yards against Maryland.
Has the hype
South Florida: B.J. Daniels may turn out to be the story of the season in the Big East. As everybody knows by now, the redshirt freshman took over for conference all-time yardage leader Matt Grothe and promptly delivered a victory at Florida State. What if Daniels, who runs the ball a lot, gets banged up? The Bulls would turn to another redshirt frosh: Evan Landi. Jim Leavitt touted Landi just as highly as Daniels all spring and summer. Landi, who has gotten in at receiver this season, would have to prove Leavitt right a second time.
West Virginia: True freshman Geno Smith was one of the Mountaineers' prized recruits of the offseason, and he saw time late at Auburn when Jarrett Brown suffered a bruised shoulder. Smith has worlds of talent, but he's very raw.
Connecticut: Cody Endres has filled in superbly for the injured Zach Frazer and may hold onto the job. If Endres got hurt now, though, the Huskies would have to turn to freshman Mike Box. UConn coaches love his talent, and he might be the future of the program. But right now, he's completely green.
Louisville: Adam Froman might have won the starting job if he hadn't gotten hurt in training camp. Now he's backing up Justin Burke -- and seeing time as a blocker on kicking teams. The junior-college transfer drew praise for his offseason leadership, but he's an unproven commodity at this level.
Syracuse: Ryan Nassib was the designated starter this spring -- until Greg Paulus decided to return to the sport. Nassib has gotten in a few snaps this year and looked pretty sharp, but he's still a redshirt freshman who hasn't been in many pressurized situations.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
1. Quest for respect, Part II: The Big East made a good impression last week with wins over Oregon State, Northwestern and Baylor. This is another big week, with games on tap against ACC opponents Florida State, NC State and Maryland, plus two strong nonautomatic-qualifying schools in Fresno State and Utah. Once again, the Big East will have to be road warriors, as only the Fresno game is on league turf. Can the conference keep up the strong early showing?
2. B.J. Daniels: Has a Big East freshman quarterback ever made a more-scrutinized midseason debut? Not only does Daniels lead South Florida into a landmark game at Florida State, he'll do so in his hometown. The kid has a lot of talent. He'll need a lot of poise as well.
3. The Bulls' defensive line: South Florida's deep D-line is the strength of the team, led by George Selvie. They will have to win the battle against a much-improved FSU offensive line and get pressure on Christian Ponder, who's been very accurate when he's had time to throw. If the Bulls can't consistently control this matchup, they'll have a hard time winning the game.
4. Carolina line battles: You know when teams coached by Dave Wannstedt and Tom O'Brien meet, it's going to be a physical encounter. Pitt's defensive line is the best in the Big East, and its offensive line has overpowered the first three opponents. NC State has been shuffling its offensive line around all season because of injuries, which would seem to work in Pitt's favor. There are some pretty good defensive ends on display, with Pitt's Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard versus the Wolfpack's Willie Young. This might be one game where it's more fun to watch the line of scrimmage than follow the ball.
5. Russell Wilson vs. Bill Stull: NC State quarterback Wilson is allergic to interceptions, having set an NCAA record for most attempts without a pick. But Stull has actually been more accurate so far this season. Stull has better receivers, while Wilson can make plays with his feet. Both will be pressured, and they'll both have to keep making smart decisions.
6. Big plays in the little house: Is Nippert Stadium big enough to hold all the potential long-yardage plays in the Cincinnati-Fresno State game? Fresno running back Ryan Mathews is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball, and the Bulldogs like to throw deep whenever possible. The Bearcats put up plenty of game-breaking moments themselves. This could turn into an exciting shootout, though Cincinnati would rather make Fresno State have to put together sustained drives.
7. Who is Rutgers?: The Scarlet Knights were embarrassed in the opener against Cincinnati. Then they played two nobodies, with another nobody on tap next week. Maryland isn't good, having just lost to Middle Tennessee State and needing overtime to beat James Madison. So, even though it's on the road, the Scarlet Knights need to win this game to show that they're to be taken seriously in 2009.
8. Rutgers' quarterback situation: Tom Savage is questionable after the head injury he suffered against Florida International. His potential replacement, Dom Natale, did not fare well against Cincinnati. Whoever starts on Saturday will have the chance to make plays against a Maryland defense that gave up more than 30 points to both James Madison and Middle Tennessee State.
9. Big East vs. Mountain West: Louisville is a heavy underdog at Utah and probably shouldn't be expected to win there. But if the Cardinals somehow pull that off or even keep it close until the end, Big East supporters can tell Mountain West backers to shove it. If the MWC is really worthy of an automatic BCS slot, then its defending champ ought to be able to beat last year's last-place Big East team handily. Right?
10. Syracuse and UConn taking care of business: There shouldn't be much noteworthy coming out of the Orange's game against Maine and the Huskies' date with Rhode Island. The Big East has done a good job thus far of dispatching lower-level opponents and avoiding any Maryland-style disasters. Syracuse and UConn, which don't normally operate with a lot of margin for error, need to keep that streak intact.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Now what for Rutgers?
The Scarlet Knights' opener could hardly have been more disastrous. Picked by some, including yours truly, to win the Big East, they didn't look like they belonged in the same league as Cincinnati in a 47-15 home loss before a national audience.
|Rich Kane/Icon SMI|
|True freshman receiver Mohamed Sanu was one of the few bright spots for Rutgers, hauling in 10 catches for 101 yards.|
"We were a step behind physically, mentally, coaching ... the whole deal," head coach Greg Schiano said.
Even the team's supposed strengths -- defense and the offensive line -- failed to perform anywhere near expectations. The Bearcats neutralized Rutgers' front seven by going with a no-huddle, four-wide receiver scheme and having quarterback Tony Pike get rid of the ball quickly out of the shotgun. The Scarlet Knights got very little pressure and could not cover Cincinnati's receivers with linebackers and safeties -- or anyone else. Tackling, surprisingly, was also an issue.
The offensive line, which returned all five starters from a year ago, did not control the point of attack after Rutgers' first drive. Granted, the Scarlet Knights all but abandoned the running game after falling behind quickly, allowing Cincinnati to tee off on the pass rush, but the performance from what everybody assumed was the Big East's best line was uninspiring.
"We still have a lot of young guys on the offensive line," Schiano said. "We need to make large improvements before we're a dominant offensive line."
At least Schiano figured out his quarterback situation, by default. Dom Natale threw three interceptions in the second quarter, while the Jabu Lovelace package (he was 0-for-2 passing and ran for -2 yards on three carries) seems like a waste of time. The only spark from the offense came once true freshman Tom Savage came in to start the second half. The rookie showed a nice pocket presence and a strong arm, and it's hard to fathom why Schiano would start anyone but Savage from here on out.
"I was a little nervous going out there," said the highly recruited Savage, who completed 15 of 23 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in his debut. "The older guys helped me out and got me cooled down.
"It was awesome going out there, and I definitely got my feet wet. I just want to move forward now."
The receiver position caused a lot of worry in the offseason but proved to be one of the few solid areas in the opener. Tim Brown (seven catches, 86 yards) showed he could be a No. 1 target, while true freshman Mohamed Sanu (10 catches, 101 yards) looks like a future star.
For whatever reason, a lot of Schiano's teams seem to come out of the gates slowly and improve as the year goes along. Rutgers got blown out at home by Fresno State in last year's opener and started 1-5 before turning things around. At least the players have the experience of knowing how to bounce back.
"We'll find out what kind of team we are," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "Maybe last year will be fortunate for this team. We understand you have to just keep playing and prepare for the next game because it can snowball on you."
It's unlikely that the Scarlet Knights will build a similar hole for themselves this year, simply because of the schedule. They have two FCS teams -- Howard and Texas Southern -- in their next four games, which also include a home date with Florida International and a trip to Maryland, which also got blown out in Week 1.
The next Big East game doesn't come until Oct. 16, when Pitt visits Piscataway. By then, conceivably, Savage will have had time to grow and the team will have straightened its issues out.
But there's no denying that Monday's loss dealt a blow to the excitement around the program. A record crowd of 53,737 filled the newly expanded Rutgers Stadium for the opener, and even the emergence of Savage probably won't get fans excited to come out for Howard, Texas Southern and Florida International.
"I just hope that people have learned this is a resilient program, a resilient team and a resilient coach," Schiano said. "This program will be back and be fine. We'll be exciting and we will win games.
"We've got to do it, though, because this is an event-driven era. You've got to be an event, and part of the event is winning."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Here are 10 things to watch for in the Big East during opening weekend:
1. The Rutgers quarterback situation: Greg Schiano has created some intrigue by not naming a starter. Will it be Dom Natale or Tom Savage? How will Jabu Lovelace be used? If Natale, as many suspect, starts then how long before we see Savage? These are all things Cincinnati must be wondering as well.
2. The new-look Cincinnati defense: Though not as inexperienced as most people think, there's no doubt that the Bearcats will look much different on defense than what we saw in the Orange Bowl. How will the 3-4 alignment fare against Rutgers, which may opt to run the ball a lot because of its untested receivers and quarterbacks? Can anyone rush the passer as effectively as Connor Barwin did last season?
3. Cincinnati's offense vs. Rutgers defense: The Scarlet Knights always like to bring plenty of pressure, but they'll do so at their own risk against a potentially explosive passing game led by Tony Pike and Mardy Gilyard. On the flip side, Rutgers knocked several quarterbacks out of games last year, and Pike wasn't the most durable guy in 2008.
4. Greg Paulus tips off: Forgive the basketball verbiage, but everyone is curious to see how the former Duke point guard performs as the starting quarterback for Syracuse against Minnesota. After five years away from the game and with no college experience, Paulus would impress just by looking merely respectable.
5. The new-look Connecticut offense: The hurry-up Huskies debut their no-huddle attack at Ohio. Head coach Randy Edsall says he won't hold anything back from the playbook since the team will be on the road. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead should know Ohio's defense well since he used to be Akron's playcaller. Let's see if Zach Frazer and the rest of the UConn offense can put up some points and yardage totals.
6. The Jarrett Brown Era begins: No more Pat White, but no worries so far for West Virginia. That's how much confidence coaches and teammates have in the fifth-year senior, who's been excellent throughout the preseason. He'll take the field as the starter in an opening game for the first time, and he should be able to post big numbers against FCS opponent Liberty.
7. The Bill Stull/Tino Sunseri duet: Stull is the starting quarterback at Pitt, but fans are clamoring to see redshirt freshman Sunseri under center. They'll get their wish at some point during the Youngstown State game. If Stull has a pedestrian -- or worse -- day and Sunseri shines, that might cause a quarterback controversy going forward. Or maybe Stull plays great and quiets his critics for the time being.
8. Pitt's new McCoys: OK, so it's unfair to compare the new Panthers tailbacks to LeSean McCoy. But three freshmen -- Dion Lewis, Ray Graham and Chris Burns -- will get their cracks at replacing the superstar back. Lewis will start and get the bulk of the carries if he plays well. The other two should have their opportunity to show their stuff as well.
9. South Florida's defense vs. the "Wingbone:" The Bulls might have the most difficult team to prepare for this week, as Wofford runs a unique triple-option offense that has given FBS teams fits in the past. South Florida has enough athletes on defense to stay out of trouble, but they'll have to remain disciplined in order to avoid giving Wofford any thoughts about an upset.
10. Justin Burke's debut: This list is quarterback heavy, but that's the state of the Big East right now. Burke, the former NC State transfer, will make his first collegiate start under center for Louisville. He should ample opportunities to make big plays against a truly overmatched Indiana State defense. The one thing Burke needs to do is make good decisions and not turn the ball over, and he'll have an enjoyable Saturday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Well, we know one thing about the Rutgers quarterback situation.
What we don't know is if Lovelace or someone else will be the starting quarterback. Schiano said Lovelace, who's also been working out at receiver and presents a running option at quarterback, would play even if Dom Natale holds onto his position as the starter.
"Tommy and D.C. and Dom are all battling it out," he said. "If they're not the starter, they're not playing unless they go in as the backup. But Jabu is going to play.
"I think there are a couple of different battles going on there, is what I'm trying to say. Now I wouldn't preclude that maybe if the way it shakes out if, and of the young kids is getting better, you put them in there and let them play. I'm not saying I wouldn't do that. I mean regular playing time."
The more we know, the less we know. If I had to guess, I'd say Natale starts and Lovelace is used in some special packages and at receiver. I'd be surprised if we saw either freshmen in such a big game, unless something happened to one of the other guys.
If nothing else, it makes Cincinnati prepare for more possibilities.
When the assignment came down to rank the backup quarterbacks in each league, I had an obvious concern. We're not even entirely sure who the starting quarterback will be for five Big East teams come Labor Day weekend.
In order to do this, I'm going to assume the players currently leading the competition for each team will in fact be the starter, and the rankings will reflect the other quarterbacks in the mix. As Cincinnati showed last year, having capable backups can come in quite handy.
2. Pittsburgh: Surprised? Don't be. Pat Bostick was maybe the most improved offensive player the Panthers had this spring, and he's won at West Virginia and at Notre Dame his last two starts. Tino Sunseri is coming on as well. There would be little dropoff if one of these two had to replace Bill Stull. The problem is that none of the three have separated themselves as a big-time starting quarterback.
3. South Florida: It's not fair that the teams with the most settled starting quarterbacks also have two of the top three backup situations. But the way B.J. Daniels and Evan Landi played this spring gave Jim Leavitt confidence in the unlikely event that Matt Grothe actually misses some time.
4. Rutgers: Assuming Dom Natale holds onto the starting job, the Scarlet Knights would have a senior (Jabu Lovelace), a stud true freshman (Tom Savage) and a talented if raw redshirt freshman (D.C. Jefferson) behind him.
5. West Virginia: Coley White made strides this spring, and hotshot recruit Eugene Smith arrives this summer. But the Mountaineers are ranked this low for now because neither has ever played a down in college.
7. Syracuse: The Orange currently have last year's starter, Cam Dantley, backing up Ryan Nassib. And then there's the enigma that is Greg Paulus.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
On Tuesday, I listed five things we learned about the Big East in the spring. There's still a lot more we don't know. Here are five questions facing the league heading into the fall:
1. Will any team emerge as a national contender? It's quite likely that only one, and possibly none, of the Big East teams will begin the season in the Top 25. That's a far cry from previous years, when West Virginia and Louisville had preseason Top 10 teams and Rutgers and South Florida both moved into that lofty zip code by midseason. Big East teams don't deserve a lot of preseason love because they all have warts. But here's betting that at least one team finds answers and starts moving up the polls. Who will it be? And how high can they get?
2. Can Rutgers and Pitt get solid quarterback play? The Scarlet Knights and Panthers aren't the only teams wondering about their quarterbacks, but in my mind these are the two most important questions at that position in the league. Both Rutgers and Pitt have enough talent on defense and in other areas to be serious threats to earn the Big East's BCS bid. But Pitt must get an improved performance from Bill Stull or one of his backups, while Rutgers needs either Dom Natale or someone else to do a decent Mike Teel impression.
3. How fast can Cincinnati's defense get up to speed? I can just copy and paste the phrase "Cincinnati lost 10 defensive starters from last year" at this point because it comes up so often. We all know that. We also know the Bearcats have a new defensive coordinator (Bob Diaco) and are switching to 3-4 base. Cincinnati should have the best offense in the league heading into the season, so there will be less pressure on the defense to carry the load. A solid effort on that side of the ball might be all the Bearcats need for another BCS appearance.
4. Is this the year for South Florida? Yes, the Bulls have questions on the offensive line, in the secondary and in overall depth. But they also have seniors Matt Grothe and George Selvie, the best two players in program history to this point. And it's a wide-open race. It's time that South Florida capitalize and finally become a serious conference contender instead of merely attracting some midseason hype.
5. Can the Big East score some big nonconference wins? Given last year's success by the Mountain West and the lack of buzz for Big East teams this fall, you can bet that Big East critics will be out in force early on if the league stumbles out of the gate. It's important that the league performs well out of conference, both to fend off criticism and to get teams ranked high enough to bolster the Big East's BCS future qualifying criteria. There are plenty of opportunities, including Cincinnati's games against Oregon State and Illinois; Connecticut's dates versus North Carolina and Notre Dame; Pitt's showdowns with the Irish and NC State; South Florida's in-state feuds with Florida State and Miami; and West Virginia's games against Auburn and Colorado. The Big East doesn't have to win them all, but it needs to claim its fair share.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Rutgers began spring practice on Tuesday, and all eyes were on the quarterbacks as the competition began to find Mike Teel's successor. Dom Natale and D.C. Jefferson were shaky at times, Keith Sargeant writes in the Home News Tribune.
"They all did some things well and they all made some rookie mistakes," coach Greg Schiano said. "A lot of rookie mistakes."
• Antonio Lowery, who's more known right now for his younger brother, is trying to seize an opportunity at linebacker, Tom Luicci writes in The Star-Ledger. The story also mentions that running back Mason Robinson has been moved to receiver.
• The Ernie Davis statue, sans Nike swooshes, has returned to the Syracuse campus, Donnie Webb writes in the Syracuse Post-Standard.• Orange coach Doug Marrone defended the talent in New York over the weekend at a coaches clinic, according to the Ithaca Journal.
• Cincinnati got a commitment from a local linebacker, bringing their number of 2010 pledges to five already.
"I cannot stand for the life of me people saying how bad New York football is," Marrone said. "It's bull. It's bull! And you know what? I am going to prove they're wrong when I get a roster filled with New York kids and we're beating other teams around the country."
Spring is a time for renewal, and in college football, replacing.
It's sometimes jarring to go to a team's first spring practice and see new players wearing the familiar numbers of past legends. But the constant influx of new names and faces is part of what makes the sport great.
Several teams in the Big East face some major retooling projects this spring. Here's a look at the five biggest shoes to fill in the league:
|Charles LeClaire/Getty Images|
|Jarret Brown, who was 2-0 when filling in for Pat White, will likely take over as starter.|
1. Pat White, West Virginia: How do you replace an icon? White may go down as the best player in Mountaineers' history, and his singular talents dictated an entire offensive philosophy. At least Jarrett Brown has some experience at filling in for White. The senior has started two games in his career when White was hurt and won both, including a 41-39 triple-overtime victory over Rutgers to end the 2006 regular season. Brown isn't as fast as White, but he's big (6-foot-4, 220 pounds), has a strong arm and won't be asked to run as much in a more pass-friendly offense. Brown needs to have a strong spring, or he could face a challenge from hotshot incoming recruit Eugene Smith this fall.
2. LeSean McCoy, Pitt: McCoy scored 21 touchdowns, rushed for 1,403 yards and was a threat to break off a huge run on every play for the Panthers. Now he's gone after two spectacular seasons, and there's no experienced back on the roster. The job is wide open, and this spring will give players like Shariff Harris, Kevin Collier and Chris Burns a chance to show what they can do. Incoming freshmen Dion Lewis and Ray Graham will be given a look this summer, as well. Coach Dave Wannstedt isn't afraid to play a true freshman at tailback if he's ready.
3. Donald Brown, UConn: Brown not only led the nation in rushing in 2008, he basically was the entire Huskies offense by the end of the year. It's highly unlikely that one replacement will be able to match his 2,000-plus rushing yards. But Connecticut does have some options in the backfield. Jordan Todman, a smaller, shiftier runner than Brown, showed real promise as a freshman by averaging nearly six yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns. Senior Andre Dixon actually led the team in rushing as a sophomore but was curiously absent most of '08, even before his late-season DUI arrest. He'll be a factor if he's meeting the necessary off-the-field requirements. UConn will likely spread the ball around more in its new offensive scheme this year.
4. Mike Teel, Rutgers: Kenny Britt also leaves a big void at receiver for Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights will find some playmakers. What they need most is a quarterback who can direct the offense and be a leader on and off the field, as Teel was. Teel had his problems at times, but he was also a three-year starter who threw for more than 6,500 yards and 45 touchdowns in his final two seasons. This is another competition that will be fun to watch in the spring and again in the summer. Senior Dom Natale and freshman D.C. Jefferson will get the bulk of the reps in the spring and try to get a leg up. When fall camp opens, all eyes will turn to celebrated recruit Tom Savage, and senior Jabu Lovelace will be back from a leg injury.
5. Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh: McKillop led the Big East in tackles his final two seasons and was the league's defensive player of the year in 2008. His ability to always be in the right place formed the backbone of Pitt's defense. Now someone else will have to man the crucially important middle linebacker spot. Senior Steve Dell, who served as McKillop's understudy last season, and sophomore Max Gruder will get first crack at winning the job. If they're not up to the task, Wannstedt may look to incoming freshman Dan Mason to fill McKillop's shoes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Fear not, Big East football fans. In less than a month, South Florida will be back on the practice field, with the rest of the league teams starting their spring drills shortly afterward.
There will be no shortage of situations to follow during the spring. There's a new head coach at Syracuse, new coordinators almost everywhere and no fewer than five teams seeking a new quarterback.
We've got all the story lines covered here in our team-by-team spring primer:
Spring practice starts: March 31
Spring game: April 25
What to watch:
• Defense, defense, defense. Safety Aaron Webster is the only returning defensive starter from 2008, so this spring will be about finding out who's ready to step into bigger roles. Several backups have experience, including linebacker Andre Revels and defensive end Curtis Young. But all jobs should be open. And with this week's firing of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, the Bearcats could be working under a new scheme.
• Cincinnati brings back quarterback Tony Pike, receiver Mardy Gilyard and its top two rushers in Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel. But the spring will be time to find new playmakers as well. Isaiah Pead averaged 6.6 yards a carry in limited duty as a freshman and should see his role increase. The bubble wrap will come off promising redshirt freshman Quentin Hines. Receiver D.J. Woods had a solid freshman season and will need to build upon that to help replace Dominick Goodman.
• You don't normally pay much attention to punters in spring practice, but this is an exception. The Bearcats have to find a suitable replacement for two time All-American Kevin Huber.
Looks like a lot of Big East beat writers attended the league's basketball media day in New York Wednesday (no Earl Clark on the preseason team? Really?), so the links are kind of light. But here's the best of the bunch, starting with news on tonight's West Virginia-Auburn tilt.
• Auburn's offense is getting back to the basics, Chuck Finder says in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
• It's big for both teams, Dave Hickman writes in the Charleston Gazette.
• The game will truly be an event in Morgantown, Bob Hertzel opines in the Times West Virginian.
• Donnie Webb notes in his Syracuse.com blog that the Orange football team has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country, according to NCAA statistics. Syracuse probably wouldn't be much better than 1-6 no matter who it played, but think about that slate for a minute. At Northwestern. Penn State. Then starting Big East play with Pittsburgh, at West Virginia and at South Florida. It's like somebody wanted Greg Robinson to fail.• "Da Coach" Mike Ditka spoke to the Pittsburgh football team before Wednesday's practice, Kevin Gorman reports in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Not to be outdone, Rutgers got a visit from Bill Belichick earlier this season, Keith Sargeant writes in the Home News Tribune.
• Rutgers will continue to start Mike Teel at quarterback and give Dom Natale some looks under center, Tom Luicci says in The Star-Ledger.
• Louisville receiver Scott Long is following a familiar path, trying to recover from an injury suffered on a special-teams play, C.L. Brown writes in The Courier-Journal.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
When Louisville left Conference USA for the Big East, it moved forward from its annual Liberty Bowl trips. Now back in that same stadium against Memphis, the Cardinals need a big performance to prove they've come a long way, Courier-Journal columnist Eric Crawford says. It's the second weekend of October, but this is the first time Louisville has had to play away from home, C.L. Brown notes.
- Cincinnati cornerback Mike Mickens and coach Brian Kelly weren't on the same page earlier this season, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Kelly wouldn't allow Mickens to come to a postgame press conference after he scored a touchdown on an interception return. But now the two are back in harmony, and Mickens needs one more pick to set the school's career record.
- The Syracuse offense is showing signs of improvement under new coordinator Mitch Browning, especially running the ball, Dave Rahme writes in the Syracuse Post-Standard. The Orange are churning out 157 yards per game on the ground in 2008, compared to just 62 yards a year ago.
- Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh is often criticized for his conservative approach, but he is sticking to his guns, Paul Zeise says in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Rutgers backup quarterback Dom Natale, a Michigan State transfer and former hotshot recruit, is staying prepared despite not getting any chances in a game so far, Tom Luicci writes in The Star-Ledger.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final 20 Duke 7 1 Florida State 45 Final 2 Ohio State 24 10 Michigan State 34 Final 5 Missouri 42 3 Auburn 59 Final 17 Oklahoma 33 6 Oklahoma State 24 Final 7 Stanford 38 11 Arizona State 14 Final 25 Texas 10 9 Baylor 30 Final 16 UCF 17 Southern Methodist 13 Final Utah State 17 23 Fresno State 24