NCF Nation: Dorin Dickerson

Big East in the NFL draft

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
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The NFL's fortnight of drafting -- what, it was only three days? Really? -- came to an end this weekend. I already touched on the first-round results on Friday. Here's a look at where Big East players went the rest of the draft, with some quick comments on each pick:

Second round

No. 37: Nate Allen, S, South Florida, to Philadelphia: No surprise here, as Allen was mentioned as a possible first-rounder at various points.

Third round

No. 65: Jerome Murphy, CB, South Florida to St. Louis: Here is proof that college production isn't always the most important thing to NFL scouts. Murphy struggled against some of the Big East's better receivers, but he has great physical tools and hopefully will find his niche in the pros.

Fourth round

No. 99: Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati, to St. Louis: If you watched any Bearcats games the past two years, you know that the Rams got an absolute steal. Think Sam Bradford will like having Gilyard around?

No. 101: Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse, to Tampa Bay: He was a first-round talent who was lucky to get picked this high given his off-the-field issues.

No. 107: Marcus Easley, WR, UConn, to Buffalo: Easley had great workouts, and though some thought he would go higher than this, it's still a great story for a guy who was a walk-on this time a year ago.

Fifth round

No. 157: Arthur Jones, DT, Syracuse, to Baltimore: Jones was talked about as a possible first-rounder earlier in his career. This is a great value pick for a player who will always give maximum effort.

Sixth round

No. 177: Carlton Mitchell, WR, South Florida, to Cleveland: Mitchell looked impressive in his workouts, but falling to the sixth round makes you question if he made the right choice in skipping his senior year.

No. 182: Nate Byham, TE, Pittsburgh, to San Francisco: The best blocking tight end in the Big East during his career.

No. 204: Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati, to Carolina: Pike has to be disappointed that he fell this low and that he was drafted by the same team that took Jimmy Clausen a couple rounds earlier.

Seventh round

No. 226: George Selvie, DE, South Florida, to St. Louis: How much would you have bet against the notion that Selvie would be a seventh-round pick at this time last year? Selvie's production dropped after his breakout sophomore year, and now he'll have to prove himself again.

No. 227: Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pittsburgh, to Houston: Surprised to see Dickerson go this low after his great Combine performance. He's a tweener who needs the right team to showcase his skills.

No. 231: Selvish Capers, OT, West Virginia, to Washington: Capers has a lot of talent and potential.

No. 237: Ryan D'Imperio, LB/FB, Rutgers, to Minnesota: The Scarlet Knights' linebacker was drafted as a fullback although he never played it in college.

No. 238: Ricardo Mathews, DT, Cincinnati, to Indianapolis: Mathews didn't get as much attention on the Bearcats' defense as some other players but had a nice senior season.

No. 249: Robert McClain, CB, UConn, to Carolina: McClain had four interceptions last year and also served as the team's punt returner.

Here's a handy-dandy list of NFL Draft picks per Big East school:

South Florida: 5

Rutgers: 3

Cincinnati: 3

Connecticut: 2

Pitt: 2

Syracuse: 2

West Virginia: 1

Louisville: 0

And, finally, some notable players who weren't drafted (I'll have more later on those who signed free-agent contracts): Andre Dixon and Lindsey Witten from UConn; Aaron Webster and Alex Daniels from Cincinnati; Scott Long from Louisville; and Jarrett Brown from West Virginia.
Pittsburgh Panthers WinStreeter Lecka/Getty Images Pitt could be one of the early Big East favorities in 2010 following their win against North Carolina.
The Big East is 2-for-2, and Pitt's 19-17 win over North Carolina was pretty impressive, considering it came in basically a road game in Charlotte at the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

The big news was that the Panthers notched their first 10-win season since 1981, though that Dan Marino-led team went 11-1 instead of 10-3. Still, it represents progress for Dave Wannstedt's program and gives Pitt something to build upon.

"Ten wins separates you, and I don't think these guys know what they have accomplished here tonight and probably won't for a few weeks or a month or however long," Wannstedt said. "I think that people know that we are back as a program, and you have to go out and prove it. You have to show up and you have to play and you have to win games like this."

On Wednesday, I presented three keys for Pitt in this game: Make North Carolina's offense work to score instead of giving up a special teams or defensive big play; protect quarterback Bill Stull against the heavy Tar Heels pass rush and get tight end Dorin Dickerson involved.

While North Carolina put together a couple of nice drives, its offense finished with just 264 total yards. Stull didn't throw any interceptions and Pitt didn't give up any damaging special teams plays. The Pitt offensive line yielded two sacks, but Stull had plenty of time most of the day and the Panthers won the battle up front. Dickerson had four catches for 21 yards but dropped a touchdown pass early. He just hasn't looked the same the last three games, and you have to wonder if he's fully healthy.

But Mike Shanahan stepped up with five big catches, including some tough ones over the middle, and it looks like he can be the key possession receiver to Jonathan Baldwin's deep threat next season. Combine that with another year from the amazing Dion Lewis, and that's an awfully good start for 2010, even if Pitt has to replace three offensive line starters and break in a new quarterback.

It was good way for the Panthers to end things after they lost their last two regular-season games in the final minute. Of course, they also beat UConn in the final seconds, so the odds probably worked out. This game will long be remembered by Pitt fans for the 17-play, 8:47 drive that led to the winning field goal. To do that against the No. 6 rated defense in the FBS was particularly special.

"The series or two before we came unglued a little bit," Wannstedt said. "We were not lined up, we were hurrying a bit, we had a bad snap, we had a penalty. So our guys went out there and there was no room for error. For our guys to go out there and complete that many plays in a row for the most part successfully says a lot about the focus and discipline of our kids."

Pittsburgh should wind up in the Top 15 and should be ranked to start next season despite some major personnel losses, including Stull, Dickerson, those O-linemen, defensive tackle Mick Williams, linebacker Adam Gunn and cornerback Aaron Berry. Junior defensive end Greg Romeus could opt for the NFL as well. But in addition to the offensive core I mentioned earlier, the Panthers still have rising young talent like linebacker Dan Mason, who grabbed a crucial interception at the goal line.

You have to make Pitt one of the early favorites in the Big East in 2010. Totally different feeling than after last year's Sun Bowl, huh?

Meineke Car Care Bowl preview

December, 24, 2009
12/24/09
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Previewing Saturday's Meineke Car Care Bowl between No. 17 Pittsburgh (9-3) and North Carolina (8-4):

WHO TO WATCH: Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis. North Carolina ranks ninth nationally in rush defense and has held nine of its 12 opponents to under 100 total rushing yards. Can Lewis and the Pitt offensive line break that trend? The superb freshman won Big East offensive MVP honors by running for 1,640 yards and 16 carries this season, including 207 yards on a whopping 47 carries in the season finale against Cincinnati. Lewis holds the key to Pitt's entire offensive game plan.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Tar Heels' defense has spectacular stats, ranking sixth nationally in total defense, third in tackles for loss and leading the nation in interception return yardage. But Pitt had the best offensive line in the Big East this season and averaged 33 points a game with dynamic weapons like Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin and Dorin Dickerson surrounding quarterback Bill Stull. Can Pitt hold off North Carolina pass rusher Robert Quinn and can Stull avoid turnovers? If so, the Panthers should score enough points to win against a Tar Heels offense that doesn't have a lot of big-time playmakers.

WHY TO WATCH: These two teams are mirror images of each other, as Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and North Carolina's Butch Davis are both defensive-minded Jimmy Johnson disciples. You'll see two pro-style offenses and attacking, 4-3 defenses with plenty of future pros on the field. Both teams spent several weeks in the Top 25, with North Carolina peaking at No. 19 and Pitt cracking the Top 10. And last year's Meineke Car Care Bowl featuring the Tar Heels and a Big East team (West Virginia) was one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.

PREDICTION: Pitt wins 24-21. The Panthers just have more offensive options than North Carolina and a good enough offensive line to slow down the Tar Heels' terrific defensive front. And the Pitt D-line, led by Big East co-defensive MVPs Mick Williams and Greg Romeus, should use speed to its advantage against North Carolina's big but slower offensive front.

Revisiting preseason picks

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
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I meant to get to this last week but never did because there was so much news going on. But with the regular season over and bowls approaching, it's time to look back at some of the preseason predictions I made for the Big East and laugh at how dumb I was. (I'll also be revisiting my best case/worst case scenarios for each team starting later today).

Yes, I picked Rutgers to win the league, which should subject me to ridicule in the public square. Here are some other wonderfully naive preseason prognostications from yours truly:
Offensive player of the year: Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike. "... I just get the sense that Pike is dialed in and ready for a monster year."

Well, Pike almost certainly would have won this award had he stayed healthy. And he did have a huge year when healthy. Nothing wrong with this pick.
Defensive player of the year: South Florida defensive end George Selvie. "This year, the Bulls have a deeper, more talented defensive line that should take some pressure off their senior pass-rusher ..."

Well, that sentence was true, as Jason Pierre-Paul added a lot to the defensive line. But Selvie was never able to really put up monster numbers even with that help. I went with the safe pick and got burned.
Newcomer of the year: Cincinnati receiver Jamar Howard. " ... This 6-foot-4 junior-college transfer has the size and speed to provide a compelling target for Pike."

Oy, vey. Howard had three catches on the year. My reasoning was that somebody would step in for Dominick Goodman and provide big stats. I was right about that. It's just that Armon Binns was the tall guy who did it, not Howard.
Comeback player of the year: Syracuse receiver Mike Williams. "After missing all of last year because of academic problems, the Orange's top playmaker from 2007 returns and will be the go-to guy in the passing game."

Can't blame me for this one. Until mid-October, Williams was clearly fulfilling every possible expectation. Until he went and, you know, quit the team. I guess that makes him the Go-away player of the year.
Freshman of the year: Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham. "Clearly, a freshman is going to have a huge opportunity to run behind the Panthers' offensive line, as true frosh Dion Lewis is battling Graham for the top spot on the depth chart right now."

This is the classic case of out-thinking yourself. I saw in person in the spring how good Lewis was, but I had heard reports of Graham's big-play ability coming out of fall camp. I projected Graham would take over instead of going with the safer pick in Lewis. So close.
Breakout player of the year: West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown. "Mountaineers fans already know what Brown is capable of doing, but the rest of the league and the country will finally see ... "

Brown had a few ups and downs, but he was pretty solid for the most part. With a do-over, I'd probably award this to Dorin Dickerson.
Most exciting player: Noel Devine. "The West Virginia running back can seemingly turn any play into a home run and is a threat to reverse field and run by 11 defenders at any time."

Arguments could be made for Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin, Mardy Gilyard and others. But nothing wrong with this pick.
Coach of the year: Greg Schiano. "If Cincinnati's [Brian] Kelly wins this award a third straight time, they should just rename it after him."

And they should.
Game of the year: West Virginia at Rutgers, Dec. 5. "This could turn into the de facto Big East championship game that league officials try to set up every year."

Well, at least I had the date right. Sigh.
Surprise team of the year: Connecticut. "Simply because no one is talking about the Huskies, and Randy Edsall always fields a solid team."

I count this one as a win.
Team that will disappoint: South Florida. "This is a program that, while loaded with athletes, still has to prove it can compete beyond September."

At least I can correctly peg disappointments. Like my own predictions.

ESPN.com's All-Big East team

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
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The official league selections will come out tomorrow. Here are my choices for the best of the Big East, from a season's worth of observations and some consultation from league coaches:

Offense

QB: Tony Pike, Cincinnati

RB: Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh

RB: Noel Devine, West Virginia

WR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati

WR: Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh

TE: Dorin Dickerson, Pittsburgh

OT: Jason Pinkston, Pittsburgh

OT: Jeff Linkenbach, Cincinnati

C: Moe Petrus, Connecticut

OG: John Malecki, Pittsburgh

OG: Zach Hurd, Connecticut

Defense

DE: Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh

DE: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida

DT: Mick Williams, Pittsburgh

DT: Chris Neild, West Virginia

LB: Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut

LB: Kion Wilson, South Florida

LB: Derrell Smith, Syracuse

CB: Devin McCourty, Rutgers

CB: Aaron Berry, Pittsburgh

S: Aaron Webster, Cincinnati

S: Nate Allen, South Florida

Specialists

K: Tyler Bitancurt, West Virginia

P: Scott Kozlowski, West Virginia

KR: Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati

PR: Robert McClain, Connecticut

Meineke Car Care Bowl

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
9:17
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Meineke Car Care Bowl: Pittsburgh (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4):
Dec. 26, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Pittsburgh take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Talk about your long fall down. Pittsburgh was a missed extra point away from winning the Big East and making the Sugar Bowl. Instead, the Panthers find themselves playing in Charlotte against a middle-of-the-pack ACC team.

Once Pitt gets over the disappointment, it should realize it still has the opportunity to win 10 games for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. But first it will have to beat a Tar Heels team that will be on home turf and matches up well in many areas.

The Pittsburgh game plan will revolve around true freshman running back Dion Lewis -- assuming Lewis can still walk after his 47-carry performance against Cincinnati. North Carolina, though, ranks ninth nationally against the run and has the No. 6-ranked overall defense in America.

Pitt has a lot more weapons offensively than the often-anemic Tar Heels, however, with receivers Jonathan Baldwin and tight end Dorin Dickerson. The game could come down to how Bill Stull plays; the senior quarterback was terrific most of the year but threw costly interceptions against West Virginia and Cincinnati in losses the past two weeks.

There shouldn't be many secrets in this game. Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and North Carolina coach Butch Davis go way back and were defensive assistants together at Oklahoma State, Miami and the Dallas Cowboys under Jimmy Johnson.


North Carolina take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich:For the second straight season, the Tar Heels will head back to Charlotte to face one of the better teams in the Big East. Last year’s 31-30 loss to West Virginia was one of the ACC’s most entertaining bowls, but UNC has missed the offensive playmakers this season that made it that way.

While this could have been a much better season for UNC, it also could have been a much bigger disaster. Instead, the Tar Heels made an impressive turnaround that began with a stunning road upset of Virginia Tech and are making back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1997.

UNC won four of its last five games, and has won five straight over ranked teams dating back to last season. UNC’s defense, which has been the reason for its success, will be tasked with slowing down Pitt’s standout freshman running back, Dion Lewis, who ranks third in the nation in rushing.

No. 17 Pitt is coming off a disappointing loss to Cincinnati in the Big East championship, but has the No. 16 scoring offense in the country at 33.17 points per game. Carolina has the ACC’s top defense and ranks sixth in the country, allowing just 267.8 yards per game. The Tar Heels are also No. 9 in run defense, No. 13 in pass efficiency defense and No. 13 in scoring defense.

To add a little extra motivation to this bowl game, UNC will have to prepare for Pitt knowing that their rival, NC State, was able to beat the Panthers.
There's no O. Henry twist or cheap M. Night Shyamalan gimmick at the end of the 2009 Big East season. Cincinnati's players saw this coming the moment the league schedule first came out.

"We knew the Big East championship was going through Pittsburgh," Bearcats tight end Ben Guidugli said. "We talked about this game while we were lifting weights, while we were at camp. This is the game we've been waiting for."
[+] EnlargeBill Stull
James Lang/US PresswireQuarterback Bill Stull and Pitt have long anticipated facing Cincinnati in the final game of the season.

It's the game the entire Big East has waited for, at least ever since both teams clearly established themselves as the league's two best back in October.

Technically, Saturday's game at Heinz Field isn't a conference championship title event like those that will be staged in Atlanta, Dallas and Tampa this week. But it functions just the same, since the Big East trophy will be on hand for one team to hoist after the final gun (technically Cincinnati would be league co-champion if it loses, but somehow we doubt the Bearcats will be in the mood to do much celebrating in that scenario).

The outcome affords potential dizzying highs and baleful lows for each side. The No. 5 Bearcats (11-0, 6-0) still have hopes of reaching the BCS title game if Nebraska upsets Texas on Saturday. Or they could lose to Pitt and fall to the Meineke Car Care Bowl, while possibly seeing coach Brian Kelly bolt for Notre Dame.

The No. 15 Panthers (9-2, 5-1) can validate the Dave Wannstedt era with their first BCS bid since 2004. But a loss would send them tumbling way down the Big East bowl food chain, possibly to a mid-December outpost in Birmingham, Ala. or St. Petersburg, Fla.

"We're not really even thinking about losing," Pitt quarterback Bill Stull said. "There are so many positives on our side for this game. It's at home and it's senior day. That alone gives us a burning desire to win this game."

The game offers a fascinating contrast in two distinctly different, but almost equally effective, offensive styles.

Kelly runs a high-tempo, spread system that places quarterback Tony Pike in the shotgun, allowing him to deliver quickly to whichever of his many receivers are open -- or more open, as is usually the case. The Bearcats, who are the sixth-highest scoring team in the FBS, strike so fast it's as if they're in a perpetual two-minute drill.

Wannstedt, clinging to his NFL and defensive roots, prefers an old-school power running game that still finds gainful employment for fullbacks and multiple tight ends. But it's far from monolithic, as the Panthers use the running skills of freshman Dion Lewis to set up deep passes for skilled wideouts like 6-foot-5 Jonathan Baldwin and hybrid athlete Dorin Dickerson. Pitt ranks 22nd in the nation in scoring.

"Both offenses can be very prolific and move the ball," said UConn coach Randy Edsall, whose team lost by three points at Pitt and by two at Cincinnati. "What is comes down to is, can Cincinnati stop Pitt's running game and play-action game, and is Pitt going to be able to stop the passing attack? Whichever defense makes the most stops is going to win. It should be a tremendous game."

Each team is likely to stick with what it does best. Pitt will try to get pressure up front with its terrific defensive line, hoping to disrupt the rhythm for Pike, who threw six touchdown passes last week in his return from a left forearm injury.

"I would be hard-pressed to find a weakness on their team," Panthers linebacker Max Gruder said. "Right when you turn the film on, you see how many playmakers they have. They're going to make completions, because they always do; we just have to tackle well when they do."

Despite playing on grass in potentially near-freezing weather, Kelly said he doesn't plan on altering his style much. The Bearcats will shoot for the big play on offense and hope their defense holds up better than it did in recent games against UConn and Illinois.

"It's just going to be one team's will against the other in the end," Cincinnati linebacker Andre Revels said.

And the Big East couldn't have scripted a more appropriate ending to the 2009 season.
Pittsburgh has a mulligan left.

The No. 9 Panthers don't need to win Friday night at West Virginia in order to bring home a Big East title or BCS bid. All they have to do for that is beat Cincinnati on Dec. 5.

Houser
Charles LeClaire/Getty ImagesRobb Houser and the Panthers know they can't afford to look past West Virginia.
Of course, there's a big difference between need and want. The Backyard Brawl may not have much bearing on Pitt's ultimate goals, but you better believe this is a fight the team does not want to lose.

"We're not looking at it at all like we can still lose this game and beat Cincinnati for the Big East," center Robb Houser said. "We're not even looking at Cincinnati right now because [West Virginia] is a good team and it's a big rivalry. We're focusing on getting these last two games, not what we need for the Big East. We're focusing on winning out."

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said earlier this week that his biggest fear wasn't that his players would look past West Virginia. It was that they would look past all the work in practice to get to Friday's game.

"There’s always a fine line when playing West Virginia," Wannstedt said. "It’s a very exciting game for our players. It’s a very emotional game for our players. You also have to be able to understand that the quickest way to be defeated is to be distracted. So you have to go down there and play with a lot of emotion and energy, but at the same time you have to really be focused on the job at hand."

The Panthers have excelled at that the past two years. Arguably the biggest win in the Wannstedt era came in Morgantown two years ago, when Pitt upset West Virginia, 13-9. Wannstedt's team had only four wins going into that game, while the Mountaineers were making plans for the BCS title game. Since that game, Pitt has won 18 of its last 23 contests.

"I think that win, when you look back on it, it gave us life," Wannstedt said. "By that, I mean we had so many recruits that were right on the bubble. It gave us an opportunity to get one more shot at these guys and to say that it will happen and to believe in us.

"You know if you lose that game and come off of a four-win season and go into your offseason program, that’s a challenge, from a coaching standpoint and from a player standpoint. Winning that game, I can remember the first day of the offseason program in January. We had as much enthusiasm from a team standpoint to get started and to try to build on that for the next year as any."

Wannstedt said he remembers seeing recruits lined up on the sideline during pregame warm-ups for that 2007 game. Many of the players were being courted by both schools.

"Within 10 to 14 days [after the win], we got eight commitments," he said. "Two or three of those kids were right there [in Morgantown]."

No doubt that win got Pitt's program jump-started in a lot of ways. Now it's really revved up, with a top-10 ranking, a shot at the Big East title and, of course, a two-game Backyard Brawl winning streak. The Panthers don't want to give any of that back.

"We ruined their chances of a national championship last time we were there, so they're going to be ready for us," tight end Dorin Dickerson said. "This rivalry means a lot and has been good for a lot of years. We want to have the upper hand every year."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Because of the lack of a playoff system in college football and the subsequent weight placed on the regular season, one or two plays made or not made early in the year can make a huge difference.

The Big East is having a solid season, with three teams in the top 21 of the BCS standings and one legitimate national title contender. But let's look at how a things might have changed with just a couple of alterations:

What if ... Pitt had held on against NC State?

Rewind to Sept. 26 in Raleigh. Pitt had a seemingly comfortable 31-17 lead with a little over four minutes remaining in the third quarter. A Dave Wannstedt defense should close the deal, right?

Wrong. As you know by now, Russell Wilson went wild, and the Wolfpack scored 21 unanswered points. The Panthers still had a chance to win it, getting a gift turnover at the NC State 8-yard line in the final minutes. But Dorin Dickerson couldn't come down with a difficult catch, and Bill Stull's final pass sailed out of the end zone. Someone forgot to remind Pitt that it had a 6-foot-5 receiver (Jon Baldwin) with the leaping ability of an NBA small forward on that series.

What has to be most maddening for Pitt is that NC State hasn't won a game since, including a 21-point loss to Duke (!) at home. Had the Panthers won that game like they should have, they would have entered the Top 25 earlier, would be sitting at 8-0 and stalking the top 10, with hopes of a BCS title berth still alive.

What if ... West Virginia had held onto the ball at Auburn?

Remember the monsoon-like conditions that delayed the start of this Sept. 19 game? Perhaps that had something to do with the Mountaineers' slippery hands that night. West Virginia committed six turnovers, which negated its 509 yards of total offense. The Mountaineers looked like the better team most of the night and led 21-10 early before the turnovers doomed them to a 41-30 loss.

The defeat didn't look so bad as Auburn started off 5-0 and cracked the top 20. But since then, the Tigers have been exposed while losing three straight, eliminating any chance that West Virginia can sneak back into the BCS title picture as a one-loss team.

The Mountaineers would have climbed the rankings quicker with a win over an SEC team on the road, and based on their recent history and reputation, would probably be in the top 10 right now. Can you imagine the state of the Big East if Cincinnati, Pitt and West Virginia were all unbeaten right now? It's not that far off from being true.

What if ... UConn had protected its leads?

Football is not the top priority for the Huskies today, with Jasper Howard's funeral taking place. Still, their season and the Big East race could look much different had they closed out games.

Connecticut has led in the fourth quarter of all three of its losses. It was up 10-0 on North Carolina in the fourth (losing 12-10), ahead of Pitt 21-6 late in the third (losing 24-21) and up at West Virginia 24-21 last week with under three minutes left (falling 28-24). If even one or two of those go the other way, the season outlook is much better for this 4-3 team.

What if ... Pitt and Cincinnati win out before Dec. 5?

I get asked a lot if the Big East could somehow land two teams in the BCS. The scenario that could make it somewhat plausible goes like this: Cincinnati gets to 11-0 and teams ahead of it fall off, allowing the Bearcats to climb into the top three of the BCS standings. Pitt wins its next three to go 10-1, jumping into the top 10.

Then Pitt nips Cincinnati in a close, exciting game at Heinz Field on Dec. 5. The Panthers secure the Big East's automatic BCS bid, and the Bearcats stay ranked high enough to qualify for a BCS game.

Forget this one happening. Under BCS rules, Cincinnati would most likely need to finish in the top four to automatically qualify for an at-large bid. We all know a Big East team isn't getting an at-large invitation, and any Big East team that loses will almost assuredly take a big hit in the polls. Just look at how the Bearcats were treated this week, dropping three spots in the BCS standings despite winning 41-10 over Louisville.

This is one what-if you don't need to spend any time pondering.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

PITTSBURGH -- Given that it's their last year of college and they have a bye week for Halloween, roommates Bill Stull and Dorin Dickerson are planning their costumes for next week.

"We're big scary movie guys," Stull said. "We might get some Michael Myers and Jason outfits."

 
  Justin K. Aller/Icon SMI
  Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull led a frighteningly good Panthers team Saturday.
Simply by wearing their home football uniforms on Saturday, the Pittsburgh teammates helped scare the bejeezus out of the rest of the Big East.

The No. 20 Panthers have always been viewed as having perhaps the most talented roster in the league, but they also held themselves back with silly mistakes or sloppy execution. This week, Pitt put everything together in a 41-14 pounding of South Florida that wasn't even as close as that lopsided score indicates.

All things considered, it was the top overall performance of the Dave Wannstedt era. Pittsburgh (7-1, 4-0 Big East) is off to its best start since Dan Marino's senior year in 1982, and if it can approach this week's performance, it might well finish as the Big East champion.

The Panthers only have three more league games left, and the next one is Syracuse at home after the bye. They close the season at West Virginia, whom they've beaten two years in a row, and at home against Cincinnati Dec. 5 in what is shaping up as a possible de facto league title game.

"Up to this point, it's probably all talk (about) are you a contender or a pretender," Wannstedt said. "I think our guys now should get a taste that we should be a contender."

Put this win in context of the calendar, because October is the time of year when South Florida always wilts. Still, the Bulls have rarely gotten steamrolled quite like this.

Pitt never punted, led 31-7 at halftime and rested all of its starters in the fourth quarter after building a 41-7 cushion. The defense, which had allowed too many passing yards and hadn't created enough turnovers most of the season, bullied the Bulls into three interceptions and just 212 total yards. South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels had as many picks (2) and sacks (2) as he did completions while going just 4-of-8 for 54 yards.

The other side of the ball proved even more impressive. The ballyhooed South Florida defensive line never got any leverage against the Panthers' offensive front. Stull had enough time to finish a Primanti Bros. sandwich before he threw and was never sacked. Did he even get hit?

"I got a little push one time," said Stull, who completed his first 11 passes and threw for 245 yards and two scores in the comfy pocket.

Pitt kept tight end Nate Byham in to block and left fullback Henry Hynoski in on third down for the first time all season to neutralize defensive ends George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul. Tackles Jason Pinkston and Lucas Nix did the rest.

"(Offensive line coach Tony) Wise put the challenge on me and Lucas, just to get our hands on them right away," Pinkston said. "We let Bill get hit a couple of times at Rutgers last week, so we took it on ourselves this week."

The lack of pressure opened all sorts of options. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti wisely force fed 6-foot-5 receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who had six catches for a career-best 144 yards. Freshman tailback Dion Lewis piled up 111 yards and two touchdowns while going over 1,000 yards for the season, and fellow freshman Ray Graham added 88 yards on the ground.

Apologies to Cincinnati and West Virginia, but Pittsburgh might have the most varied offensive weapons in the Big East.

"Shady (McCoy) was a great player, but he was our offense last year," Dickerson said. "That's what's difference about this team -- we've got a lot more playmakers."

"We've never had this type of balance," Wannstedt said.

Wannstedt said he heard an interview with Phil Simms on the radio while driving to Heinz Field, and Simms talked about how teams make mistakes to keep themselves average. He relayed that message to his players before the game, and Pitt played about as cleanly as possible, committing only two penalties and converting 11 of 16 third downs.

It looks like a team of horror-movie fans is developing a killer instinct.

"We definitely inflicted some pain today," Stull said.

Pitt looks impressive early

October, 24, 2009
10/24/09
12:34
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

PITTSBURGH -- Give the early edge to Pitt and its offensive line.

The Panthers took the ball 80 yards for a touchdown on their opening possession, as the offensive line kept South Florida's D-line at bay. Dion Lewis had some big gains, and Bill Stull found Dorin Dickerson for two 20-plus yard passes.

Pitt has used some two tight end sets and max protect blocking against the Bulls, and the running game is opening things up for Stull.

The Panthers have had some struggles deep in the red zone this year but broke out freshman Mike Cruz for a 2-yard touchdown pass. It was his first catch of the year. This team sure has a lot of capable tight ends.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


1. The battle of unbeatens: The last two undefeated Big East teams, No. 8 Cincinnati and No. 21 South Florida go head to head Thursday night in Tampa. The winner will have an inside track to the league's BCS bid and keep alive national title aspirations. The loser will have to hope for some help down the road.

2. Can Cincinnati handle the heat? We're not talking about South Florida's defensive pressure. We're talking about the climate. Temperatures have been in the 90s in Florida all week, and it should be in the 80s at game time. That's a lot hotter than what Cincinnati has been practicing in for the past few weeks, and it's worth monitoring the Bearcats' endurance as the game wears on.

3. Rutgers' pass defense: The Scarlet Knights got ripped apart for nearly 400 passing yards in the opening loss to Cincinnati. They haven't played a capable passing team since. Pittsburgh certainly fits that description, as Bill Stull is playing better than any quarterback not named Tony Pike in the Big East. Stull has lots of big-time receiving targets, too, including Jonathan Baldwin, Dorin Dickerson and Oderick Turner. Is Rutgers better equipped to handle a top-flight passing offense on Friday night than it was on Labor Day?

4. Tom Savage: The true freshman will make his first career Big East start against Pitt. The Panthers should bring lots of pressure on the rookie with their front four, but they are vulnerable in the secondary. Can Savage keep his composure, make big throws and avoid his first college interception?

5. Pitt vs. the blitz: The Panthers have not beaten Rutgers in the Dave Wannstedt era, and they know what they're going to get from Greg Schiano's team. The Scarlet Knights will blitz at least half the time from all angles. Rutgers' defense has been causing all kinds of turnovers and defensive scores, albeit against lesser competition. Pitt's offensive line, which has protected Stull wonderfully so far this year, has to be ready for the onslaught.

6. Connecticut's finishability: OK, so I just made that word up. But clearly the Huskies have had all sorts of trouble closing teams out this year, as witnessed by their fourth-quarter blown leads against Pitt and North Carolina. They're better than Louisville and should be leading again going into the final 15 minutes on Saturday night at Rentschler Field. Let's see if UConn can go for the kill this time instead of wilting down the stretch.

7. Louisville run defense and offense: For the Cardinals to have any chance of winning a Big East road game, they're going to have to both stop and start the run. They'll need to slow down Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman of UConn, both of whom are capable of going over 100 yards in the same game. And Louisville must get its own running game going with Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell. Bad news for the Cardinals: they rank seventh in the Big East in rushing offense and last in rush defense.

8. West Virginia's focus: After revenge games against Auburn and Colorado and the Big East opener at Syracuse, the Mountaineers get Marshall at home. They've never been challenged in this series, and Bill Stewart seems a little concerned that his players might be looking past the Thundering Herd. That's always dangerous against an in-state rival. It would be good for West Virginia to come out sharp and focused and put this game away early.

9: Mighty mite battle in Morgantown: The West Virginia-Marshall game features the No. 2 running back in the FBS -- the Thundering Herd's Darius Marshall -- and No. 3 in the Mountaineers' Noel Devine. Marshall will try to prove he can put up monstrous numbers against big-time competition. Devine could pass Marshall with a huge game. Both backs are small in stature but will provide large amounts of entertainment on Saturday.

10. The BCS standings: The first official standings come out on Sunday. If Cincinnati wins, where will the Bearcats be in relation to the other BCS title contenders? And if South Florida wins, how high can the Bulls begin their climb?

Big East stock report

September, 18, 2009
9/18/09
1:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Our weekly look at who's up, who's down and who's leading the player of the year races in the Big East:

Stock up

1. Jarrett Brown: We knew the guy was good. But 334 yards, four-touchdown good? Brown made some throws against East Carolina that not many other college quarterbacks could pull off.

2. Mo Plancher: The South Florida back had his first career 100-yard day against Western Kentucky, and coach Jim Leavitt said, "We trust him a lot."

3. Dorin Dickerson: It took Pitt and Dickerson four years to figure out how to use his talent, but better late than never. The senior tight end has four touchdowns already this season.

4. Jock Sanders: Coming back from his offseason suspension for a DUI arrest, Sanders leads the Big East with 17 catches in two games.

5. Yankee Bowl: The Big East should announce within the next couple of weeks that it will send one of its top teams to Yankee Stadium for the new bowl game starting in 2010.

Stock down

1. UConn's offense: Remember Zach Frazer's spring quote that the Huskies would average 40 points a game? Now he's hurt, and the Huskies are hurting for points. They've scored 33 in two games combined.

2. Syracuse receivers' hands: After bobbled catches cost the Orange a touchdown and led to an interception at Penn State, coach Doug Marrone minced no words. "We have to get away from the dropped passes," he said. "That's hurting our program right now."

3. Delbert Alvarado: The South Florida kicker is once again making Bulls' fans very nervous after he missed two field goals at Western Kentucky. Darn those amusement park rides!

4. Pitt's pass defense: The Panthers were torched for 433 yards by Buffalo, making you wonder how they're going to stop Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati.

5. Bowl games in nice football stadiums: The addition of the Yankee Bowl means the Big East will have two of its five postseason games in baseball stadiums (the other being Tropicana Field for the St. Petersburg Bowl) and two others (the Champs Sports and Papajohns.com bowls) in badly-aging facilities.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Tony Pike, QB,Cincinnati: Has completed 77.2 percent of his passes for 591 yards and six touchdowns.

2. Jarrett Brown, QB, West Virginia: Has completed 75.4 percent of his passes for 577 yards and four touchdowns.

3. Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh: Has run for 319 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.

4. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Has 14 catches for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

5. Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida: Has completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: His numbers keep changing, but he's now credited with seven sacks, which leads the nation.

2. Adam Gunn, LB, Pittsburgh: Ranks second in the league in both tackles (19) and sacks (5).

3. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Numbers not impressive yet -- just 10 tackles and one sack -- but he remains a force.

4. Aaron Webster, S, Cincinnati: Has grabbed an interception in both games this year.

5. Reed Williams, LB, West Virginia: Leader of the Mountaineers' defense will be a factor in this race if he stays healthy.

Big East helmet stickers, Week 2

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
11:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Week 2 helmet stickers in the Big East:

Jarrett Brown, West Virginia: The senior quarterback completed 24-of-31 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns with an interception in a 35-20 win over East Carolina. Brown also ran 10 times for 73 yards.

Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh: The true freshman carried 24 times for 190 yards and scored two touchdowns including an 85-yarder in a 54-27 win at Buffalo. He also had six catches for 46 yards.

Dorin Dickerson, Pittsburgh: The senior tight end caught eight passes for 71 yards and had three touchdowns.

Lindsey Witten, Connecticut: The senior defensive end had three sacks for the second straight game and helped lead a Huskies defense that shut down North Carolina until the fourth quarter of a heartbreaking 12-10 loss.

Matt Grothe, South Florida: The senior quarterback completed 14 of 23 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown and ran for 55 yards in a 35-13 win at Western Kentucky. Most importantly, Grothe became the Big East's all-time total yardage leader in the second quarter. That deserves a sticker.

Pitt out of the gates fast

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
12:38
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Terrific start for Pitt, which is up 14-0 early in the first quarter at Buffalo. And Bill Stull, the much-criticized quarterback, already has two touchdown passes, both of them to Dorin Dickerson.

A good start on the road is exactly what the Panthers needed to avoid any thoughts of an upset.

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