NCF Nation: Doug Hogue

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.
On Monday, I looked at the results posted by Big East offensive linemen, running backs, receivers, tight ends and preliminary numbers for the linebackers. Let's check in now on some more updates by top performers for the defensive guys from the league (performance ranks are listed by position).

Defensive line

Pittsburgh's Jabaal Sheard had the fifth-fastest 40-yard dash time at 4.69 seconds. He was 12th in the broad jump.

Linebackers

Scott Lutrus put up strong numbers, finishing first in vertical leap (38 inches) second in the 60-yard shuttle, third in the three-cone drill, fourth in the 20-yard shuttle, tied for fifth in the broad jump and tied for seventh in the 40 at 4.68 seconds. Here's what our Scouts Inc. team wrote about Lutrus's performance:
"Lutrus (6-2, 241) far exceeded expectations based on what we've seen on film. ... We now have to go back to the tape to see if we missed something during our initial evaluation and figure why his explosiveness and lateral quickness are so much better at this point."

Syracuse's Doug Hogue was fifth in the 40 at 4.63 seconds. He tied for fifth in the broad jump, tied for sixth in vertical leap and was 12th in the three-cone drill.

West Virginia's J.T. Thomas tied for seventh in the 40, tied for 10th in the 20-yard shuttle, and tied for 13th in the 60-yard drill.

Connecticut's Greg Lloyd tied for 14th in the three-cone drill.

UConn's Lawrence Wilson tied for 13th in both the vertical leap and 40-yard dash. Would you have guessed Lutrus would beat teammate Wilson in the 40?

Safeties

West Virginia's Robert Sands showed off his array of skills. He tied for second with a 35-inch vertical leap and had the best broad jump at 10 feet, four inches. His 40 time of 4.57 seconds was third.

Cornerbacks

Rutgers' Joe Lefeged, a safety in college who was listed with the cornerbacks at the combine, tied for the fifth-best 40 time at 4.43 seconds. He also tied for 11th in the vertical leap and 14th in the broad jump.

West Virginia's Brandon Hogan tied for 10th on the bench press with 19 reps at 225 pounds.
I'm borrowing an idea from Big 12 blogger David Ubben and taking a look at the top individual performances by a Big East player in 2010.

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

Here, then, is my Top 10:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable mention: Zach Collaros versus South Florida and Rutgers; B.J. Daniels versus Cincinnati and Clemson; Pead versus Oklahoma; Todman versus Cincinnati; Armon Binns versus Louisville; Chas Dodd versus Connecticut; Dave Teggart versus South Florida; Doug Hogue versus West Virginia; Marcus Sales versus Kansas State.
Here is the list of players from the Big East who will be participating in the East-West Shrine Game, a showcase for seniors and NFL hopefuls:
  • Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse
  • Greg Lloyd, LB, Connecticut
  • Lawrence Wilson, LB, Connecticut
  • Ryan Bartholomew, OL, Syracuse
  • Scott Lutrus, LB, Connecticut
  • Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida
  • Zach Hurd, OL, Connecticut

The 86th annual game will be held Jan. 22 in Orlando.
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.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 6, 2010
12/06/10
1:27
AM ET
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
11/24/10
10:30
AM ET
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.
Something was missing for Syracuse after the Orange won at West Virginia last week.

[+] EnlargeSyracus Celebration
AP Photo/Jeff GentnerDelone Carter and Syracuse have won three of their past five conference games.
Sure, the players celebrated in the locker room and enjoyed the upset victory. But this was no surprise party. No one screamed, "Oh my god, I can't believe we did it" afterward.

Could it be that Syracuse is getting used to winning big games now?

"There was a different sense in the locker room after the West Virginia game," head coach Doug Marrone said. "People talk about changing the culture, and it's not really from the coaches. It's when players start to say, 'OK, listen, we won this game. We're going to enjoy it, but we know we have to come back and work hard and let it go.'"

Sometimes the final hurdle a program must clear when it abandons years of losing is dealing with success. Syracuse registered its first big victory this season at South Florida three weeks ago, beating the Bulls for the first time ever. The following week, the Orange returned home amid all kinds of back-slapping and enthusiasm -- and they promptly got blown out 45-14 by Pitt on homecoming.

The players refuse to say that they lost focus or got carried away from the USF win. But they readily acknowledge handling last week's victory differently.

"After the South Florida game, everyone was very excited," senior defensive back Mike Holmes said. "After the West Virginia game we were like, 'OK, we won. Time for the next game.' We're getting accustomed to winning around here."

As well they should. The Orange (5-2, 2-1 Big East) have won three of their past five conference games dating to last year, after all. They'll look to keep that positive momentum going this Saturday at Cincinnati, another team they've never beaten in league play.

In fact, the series with the Bearcats hasn't been all that close in recent years. Syracuse has lost by 21, 20 and 21 points in the past three meetings, respectively, while Cincinnati has scored an average of nearly 37 points per win.

The Bearcats have the league's best passing attack and the Big East's top two receivers, which could pose problems for the Orange defense. Syracuse has been burned by good passing teams this season, giving up four touchdown passes to both Washington's Jake Locker and Pitt's Tino Sunseri in their only two losses, both blowouts. Scott Shafer's defense loves to blitz, and if the other team can pick that up and throw deep, then things can get ugly.

"It's definitely going to come down to covering and getting pressure on the quarterback," Holmes said. "I believe we have our work cut out for us again."

But Syracuse might have caught a break with the injury to Bearcats quarterback Zach Collaros. He suffered a bruised knee last week against South Florida and is questionable for Saturday. Shafer and his charges would rather throw their confusing pressure schemes at backup Chazz Anderson and see what he can do.

Either way, these Orange will arrive in Nippert Stadium as a confident bunch. And if they come away with yet another road victory, they will act like they've been there before. Because now they actually have.

"We've got to make winning a habit," linebacker Doug Hogue said. "For all of us seniors, we have to make sure the younger guys know what it's like to win and what it takes to win. We've got to keep pushing."

Week 8 review/Week 9 preview

October, 25, 2010
10/25/10
2:19
PM ET
It feels a little like 2007 nationally. It feels kind of like 2004 in the Big East. Let's talk about more recent history: last weekend's games.

Team of the week: Syracuse. The Orange have won this award a lot this season already, but never have they been more deserving. They registered the program's biggest win in years and shook up the Big East race with a 19-14 statement victory at West Virginia on Saturday. Look out, Pinstripe Bowl!

[+] EnlargeBJ Daniels
AP Photo/Al BehrmanQB B.J. Daniels [7] had a hand in four TDs during South Florida's wild win against Cincinnati.
Best game: If nothing else, you can usually count on Cincinnati to deliver an entertaining shootout. The Bearcats oblige even if their opponent comes into the game with a sickly offense. That's what happened Friday night, when South Florida broke out of its shell for a 38-30 win at Nippert Stadium that included lots of big plays and a Cincinnati drive that fell just short at the end.

Biggest play: Syracuse linebacker Doug Hogue intercepted West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and returned it 49-yards to the Mountaineers' 12-yard line with about a minute left in the first half. That set up an Orange field goal that made it 19-14 at the half, gave his team all the momentum and forced West Virginia to go for the touchdown late.

Best call: After Cincinnati was stopped on a fourth down in the third quarter, South Florida offensive coordinator Todd Fitch dialed up a sideline pass play from B.J. Daniels to Faron Hornes on the very next snap. Hornes got wide open, then raced past defenders for a 70-yard score and a 31-16 Bulls lead. I always love it when coaches go on the attack after a sudden change.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): South Florida's Daniels. Amid heavy criticism, he responded with his best game, accounting for four total touchdowns and no turnovers.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Syracuse's Hogue. He had a pair of interceptions to go along with 10 tackles as West Virginia did not score in the final 46 minutes. Just call him Doug Huge.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Louisville kicker Chris Philpott. A week after missing two crucial field goals in an eight-point loss to Cincinnati, Philpott responded by making all four of his tries against Connecticut, connecting on kicks from 39, 42, 26 and 24 yards.

Worst hangover: West Virginia. From No. 20 in the rankings and feeling good about the season to losing to Syracuse at home while watching Pitt take over the Big East lead. Thank goodness the Mountaineers play on Friday night, because it's going to feel like an awfully long week for Bill Stewart.

Strangest moment: South Florida brought heated benches and portable heaters to its sideline at Cincinnati. Game time temperature: 56 degrees. ESPN caught a funny pre-game moment when Cincinnati coach Butch Jones kidded USF's Skip Holtz about his team's overreaction to the weather.

Now let's peer into the immediate future of Week 9 (Games listed in descending order of interest/importance):

Louisville (4-3, 1-1 Big East) at Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-0): Pitt will try to stay on top of the Big East standings against a feisty Louisville team. (ESPN3.com, Noon ET)

Syracuse (5-2, 2-1) at Cincinnati (3-4, 1-1): Can the Orange pull off yet another big road win? Can Cincinnati ever get it going? (ESPNU, Noon ET)

West Virginia (5-2, 1-1) at Connecticut (3-4,0-2): In the preseason, this looked like a game that could determine the Big East champ. Now it's a battle just to stay alive in the race -- or in UConn's case to stay alive for a bowl game. (ESPN2, Friday, 8 ET)

Bye: Rutgers, South Florida

Big East helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 23, 2010
10/23/10
8:02
PM ET
B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida: Breaking out of a prolonged slump, Daniels completed 13 of 16 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for two scores in a 38-30 win at Cincinnati.

Tino Sunseri, QB, Pittsburgh: Continuing his improvement, Sunseri completed 21-of-27 for 307 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in a 41-21 win over Rutgers.

Jon Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh: Baldwin broke out with five catches for 139 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers.

Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse: Hogue had 10 tackles, half a sack and a pair of first-half interceptions to spearhead a tremendous team defensive effort in the Orange's 19-14 upset at West Virginia.

Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville: A helmet sticker staple, Powell didn't have his best day in a 26-0 win over UConn. But he had 105 yards on 27 carries and became the first Big East back to top 1,000 yards this season.

What to watch in the Big East: Week 6

October, 7, 2010
10/07/10
10:18
AM ET
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.

Syracuse seeks breakthrough win

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
3:14
PM ET
Doug Marrone is a student of Syracuse football history. So he easily reels off the stat that the Orange are 1-11-1 when playing road games on the West Coast or in Texas since 1964.

Marrone is also determined to change that. He's having the team fly out to Seattle this week on Thursday, two days before the game against Washington. He's also altering the practice schedule to get the players' body clocks adjusted

"It's like the chaos principle," he said. "If we do things the same way, how do we expect to have different results?"

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireContaining Jake Locker will be key for Syracuse on Saturday.
This Syracuse team does expect different results from its own miserable past. And Week 1 proved it.

The Orange beat Akron 29-3 for their first season-opening win since 2003. They were also the only Big East team to register a victory over an FBS team in the first week. Syracuse as the Big East football savior? Now that's a difference.

"I've never won an opening game, and it's something we all really wanted," senior linebacker Doug Hogue said. "It's the first one, and it's kind of a confidence booster for us, especially going into Washington."

The degree of difficulty raises this week, and not just in the time-zone changes. The Huskies lost their opener at BYU 23-17, but many were predicting this would be a breakout year for their program.

Any discussion about Washington, of course, must begin with quarterback Jake Locker. The guy most pundits believe will be the No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft went 20-of-37 for 266 yards and a touchdown against BYU while also running for a score.

It will be an interesting matchup between Locker and the Syracuse defense, which is built on speed with players like Hogue, a converted running back.

"It's going to be a good test for us," Hogue said. "We're going to do everything in our power to get to him, because that's how our defense is. We're an attack defense. We come downhill and run hard."

Despite the easy win in Week 1, Marrone said he saw a lot of areas that needed correcting. That included three turnovers by the offense and some technique errors elsewhere. Syracuse still has a very young roster; the Orange played nine true freshmen at Akron, the most of any Big East team. Now those youngsters must take on a Pac-10 team in front of a much more hostile crowd than the one that awaited them last week.

But if Syracuse can pull this off, it could be the start of a resurgence. The next two games are against Maine and Colgate, so a 4-0 start would be almost assured for a team that hasn't been bowl eligible since 2004.

"If we go out there and win this game [against Washington], eyes would open up about Syracuse," Hogue said. "It would be a great boost to the season, and it might make the season really spectacular for us."

That's the type of change a historian of Orange football can believe in.

"We're trying to teach this team that we're creating some history ourselves," Marrone said.
As he prepares for the first game of his second year as Syracuse head coach, Doug Marrone says the only thing that makes him anxious is the unknown.

[+] EnlargeDoug Marrone
Jerome Davis/Icon SMIDoug Marrone isn't sure what to expect from Akron after the team overhauled its coaching staff this offseason.
Marrone isn't sure what to expect out of the opening game at Akron. While the Orange have played the Zips the past two years, the program has an entirely new coaching staff, led by former Notre Dame assistant Rob Ianello. Marrone said he has kept folders on coordinators around the country since 1996 for situations just like this.

"We're playing the percentages," said Marrone, who may have his own surprises after naming himself offensive coordinator after last season. "But they're playing the percentages on us offensively, too. They don't know what we do."

The coach has a lot of young players who've never played or had big roles who will be dealing with their own unknowns this week. To counter that, he borrowed a trick from his old coach, Dick MacPherson: Last Saturday night, he had the players write down what their roles would be, how they would help the team win and what emotions they would experience.

One player who won't be playing a role, at least on game days, is running back Averin Collier. Marrone confirmed that Collier will be academically ineligible this season and will only practice with the team.

"It's a blow to the football team not having him," Marrone said. "He showed he was a playmaker last year, and we were really counting on him."

Some other players have taken on new roles. Senior Jose Cruz, who transferred from Hofstra, is the starting tight end. Marrone called him the most improved player on the team since fall camp started.

True freshman Marquis Spruill has won the starting linebacker job alongside Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue, while another true frosh, Prince-Tyson Gulley, will serve as the kick returner.

So there are a lot of unknowns awaiting in Akron on Saturday.
This time a year ago, Derrell Smith was adjusting to life as a middle linebacker for the first time. And the transition wasn't easy at first.

[+] EnlargeSmith
Chris Livingston/Icon SMIDerrell Smith notched 81 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in just 10 games last season.
"It was horrible," Smith says now with a chuckle.

Smith can laugh about those times last spring because of how much smoother everything seems these days. Once the Syracuse senior finally learned what he was supposed to be doing, he took off and became one of the top defensive players in the Big East.

Smith has played a little of everything during his college career -- starting at running back and moving to safety, outside linebacker and even defensive end -- but he's found a home now on the field. He remembers the day the proverbial light bulb went off for him last spring after some initial struggles.

"Coach [Doug] Marrone came up and jumped on me when I made the right read," Smith said. "Ever since then, I've been pretty comfortable."

He was one of the most productive players in the league last season, collecting 81 tackles, 6.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in the first 10 games. Smith said he saw his stats on a board in the Syracuse football complex and started thinking he might garner first team All-Big East or even All-America honors. But a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee ended his season with two games left. He wound up making the All-Big East second team.

Smith had surgery the day after Thanksgiving and went through rehab over the Christmas break. While he said his knee isn't 100 percent, it's getting better every day and he's able to do most things.

In Smith's absence, fellow linebacker Doug Hogue emerged as a force in the final two games, recording a school-record 6.5 tackles for loss in the Rutgers win. Smith is excited to play alongside a more experienced Hogue, who moved from running back to the defense last spring.

"I can't wait for the season to start," Smith said. "Our biggest strength is that we're two former tailbacks at linebacker and so we have a lot of speed. It's kind of hard for running backs to get to the edge because of our speed.

"I think our linebackers have a good chance of sticking out in the Big East this year, and I think we should earn some honors at the end of season."

Syracuse had a solid defense in 2009, and Smith expects better things in the second year under Marrone and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer.

"We know what to expect out of the coaches, and I think that makes a big difference," he said. "Last year, things seemed hard and now they seem easy. If you can go out there and play hard and not think about things, it should translate to better performance."

Big East helmet stickers, Week 12

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
3:43
PM ET

  • B.J. Daniels, QB, South Florida: The redshirt freshman accounted for 445 yards of total offense and became the first player in Big East history to run for more than 100 yards (he had 141) and pass for more than 300 (he had 305) in the same game. He also scored three times in the Bulls' 34-22 win over Louisville.
  • Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut: Todman ran for 130 yards and a score on 26 carries and also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the Huskies' 33-30 double-overtime win at Notre Dame.
  • Andre Dixon, RB, Connecticut: Todman's backfield mate added 114 yards on the ground, plus all 25 yards on the winning drive of the second overtime.
  • Doug Hogue, LB, Syracuse: Hogue broke a school record with 6.5 tackles for loss, including 3.5 sacks, in the Orange's 31-13 upset of Rutgers.
  • Syracuse's offensive line: The Orange offensive front allowed the team to rush for 213 yards and have 40:01 minutes of possession in the win.

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