NCF Nation: George Selvie

Big East in the NFL draft

April, 26, 2010
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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.

Biggest shoes to fill in the Big East

February, 8, 2010
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A year ago at this time, the Big East was dealing with the loss of a plethora of stars, including some of the best players in league history. Guys like Pat White, Donald Brown, Kenny Britt, LeSean McCoy and Scott McKillop seemed difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

The league fared just fine in 2009 without those stars, and the good news for 2010 is that many of its top performers will be back. But that's not to say there aren't still some key losses that teams will have to adjust to this spring. Here's a look at the biggest shoes to fill this season in the Big East:

  • Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: The Bearcats aren't exactly hurting at wide receiver with Armon Binns, D.J. Woods and USC transfer Vidal Hazelton around. Still, someone must replace Gilyard's leadership and knack for making the big play at crucial times. What might be even more difficult to replace is Gilyard's production on special teams. The two-time Big East special teams player of the year was always a threat to score on kickoffs and punt returns. And hopefully someone will step in Gilyard's role as the best quote in the entire conference.
  • Tim Brown, WR, Rutgers: Brown may not have received a ton of attention nationally, but he was vitally important to the Scarlet Knights. The speedster averaged 20.9 yards per catch and amassed 1,150 receiving yards and nine touchdowns as the team's only true deep threat. With a still very young receiving corps surrounding Tom Savage, Rutgers will need to find someone who can stretch the field the way Brown did.
  • Mick Williams, DT, Pittsburgh: The 2009 co-defensive player of the year in the conference, Williams was a wildly disruptive force in the middle of that Panthers defensive line, as well as an inspirational leader. With fellow senior tackle Gus Mustakas also gone, Pitt needs more production from backups Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih, among others.
  • Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers: McCourty was an underappreciated gem for the Scarlet Knights, a lockdown cornerback who also was seemingly everywhere on special teams. He was the leader of the secondary. Guys with his skills don't come around that often.
  • Reed Williams, LB, West Virginia: The Mountaineers had to deal with Williams' absence for most of 2008 and at times this past season because of various injuries. But it was clear that they were a different team whenever Williams was healthy. A smart player (he's the 2009 Big East football scholar-athlete of the year ) who anchored the defense at middle linebacker, Williams was like a coach on the field.
  • George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida: Say what you will about Selvie's dwindling production, but opposing offense still always had to account for him. And Pierre-Paul ascended to star status in his one year on campus. Combined, the two produced 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2009. The Bulls now need the next wave of pass-rushers to emerge, with former stud recruit Ryne Giddins one possible candidate.

What's next for South Florida?

January, 8, 2010
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South Florida has called a 12:30 p.m. news conference in which the school will officially announce that Jim Leavitt has been fired. The results of the investigation into allegations of abuse by Leavitt against walk-on player Joel Miller will be made public just before the news conference.

While we wait for that, let's take a quick look at where the Bulls might turn next.

South Florida has a few challenges in hiring its next coach.

As a young program with little history, it doesn't have much of a coaching tree to call upon. There aren't a ton of former Bulls assistants or players out there in the coaching field. It's also already Jan. 8, giving South Florida a late entry into the coaching market. With signing day fast approaching, the school needs to act fast if it wants to hold this year's class together.

And as we've mentioned, this isn't an athletic department with unlimited resources, so throwing $2 million at a proven coach isn't going to happen. The perfect guy for this job might have been Charlie Strong, who was Florida's defensive coordinator before taking the Louisville job. But the Bulls were obviously too late to make that move.

So who are some realistic candidates? Here's a quick look at three names that will be prominently mentioned early in the process:
  • Calvin Magee: The Michigan offensive coordinator/associate head coach has some connections that other candidates can't match. He has a graduate degree from South Florida and was a Bulls assistant from 1996-2000. He also spent seven seasons at West Virginia as an assistant, so he knows the Big East intimately well. As Rich Rodriguez's offensive coordinator, he has a strong background and should bring an exciting style of play.
  • Dan McCarney: McCarney has an impressive résumé that includes head coaching experience -- he was the Iowa State coach from 1995-2006 -- and time in Tampa. He spent 2007 as USF's defensive line coach and has been credited with turning George Selvie into a star. He is now the assistant head coach/defensive line coach at Florida, so he knows the Bulls' recruiting ground well.
  • Tommy Tuberville: The former Auburn coach has been mentioned with just about every opening the past few weeks and has made no secret of his desire to get back into the game. He obviously knows how to recruit Florida from his time in the SEC, where he was incredibly successful. And the affable Tuberville would bring a completely different personality to USF than the sometimes standoffish Leavitt.

International Bowl preview

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
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A brief primer on Saturday's International Bowl game between South Florida (7-5) and Northern Illinois (7-5):

WHO TO WATCH: B.J. Daniels. The South Florida quarterback is a boom-or-bust player. He can make eye-popping plays or head-scratching freshman mistakes. Putting him on the turf indoors at Toronto's Rogers Centre should allow Daniels to use his speed on scrambles and quarterback keepers -- he is, after all, the Bulls' leading rusher. South Florida fans would love to see Daniels have a big game and gain some positive momentum going into his sophomore year, when most of the offense returns intact.

WHAT TO WATCH: These teams are actually very similar statistically, with Northern Illinois a better offensive team. Of course, the Huskies haven't played as strong a schedule as South Florida, but they did win at Purdue. They rank 17th nationally with more than 200 rushing yards per game, and running back Chad Spann has scored 19 rushing touchdowns. A big key will be whether their offensive line can handle the Bulls up front in what is the last game for star defensive end George Selvie and possible NFL early entree Jason Pierre-Paul.

WHY WATCH: It's hard to keep a straight face and sell this game as terribly interesting. But South Florida is a box-of-chocolates team; you never know what kind of effort you'll get from the Bulls. If they're fully invested into this long trip to a foreign climate, they should have too many athletes for Northern Illinois to handle. The scrutiny of Jim Leavitt may also intensify if he can't manage to beat a 7-5 MAC team in a bowl.

PREDICTION: I've got to believe that South Florida is too fast and talented to lose this game, no matter how little it may actually want to be there. Bulls win 31-16.

Revisiting preseason picks

December, 17, 2009
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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.

Big East announces postseason awards

December, 9, 2009
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Dion Lewis is the Big East's offensive player of the year, while Pitt teammates Greg Romeus and Mick Williams shared the defensive player of the year award in voting by the league's head coaches. It's the first time two teammates have ever shared that honor.

Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard repeated as the league's special teams player of the year, while Brian Kelly made it a three-peat on coach of the year honors.

Lewis, who rushed for nearly 1,700 yards, also was named the Big East rookie of the year. He's the first to win both offensive and rookie awards since Virginia Tech's Michael Vick.

The league also announced its postseason first and second All-Big East teams and made the late Jasper Howard an honorary captain. The UConn cornerback was stabbed to death hours after the Huskies' Oct. 17 win over Louisville.

"We regard the Big East Conference as the biggest family in collegiate athletics,” commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement. “As a family, we wanted to respectfully remember Jasper Howard and honor his memory."

When I revealed my own awards on Tuesday, I chose Williams as the defensive player of the year but noted how close it was between him and Romeus. Obviously, the coaches couldn't decide.

Here's the complete list of all the award winners and the first- and second-team selections. There are a few differences between the official Big East team and my choices for the ESPN.com All-Big East team. Because the league simply awards extra spots when there are ties, both Bill Stull and Tony Pike are officially first-teamers at quarterback. Anthony Davis made the league first team but not mine at offensive tackle; while Davis is clearly the most naturally gifted lineman in the league, there's no way he was consistent or productive enough this season to earn that distinction.

The coaches also chose Cincinnati's Chris Jurek at center, while I had UConn's Moe Petrus. Either one is a fine choice.

On defense, the official team has five defensive linemen, four linebackers and three cornerbacks, plus two safeties. Well, you could definitely stop some offenses with that kind of lineup. I think it's time the league institute some tiebreaker rules, because in an eight-team league, that's completely ridiculous.

Anyway, one of the main differences in the league's team and my own is the coaches voted for West Virginia's Robert Sands at safety over my pick, South Florida's Nate Allen. I have no beef with that, since I wrestled with that choice for a long time.

Most people would have picked two-time All-American defensive end George Selvie as the preseason defensive player of the year. The South Florida senior only made the league's second team, however.

International Bowl

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
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South Florida (7-5) vs. Northern Illinois (7-5):
Jan. 2, Noon (ESPN2)

South Florida take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: Suppose you would have asked South Florida back on Sept. 26, just hours after it scored a potentially program-changing victory at Florida State in Tallahassee, where the Bulls would end up bowling.

I bet you could have polled all 85 scholarship players and not found a single one who would have said in Toronto against a 7-5 MAC team.

Such, however, is the state of South Florida, a program that never wins enough after strong starts to matter much in the end. The Bulls won just twice after Oct. 3 and thus earned the Big East's version of a postseason banishment: Canada.

Head coach Jim Leavitt's first order of business will be to get his players excited about such an assignment and convince them that Northern Illinois is dangerous. The Huskies, after all, beat Purdue and gave Wisconsin a battle on the road earlier this year and have a strong rushing attack.

Still, there's little to suggest that Northern Illinois can keep up athletically with the Bulls, who have future pros like George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul on defense, electric boom-or-bust quarterback B.J. Daniels and a fleet of fast receivers. With proper motivation and focus, South Florida should be the heavy favorite in this game.

But that's assuming a lot for a team that too many times comes out flat emotionally. And that's why a promising start to the year is ending in Toronto for the Bulls.


Northern Illinois take by Independents and Others blogger Graham Watson: For the first time in school history, Northern Illinois will play a bowl game in back-to-back seasons. This is only the sixth overall bowl for the Huskies, and head coach Jerry Kill, who is in his second season, is responsible for two of them.

Northern Illinois finished second in the Mid-American Conference West behind league champion Central Michigan. The Huskies seven wins are the most since 2006 and that included a 28-21 win over Purdue, the school’s second-ever win over a Big Ten school.

Northern Illinois has spent most of the season dealing with injuries. Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish missed significant time and backup DeMarcus Grady put the Huskies in a position to play for a division championship.

The strength of Northern Illinois is its running game. The Huskies have a one-two punch in Chad Spann and Me'co Brown. The two have combined for 1,590 yards and Spann has accounted for 19 rushing touchdowns. Spann’s 20 total touchdowns give him the most points in the MAC.

The Huskies’ rushing attack should be able to find some daylight against South Florida, which allows 137.75 rushing yards per game.

The Northern Illinois defense will have a challenge against dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels, who leads the team in both passing and rushing. He is the bulk of the Bulls offense and will be a point of emphasis for the Huskies’ defense.
South Florida may not have officially knocked down the entry gate into the Big Three of Florida, but now it has a rivalry game befitting of that status.

Miami comes to Tampa this weekend for the first of a planned five-year series between the two schools. The Hurricanes and Bulls will meet during Thanksgiving week just like Florida and Florida State do every year. On Saturday, the two games will even kick off at the same time (3:30 p.m. ET) and both will have network broadcasts -- ABC will show the USF-Miami game to about 40 percent of the country. Bulls coach Jim Leavitt hopes this becomes a second traditional rivalry game in the state.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Daniels
Kim Klement/US PresswireB.J. Daniels and the Bulls are looking forward to Saturday's matchup with Miami.
"For us, we've never been a part of that Miami-Florida State, Florida-Florida State game," Leavitt said. "I really thought that if there was a way we could play one of those schools and build a game, it would really help our program."

This isn't the first meeting between the two schools; South Florida lost at Miami, 27-7, in 2005. But the Bulls feel like their program has come a long way since then, and that they can now begin to compete with the state's superpowers. They proved that by beating Florida State 17-7 in Tallahassee back in September.

"That gave us a lot of confidence to move on to another big team," South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels said.

This will be the first time the Bulls have a home game against one of the Big Three. Raymond James Stadium is officially listed as a sellout for Saturday.

"That's a real big deal for us," defensive end George Selvie said. "They're coming to our stadium on Thanksgiving weekend. It will be one of the biggest games ever played in the Ray Jay."

South Florida (7-3, 3-3 Big East) has, in some ways, disappointed this year, faltering in conference play after another hot start. But to beat Florida State and Miami in the same season would make this one of the most memorable campaigns in school history.

"I think the biggest aspect for our program is recruiting," linebacker Kion Wilson said. "Hopefully this will help us land some better recruits and actually launch the program even more than it even is, if we have the ability to beat both Florida State and Miami."

The Bulls beat out the Hurricanes for a few recruits this past offseason, most notably defensive back Kayvon Webster and linebacker Sam Barrington, both of whom have played a lot this season. They're always going to be butting heads with Miami, Florida State and Florida on the intense Sunshine State recruiting trail.

Leavitt said the difference in those programs and his own right now is that they can stockpile top-shelf recruits and create lots of depth on the roster. He doesn't think the Bulls are quite there yet, which may be one reason the team has slipped in midseason the past few years.

But South Florida -- which gets its first crack at the Gators next year in The Swamp -- is getting closer to the other state superpowers. Saturday brings another chance to knock down the entry gate.

"I felt like beating [Florida State] was the first step," Daniels said. "Playing Miami is another step. I won't ever say we're in the Big Four until we beat all of them."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

As of Monday afternoon, George Selvie hadn't watched any tape of South Florida's 41-14 humiliation at Pitt, and he didn't plan on looking at it, either.

"We didn't just get beat, we got whooped," the Bulls' defensive end said. "I'm not going to watch it. I was disgusted."

Selvie and the rest of his teammates already know the plot of that film. You know, the one where the hero starts off strong and gets killed in the middle.

Or at least that's been the Bulls' story arc now for three straight years. And like most sequels, they've upped the gore in the latest installment.

Though South Florida has struggled in October before, rarely has it been so thoroughly dominated defensively. After allowing just 47 points in the first five games, the Bulls gave up 75 in losses to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Those two teams combined for 887 yards of offense.

True, the Bulls have faced the top two scoring teams in the Big East the past two times out. But the third highest scoring offense comes to Tampa on Friday night, when No. 21 West Virginia (6-1, 2-0 Big East) tries to continue South Florida's month of misery.

"It all comes down to pride," Selvie said. "You can't let people win over you like that. We've got to come together as a defense and see what our problem is."

The defensive problems have started up front. The Bulls' defensive line, so dominant earlier in the season, hit a roadblock in the form of the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh protection schemes. Pitt in particular used a lot of help to stop Selvie and Jason-Pierre Paul, leaving in tight ends and a fullback to block while making sure to get rid of the ball quickly. But even when they had solo blockers, Selvie and Pierre-Paul did no damage.

"There's no excuse for not getting a pass rush, because we're a pass-rushing defensive line," Selvie said. "When we don't, that makes it hard on our DBs and our linebackers."

The Bulls' corners tried to play press coverage at times against Pitt and got burned. Teams have also been able to run the ball right at the defense, which is never a good sign when Noel Devine is on deck.

Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey lamented that his unit gave up too many explosive plays and committed too many penalties against Pittsburgh. Curiously, the defense also seemed to lack its usual passion.

"We just never got going," Tresey said. "Our energy level and enthusiasm has got to pick up."

The Bulls talked in the preseason about how their only goal was to win the Big East. Now, barring a highly unlikely chain of events, that dream is already dead. Instead, they're back to answering questions about yet another midseason swoon.

"It's very frustrating," senior receiver Jessie Hester said. "I've been here five years, and it's been like that every year. I feel like we have lots of talent and most of the time, we beat ourselves.

"We still haven't had a 10-win season yet, and so that's still in reach. But we can't lose any more games."

If South Florida can't get back on track against West Virginia, especially defensively, it will produce another film that none of the Bulls want to see.

"We've been through this before," Selvie said. "We've got to stop it right now before it gets really bad."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. Can West Virginia solve South Florida's defense?: The Mountaineers have scored 13 points in each of their last two games against the Bulls and have failed to break 20 points in the last three installments of this series. South Florida's defensive adjustments are one reason why Bill Stewart wanted to diversify the West Virginia offense. It's much more balanced now between the pass and the run, and a multiple-touchdown game would serve as validation to the system change.

2. Can South Florida solve South Florida's defense?: The Bulls' defense might have had success recently against West Virginia, but it hasn't done much right in the past two games, surrendering 75 points to Cincinnati and Pitt combined. The pass rush up front with George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul has been curtailed, and the defensive backs are getting burned. West Virginia can score in many ways and will do so many times unless South Florida fixes its gaps.

3. Noel Devine: The star running back is West Virginia's safety valve whenever the offense stalls. USF has the second-worst rushing defense in the Big East. Sounds like a good matchup for the Mountaineers.

4. Collaros in the Carrier Dome: All signs point to Zach Collaros making his second start in place of the injured Tony Pike at quarterback for Cincinnati. Collaros was brilliant last week against Louisville, but he'll have a little tougher task this week on the road against a better defense. Will he be up to it? The Bearcats' BCS title hopes depend on it.

5. Delone Carter: Carter is coming off a career day, with 170 yards and three touchdowns against Akron. He's a strong, physical back in the mold of Ryan Mathews, who gave Cincinnati fits earlier this year. If he can move the chains, that will help Syracuse keep the Bearcats' offense on the sidelines.

6. Mike Williams vs. Mardy Gilyard: Who's the best receiver in the Big East? With apologies to Jonathan Baldwin, these two guys are at the top of the list, with similarly outsized statistics. Williams missed last week because of a one-game suspension and should be plenty motivated to atone for that. He's Syracuse's best playmaker and maybe the best chance to keep this game close. The thought of Gilyard using his speed on the Carrier Dome turf is tantalizing.

7. Remembering Howard at home: UConn will play its first game at Rentschler Field since the death of Jasper Howard. It figures to be the second straight emotionally charged Saturday for the Huskies, who will try to channel those feelings into another inspired effort against Rutgers. "This is the last place we want to lose, especially under these circumstances," UConn linebacker Greg Lloyd said this week.

8. Red alert for Scarlet Knights' offense:
Rutgers has not had an easy time scoring against the better teams on its schedule. The Scarlet Knights mustered 15 points against Cincinnati in the opener and 17 versus Pittsburgh. Connecticut has a physical, run-stuffing defense with ball-hawking defensive backs. Can Tom Savage get anything going consistently in the passing game, or will Rutgers have to try to grind it out while hoping its own defense saves the day?

9. Louisville's potential Halloween nightmare: The Cardinals are barely favored at home against Arkansas State, which tells you just about all you need to know about the state of the program. Fans are depressed, and it could well be a sparse crowd at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Red Wolves, who nearly won at Iowa this season, can't be taken lightly. A home loss to this Sun Belt team would likely be the final stake in Steve Kragthorpe's tenuous tenure.

10. The BCS standings: As long as Cincinnati is in the hunt, the Sunday release of the BCS standings remains something to watch in the Big East. Last week, the Bearcats dropped three spots after a 31-point win over Louisville. Beating Syracuse probably wouldn't help their strength-of-schedule much, either. Can Cincinnati get some help from other teams losing or from the pollsters this week?
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.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

One of the most interesting debates you could have in the preseason about the Big East was trying to figure out which team had the better defensive line between Pittsburgh and South Florida.

George Gojkovich/Getty Images
Greg Romeus (91) and Mick Williams (95) have led a stout Pitt defensive line.
Halfway through the season, there is still no definitive answer. Each unit has a strong claim to boasting the best front four in the league. Pitt ranks third nationally in sacks and 12th in tackles for loss while the Bulls are 19th in the FBS in both categories (Cincinnati, it should be noted, is ahead of both in those stats, but the Bearcats play out of a three-man front).

The debate could be settled this Saturday, when South Florida takes on the Panthers in Heinz Field. Fans will be treated to two defensive lines stacked with pass-rushing menaces and future pros.

"I think there are a lot of similarities," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "One is the scheme, because we're both 4-3 teams. And we both turn our D-linemen loose, if you will. We play aggressively with those guys up front."

Both lines feature top candidates for the Big East defensive player of the year award, including South Florida defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul (8.5 tackles for loss) and George Selvie (three sacks) and Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus (seven sacks) and tackle Mick Williams (11.5 tackles for loss). Jabaal Sheard, Romeus' counterpart at the other end spot, continues to be one of the more underrated players in the league.

While both lines have some big guys -- Bulls tackle Terrell McClain is 6-foot-3, 306 pounds, and Williams and fellow Pitt tackle Gus Mustakas are strong as oxen -- both lines share preferences for speed over size. Selvie, for example, was a high school center who has worked most of his career to put on weight, while Romeus was a slender high school basketball player who has bulked up to 270 pounds.

Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul has 8.5 tackles for loss this season.
"They're both very athletic with a lot of speed," Pitt offensive lineman John Malecki said. "[South Florida] utilizes a lot of different things in their pass rushing, with line games and stunts, just like we do."

One major key to the game will be how both offensive lines hold up under the massive pressure. Pitt has allowed only six sacks in seven games, ranking 13th in the FBS in that statistic. But its O-line has not seen a D-line as fearsome as South Florida's yet.

The Bulls have given up 11 sacks in six games, but Cincinnati had four in last week 34-17 win in Tampa. B.J. Daniels' scrambling ability probably has saved at least a half-dozen or more additional sacks. Still, this unit came into the year as the team's biggest question mark.

"We were supposed to be the weakest link of the team," center Sampson Genus said, "and so far, we're doing pretty well."

I asked Romeus if he and his teammates were looking at this week as a chance to prove they have the Big East's best defensive line. He chuckled.

"We went into the season wanting to be the best in the conference and the country," he said. "That's something we're trying to accomplish every week, regardless of who we're playing."

Yet there's no getting around the fact that Saturday's game will provide a feast for those who like watching the trenches.

"I think it's going to be a defensive game, and obviously it starts up front," Romeus said. "Whichever D-line comes up big will have a big sway in who ends up winning the game."
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. Honoring Howard: The rest of the country will watch to see how Connecticut reacts to the stabbing death of its starting cornerback, Jasper Howard. There will be a moment of silence before the West Virginia game, and both teams will be wearing decals to honor Howard's legacy. Perhaps the best tribute the Huskies could pay to their fallen teammate is to play with passion and pull off a victory.

2. Jarrett Brown: The West Virginia quarterback is supposedly feeling much better from his mild concussion last week against Marshall. If he does indeed start, will he be his usual effective self? Or will he be gun shy at all when he takes off to run?

3. Battle of the front fours: Pitt and South Florida probably have the best defensive lines in the Big East, and it will be a treat to see both on the same field Saturday. Who gets the upper hand in the showdown of defensive end duos? The Bulls' George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul or the Panthers' Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard? All of them could be on an NFL field very soon.

4. B.J. Daniels:
The South Florida quarterback was an acrobat in escaping from Cincinnati's pass rush last week, but many times he was just running around in the backfield and not coming up with positive plays. Pitt's defense is quick and athletic and can slow him down on the option-read plays. Where Daniels can make something happen is in the deep passing game against the Panthers' secondary. Provided, of course, that he's not spending all his time dancing around would-be tacklers.

5. Dion Lewis: The true freshman leads the Big East and is second in the nation in rushing and will obviously be a key to Pitt's chances against the Bulls. As strong as South Florida's pass rush is, you can run right at them. Pounding Lewis between the tackles -- and he loves to run inside despite his small stature -- will keep those defensive ends at bay.

6. Cincinnati's quarterback situation: As of Thursday morning, it's unclear who will start under center for the Bearcats. It could be Tony Pike, who underwent an operation to repair a plate in his left arm Tuesday morning. Or it could be one of the backups, Chazz Anderson or Zach Collaros. The situation bears monitoring. Can Pike sustain his level of play with another cast on his arm? And can Cincinnati keep the same offensive pace with one of his understudies in the game?

7. Louisville's running back health: The Cardinals' top three tailbacks -- Victor Anderson, Bilal Powell and Darius Ashley -- were all hurt during last week's game at Connecticut, and the team turned to former walk-on Blayne Donnell late in the fourth quarter. The trio is supposed to be better this week. For Louisville to have any chance against Cincinnati, it will need all hands on deck.

8. Rutgers' offense: The Scarlet Knights had four different players either line up at quarterback or attempt a pass last week against Pitt. There is creativity, and then there is desperation. This offense is still seeking an identity. Army, of course, provides our nation with great defense. But the Black Knights shouldn't be able to stop a capable Big East attack. Rutgers needs to go out and have a big night on the ground and through the air in West Point.

9. Greg Paulus: Doug Marrone insists that Paulus is still his guy. Paulus says he's as confident as ever. Still, after throwing six interceptions in six quarters and being pulled for the second half against West Virginia, the quarterback could use a strong performance this week. If he can't avoid mistakes against the Akron defense, there will be questions about whether it's time to turn to Ryan Nassib.

10. The BCS standings: Cincinnati was barely ahead of Iowa in this week's initial BCS standings. Can the Bearcats maintain their No. 5 position, or even move up? Iowa plays at Michigan State, while No. 4 Boise State has to go to Hawaii. Another game that could help Cincinnati's computer ranking is Oregon State at USC, since the Bearcats beat the Beavers earlier this season. The suspense will continue each week as long as Brian Kelly's team is hovering near BCS title game qualification.

Big East midseason review

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
9:30
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Reports of the Big East's demise were greatly exaggerated.

 
 Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
 Tony Pike has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
The season began with no Big East teams in either major top 25 poll. Most observers figured the league would be down after losing such stars as Pat White, Donald Brown, LeSean McCoy and Scott McKillop to the NFL.

But through the first half of the season, the Big East looks as strong as ever. This week, there are three teams from the conference in both major top 25 polls. That's more than the Pac-10, and the same number as the ACC and Big Ten. The league has a legitimate national championship contender in Cincinnati, which is No. 5 in the BCS standings. The Big East has gone 26-7 in nonconference games, and its .788 winning percentage is better than every conference except the SEC.

New stars have emerged, like Pitt's Dion Lewis and South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul and B.J. Daniels, while returning players like Tony Pike, Bill Stull and Jarrett Brown have taken a step forward. Even guys who were absent or invisible last year, like Mike Williams and Andre Dixon, have bounced back with career years.

Big East offenses have been potent, with six teams averaging at least 29 points and players like Pike, Lewis, Noel Devine and Mardy Gilyard among the national statistical leaders.

The second half of the season will be all about the conference race, with Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia battling it out as the top contenders. But the Big East remains so balanced that just about any team can beat another.

If there are upsets in the second half, critics can't say it's because the league is weak or down. The Big East proved itself in the first half.

Now here's a quick look at some of the first-half highlights:

Offensive player of the mid-year: Tony Pike. There are a number of candidates here, including Devine, Lewis, Dixon and even Pike's teammate, Gilyard. But Pike is the trigger man for the best offense and the best team in the league, and he's been as good as any quarterback in the country so far.

Defensive player of the mid-year: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida. There is no clear-cut leader for this award, but there are a plethora of candidates, including UConn's Lindsey Witten and Lawrence Wilson, Cincinnati's Aaron Webster, Syracuse's Derrell Smith, Pitt's Greg Romeus and Mick Williams and South Florida's George Selvie and Nate Allen. I pick Pierre-Paul because, even though he's only been fully involved in about four games, he's been the most disruptive defensive force I've seen this year. He already has 8.5 tackles for loss despite getting a late start, and he's been nearly unblockable at times. The scary part is, he should only get better.

Surprise of the first half: Cincinnati's defense. Those who paid close enough attention knew that the Bearcats had veterans and weren't starting from scratch despite losing 10 senior starters from 2008. But nearly everyone thought there would need to be an adjustment period, particularly with a new scheme and new coordinator. Hardly anyone could have forecast Cincinnati ranking 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing a little more than 14 points per game.

Disappointment of the first half:
Rutgers. All of the momentum built from last year's seven-game winning streak ended in the opener, a humbling 47-15 home loss to Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights had the perfect schedule to contend in the Big East but have lost their first two conference games, at home. Their offense has sputtered against good competition.

Best game: Syracuse's 37-34 win over Northwestern was an old-fashioned shootout that came down to a dramatic last-second field goal. That it was the first win for new coach Doug Marrone in a raucous Carrier Dome made it even sweeter for Orange fans.

Best coach: It was Brian Kelly in 2007. It was Brian Kelly in 2008. And it's Brian Kelly in the first half of 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


TAMPA, Fla. -- A quick review of the first half at Raymond James Stadium, where No. 8 Cincinnati leads No. 21 South Florida 17-10:

Turning point: Cincinnati had a third-and-17 inside its own 10. George Selvie nearly sacked Tony Pike in the end zone. Instead, Pike rolled to his left and fired a pass to the sideline to D.J. Woods for a 25-yard gain. The Bearcats turned that into their first sustained drive of the half, scored a touchdown and went ahead 17-7.

Stat of the half: Cincinnati had 84 yards on that touchdown drive. But the Bearcats had only 49 yards the rest of the half combined for a total of 133. South Florida's defense has been great, but the Bulls have failed to capitalize on their offensive opportunities.

What South Florida needs to do: The Bulls' defense is doing its job. Cincinnati scored after a long interception return set it up at the South Florida 3, and thanks to two great catches on the one long drive. The Bulls just need to finish off drives and maybe let B.J. Daniels scramble even more.

What Cincinnati needs to do: The Bearcats need to get Mardy Gilyard more involved. He had only one catch until the long touchdown drive, when he got free on a crossing pattern and a throwback screen. South Florida is double-teaming him when he's split wide, so Brian Kelly has to continue to find different ways to get the team's most dynamic playmaker open.

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