NCF Nation: Greg Paulus

There were wins and losses, big games and duds. But when the statistics and records become foggy in our brains, we'll still remember some of the indelible moments from the 2009 Big East season. Here are my top 10 moments:

[+] EnlargeJasper Howard
AP Photo/Michael ConroyConnecticut's emotional win over Notre Dame will be remembered for a long time.
1. UConn celebrating in South Bend: The top story in the Big East this year, at least in my eyes, was how Connecticut dealt with the tragedy of losing teammate Jasper Howard in the middle of the season. And so it was heartwarming to see the Huskies -- after working so hard to honor Howard's legacy but coming up just short in three straight games -- finally break through and win in overtime at Notre Dame, of all places. Randy Edsall's goosebump-inducing postgame interview, in which he dedicated the win to Howard's family, will be remembered for a long time.

2. The Cincinnati comeback at Pitt: In two years of doing this blog, I haven't seen a wilder game than Cincinnati's 45-44 win over Pitt in the season finale after the Bearcats were down 31-10. I made my way down to the field for the last couple of minutes and just happened to be standing in the corner of the end zone where Tony Pike's beautifully-thrown pass landed in the outstretched hands of Armon Binns for the game-winning touchdown. That play, and the looks on the faces of players from both sides, was something to behold up close.

3. West Virginia welcomes UConn: West Virginia fans showed solidarity with Connecticut when the Huskies traveled to Morgantown the week after Howard was killed. Signs of support, a moment of silence and Bill Stewart hugging Edsall were just some of the ways the Mountaineers displayed their empathy in a classy, heartfelt way.

4. Greg Paulus playing quarterback: This was one of the biggest -- and strangest -- stories of the offseason, as Paulus came back to the sport after four years of playing point guard for the Duke basketball team. Doug Marrone gambled by making Paulus his starter right away. Paulus had his ups and downs -- he completed 67.7 percent of his passes, but also threw 14 interceptions -- but it was a fascinating experiment to watch.

5. Tim Brown streaking to victory: In yet another moment involving UConn, it looked like the Huskies had beaten Rutgers after they scored with 38 seconds left to take the lead. But on the very next play from scrimmage, Tom Savage hit Brown over the middle, and the senior receiver darted 81 yards untouched to the end zone for the victory.

6. Dion Lewis bouncing off tackles: The Pitt true freshman had an unbelievable year, rushing for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns. What I'll remember is not one specific play, but just the way Lewis always seemed to emerge from a crowd, running through stunned defenders, as he kept slipping away for more yardage.

7. B.J. Daniels' homecoming: While it may have lost some luster later in the season, South Florida's upset at Florida State was pretty special at the time. And the fact that freshman quarterback Daniels led the way in his hometown of Tallahassee while making his first start in place of the injured Matt Grothe made it a storybook tale.

8. The Brian Kelly drama: Cincinnati's perfect 12-0 finish was nearly overshadowed by the rumors of its three-time Big East coach of the year leaving for Notre Dame. And when Kelly finally confirmed he was going to South Bend at the postseason banquet, many players angrily stormed out of the room. Then they had to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl without their coach. While maybe it shouldn't be the most memorable thing about the Bearcats' season, it's near the top of the list, for sure.

9. Pitt drives into a Meineke: Pittsburgh could have folded up shop after losing its last two regular-season games in the final minute. But the Panthers showed a lot of resilience in the Meineke Car Care Bowl by marching on an epic 17-play, 8:47 scoring drive to beat North Carolina.

10. Devine on the run: When I think of West Virginia's season, I'll always picture Noel Devine dashing to daylight. It's not just the fuzzy lens of nostalgia. Devine had seven runs of at least 56 yards this season, including an 88-yarder against Pitt, a 77-yarder versus Colorado and a 70-yard sprint in the Gator Bowl. Will he keep running to the NFL or come back to create more memories in the Big East?

Those are my top 10 moments from 2009. What are some of your favorites that I didn't include?
It was supposed to be a down year for the Big East.

The league entered the season with no ranked teams and much uncertainty. Every team had at least one major question mark, and several stars were lost in the 2009 NFL draft.

Instead, the conference had one of its strongest showings and most exciting seasons ever. Two teams -- Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- cracked the top 10, five total league teams appeared in the Top 25 at some point and three finished in the final rankings. Cincinnati provided the Big East a legitimate powerhouse, going 12-0 and coming up a controversial Big 12 second short of possibly crashing the BCS title game.

[+] EnlargeDion Lewis
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesDion Lewis rushed for 1,640 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Panthers.
While the Bearcats were clearly the league's best team, the conference remained very balanced. Cincinnati beat Pitt by one point, Connecticut by two and West Virginia by three. West Virginia beat Pitt on a last-second field goal, while Pitt pulled the same trick on UConn.

South Florida got its usual September day in the sun by beating Florida State before slinking back into the shade by mid-October. Rutgers won eight games, including a blowout of South Florida and a thriller over UConn, but couldn't get a signature win. Syracuse, despite a 4-8 record, showed signs of progress under first-year coach Doug Marrone, while Louisville ended the Steve Kragthorpe era after missing a bowl for the third straight year.

In all, the league was highly competitive each week and finished 32-8 against nonconference opponents. The Big East provided lots of great stories -- like Cincinnati's run, UConn's strength in the light of tragedy and Greg Paulus' transition from point guard to quarterback -- and several dramatic games, including the Cincinnati-Pitt finale and virtually every game Connecticut played. Many young stars, from Dion Lewis to Mohamed Sanu to Zach Collaros, came of age under the bright lights and will be making plays in this league for years.

If that's what a down year looks like, may the Big East never find its way up.

Offensive MVP: Pitt running back Dion Lewis

Had Tony Pike stayed healthy all year, he may have run away with this award. But that doesn't diminish the amazing achievements by Lewis, who did the unthinkable by dominating the conference as a true freshman. He finished third in the nation in rushing with 1,640 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. He eclipsed 100 yards nine times and went over 150 yards in five of his last seven games. The rest of the Big East can't believe they have to face this guy for at least two more years.

Defensive MVP: Pitt defensive tackle Mick Williams

This was a very difficult choice. Several defensive players had standout years, but there was no one obvious guy like Scott McKillop last year. I asked a few coordinators around the league for help with this pick, and the consensus was that Williams and fellow Pitt defensive lineman Greg Romeus were the two most disruptive, headache-inducing defenders in the conference this year. I give Williams the nod over Romeus because he had 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, which is very impressive, and his work on the inside helped make it possible for Romeus to rush the passer on the edge.

Special teams MVP: Cincinnati returner Mardy Gilyard

Rutgers' Devin McCourty had a great year on special teams as well, but Gilyard had the uncanny ability to make a huge play when his team needed it most. Never was that more evident than his 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Pitt. Gilyard returned two kickoffs and a punt back for scores this year and was a threat to go all the way every time he touched the ball.

Newcomer of the year: Lewis

If he's the offensive player of the year, then this is obvious. There were other top-notch newcomers who might have won this in other years, including Rutgers' Sanu and South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul.

Coach of the year: Cincinnati's Brian Kelly

Kelly might not have any more room on his mantle for this award since it would be the third time in three years he's won it. UConn's Randy Edsall deserves strong consideration as well for the way he kept his team together and led with grace after the death of Jasper Howard. But 12-0 is 12-0, especially when you replaced virtually your entire defense.

Biggest surprise: Connecticut

Not so much that it finished 7-5, which was about as expected, but because the Huskies rebounded from tragedy to close the year strong while becoming an offensive power.

Biggest disappointment: South Florida

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise anymore, but after yet another 5-0 start that included a win at Florida State, the Bulls sure should have done better than 7-5 and the International Bowl. Yes, Matt Grothe's injury didn't help. But when you consider that five of the team's victories came over two FCS teams, Western Kentucky, Syracuse and Louisville, that 7-5 mark looks even drearier.

Game of the year: Cincinnati 45, Pitt 44, Dec. 5

The Big East saved its best for last, as the schedule worked out perfectly to create a de facto championship game at Heinz Field. And what a game it was, with Cincinnati coming back from a 21-point first-half deficit and 14-point fourth quarter hole to win on a touchdown pass in the final minute. It's a game that will remembered by both sides for a long, long time.
Joe Lefeged learned the value of preparation last year while playing next to Rutgers' star safety Courtney Greene.

"He could diagnose plays before they even started, based on what the offensive lines was doing or how the receivers were lining up," Lefeged said. "He was calling out plays before they even happened on the field."

[+] EnlargeDevin McCourty
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMcCourty adds even more depth to a crowded Patriots' backfield.
Greene has moved on to the NFL, but his kind of meticulous preparation has continued. Lefeged, a junior strong safety, has learned how to do many of the things Greene excelled at, while senior cornerback Devin McCourty has become perhaps not only the team's best defensive player, but its leader.

"Devin gets us together at night to watch film after meetings, and that really helps in practice," Lefeged said.

McCourty, who's staked his claim as the Big East's top cornerback this season, also draws high praise from head coach Greg Schiano.

"I think he prepares incredibly hard, and I am talking one of the top five I have been around, either college or pro," Schiano said Monday. "He works very hard at it and practices very hard. Every day he goes out there, he is playing a football game in practice. So then it is no mystery that when he gets in the games, he makes plays."

The Scarlet Knights' defense may lack a lot of household names, but in typical Schiano fashion, it is developing into one of the toughest in the league as the season wears on. That showed in last week's 31-0 win over South Florida, as the Bulls were held to just 159 total yards. Rutgers created four turnovers and had seven sacks in that game.

The defense held down the fort early in the year when the offense was searching for its legs under true freshman quarterback Tom Savage and some new receivers. Now the offense is beginning to come around for the 7-2 Scarlet Knights, helping make a strong finish possible.

For the season, the Scarlet Knights are allowing just 15.6 points per game, though some of that is a result of a weak schedule. The number that's most impressive, regardless of opposition, is the 29 takeaways, which ranks second best in the nation. That figure includes 13 interceptions, which ought to give pause to this week's opponent, Syracuse. The Orange, with Greg Paulus still learning the ropes, have thrown more interceptions (15) than all but four teams in the FBS.

So is the Rutgers defense licking its chops to go after Paulus?

"We don't really look at it like that," said Lefeged, who has an interception and two forced fumbles this year. "We look to make turnovers and force fumbles against whoever we go against. Any given quarterback can light it up."

You can count on the Scarlet Knights to be well prepared for Paulus, however. Lefeged said this is the first year since he's been on the team that the entire defensive unit comes in on its own to watch film together. He credits excellent unity and chemistry as the reasons for the defensive success.

"We're jelling together as a team," he said. "And it's starting to show right now."

What to watch in the Big East, Week 12

November, 19, 2009
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1. The fight for the Gator Bowl: If UConn wins at Notre Dame, there's a very good chance the Irish will finish 6-6. That would guarantee that the Gator Bowl takes a Big East team and will open up another postseason spot for a league team -- which the Huskies might be able to claim. All of the Big East should be rooting for Connecticut this week, not that it wasn't already doing so.

2. UConn's running game against the Notre Dame defense: Navy ran for 348 yards against the Irish. Pitt piled up 193 yards on the ground versus the Domers. UConn's offense begins with its massive offensive line and revolves around the powerful 1-2 punch of Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon. The Irish defensive front can be pushed around and often has. Running the ball not only helps the Huskies move the chains but also keeps Notre Dame's offense off the field. Speaking of which ...

3. Jimmy Clausen vs. UConn's secondary: When we last saw the Huskies, they were getting steamrolled for 711 total yards and 480 passing yards by Cincinnati. Perhaps the bye week gave Randy Edsall time to shore up the coverage problems. It better have, because if not, Clausen, Michael Floyd and Golden Tate could play pitch and catch all day.

4. Zach Frazer vs. his old team: Charlie Weis didn't think Frazer was good enough to play quarterback for Notre Dame. Ironically, Frazer can now help bring an end to Weis' tenure in South Bend. The UConn quarterback and ex-Notre Dame transfer must keep his emotions in check and stay away from his previous interception problems.

5. The battle for New York: As Syracuse has fallen, Rutgers has risen. Doug Marrone has made no secret of his desire to gain back the recruiting ground that the Orange surrendered to the Scarlet Knights during the Greg Robinson years. One way for Marrone to accomplish that is by beating Rutgers on the field in what should develop into a pretty spirited rivalry in the next few years. But Syracuse is at a major disadvantage this year.

6. Blitzing Paulus: Did you see how confused B.J. Daniels and his offensive line were against Rutgers last Thursday night? Daniels is a redshirt freshman with more college experience than Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus. So how will Paulus handle the designed-to-confuse pressure schemes that Greg Schiano's defensive staff will fire at him? Paulus has 14 interceptions, more than any other Big East quarterback. Rutgers is tied for second nationally in takeaways. This could get ugly.

7. Kragthorpe's last stand?: Louisville is technically still alive for a bowl bid, which may be Steve Kragthorpe's only chance of keeping his job past this year. But to get to the postseason, the Cardinals will have to win at South Florida, something they've never done. I wouldn't expect an announcement on Kragthorpe's status next week if Louisville loses, but it wouldn't be totally surprising either.

8. South Florida's defensive line vs. Louisville's O-line: The Cardinals' offensive line has been outmatched at times this season, just plain brutal in other stretches. It got overpowered often by Syracuse last week. So this should be a great matchup for the Bulls' defensive front, which played valiantly at Rutgers despite having to spend way too much time on the field. I'd be stunned if South Florida doesn't have at least three or four sacks in this game.

9. B.J. Daniels: Let's face it: Daniels had an awful game at Rutgers, and at times this season he has failed to keep his composure on the sidelines. Louisville's defense has been playing well the last couple of weeks but still has trouble getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. Daniels ought to be able to make some plays, even if his favorite receiver -- Carlton Mitchell -- is still out of the lineup with an ankle injury.

Louisville pulls out victory

November, 14, 2009
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You know it's going to be a thriller whenever Syracuse and Louisville get together.

And so it was, as Adam Froman passed to Josh Chichester for a 15-yard touchdown with 1:24 left to give the Cardinals a 10-9 victory. They broke a two-year losing streak to the Orange and remained alive for bowl eligibility. Syracuse fell to 3-7 and has been eliminated from postseason contention.

It was about as ugly a game as you will ever see, though there were some exciting moments late.

Andrew Robinson intercepted Greg Paulus in the final minute to seal the victory as the Orange had gotten to within about 10 yards of field goal range. Paulus' pass on a slant to Mike Jones was behind his receiver, and Robinson -- a converted receiver playing cornerback -- made a good break on the ball, which bounced off his knee and into his arms.

That won't slow the criticism by Syracuse fans of Paulus, who threw his 14th interception of the season. He completed 13 of 18 passes but for just 104 yards as the Orange were seriously limited at receiver.

It was a botched extra point which cost Syracuse this game after a Delone Carter touchdown run had pulled his team ahead earlier in the fourth quarter. Another tough break for a team that might not win another game this year under Doug Marrone.

Louisville had just 151 total yards but somehow managed to win the game. Athletic director Tom Jurich and coach Steve Kragthorpe avoided having to face some uncomfortable questions because of that winning drive.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. Cincinnati has flaws, after all: It was tough to spot any weaknesses in the Bearcats before Saturday. They were among the nation's leaders in nearly every statistical category and hadn't played a close game all season. But the 47-45 nail-biter over UConn exposed some areas to exploit. A team with a big, physical offensive line and strong running game can overpower Cincinnati's defense, as Ryan Mathews first showed in the Fresno State game and Jordan Todman and the Huskies screamed on Saturday night. There's one opponent left on the Bearcats' schedule that fits that description, which means ...

2. Make Pitt the Big East co-favorite: The Panthers are on a major roll right now, having won their last two games by a combined margin of 78-24. They've got a tough-nosed offensive line and a great running game behind Dion Lewis, with as many or more weapons in the passing game as Cincinnati. Pitt's defense has improved after some early struggles. Right now, the Dec. 5 showdown between the two Big East heavyweights at Heinz Field looks like a toss-up.

3. West Virginia has lost is offensive mojo: Ever since Jarrett Brown's concussion early in the Marshall game, the Mountaineers have not been the same on offense. They scored 30 points in each of their first five games and haven't done so in any of their last four contests. After putting up just 19 in a loss to South Florida, they mustered only 17 points in an uninspiring win over Louisville on Saturday. Defenses have managed to bottle up the running game the past two weeks, and the passing game has lacked rhythm. Going into this week's cauldron at Cincinnati, West Virginia will need to figure out what's wrong and get back on track.

4. No one needs a bye more than UConn: Connecticut must be the most competitive 4-5 team in America. Its five losses have now come by a combined 15 points, and the Huskies could almost as easily be 9-0. They showed incredible grit to come back from 20 points down and turn Saturday's game against Cincinnati into a shootout, a type of game they didn't seem capable of playing most of the season. Still, this team has had more heartache in one year than some programs experience in a decade. This week's off week is much deserved and needed.

5. Syracuse and Louisville lack the proper tools on offense: The Orange and the Cardinals are battling head to head this week avoid the Big East basement, and a dearth of offensive playmakers is the reason why. Louisville outplayed West Virginia in most facets Saturday, but with a walk-on quarterback, a third-string freshman running back and a mistake-prone offensive line, it couldn't get into the end zone. Syracuse badly missed Mike Williams at Pitt, as no receiver had more than one catch, and quarterbacks Ryan Nassib and Greg Paulus combined for three interceptions. Both teams play hard every game, but this could be an ugly slugfest between two teams with ugly records.

Pitt delivers knockout blow

November, 7, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Bring on Notre Dame.

Pitt has put away Syracuse in the third quarter with two touchdown drives to go up 27-3. The Panthers could have more but have missed two field goals.

Ryan Nassib has been playing quarterback for Syracuse, but like Greg Paulus, he has thrown an interception. The Orange just don't have enough playmakers on offense to keep up in this game.

Pitt will improve to 8-1 and 5-0 in the Big East with the Fighting Irish coming to Heinz Field next week. The Panthers will need to sharpen up some of the special teams mistakes they have made today, but they look ready for what should be a matchup of two top 20 teams.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Syracuse came into this week missing three key offensive players, including Mike Williams.

Well, the Orange defense is at (relatively) full strength, and it's keeping the team in the game against Pitt. The Panthers have mustered just two field goals so far in the first half, as the Orange 'D' has held tough at the end of drives.

A couple of big runs by Delone Carter comprise most of the offense by Syracuse, which is working Ryan Nassib in a little bit at quarterback behind Greg Paulus. Carter already has more than 100 yards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. Focus: That's the key word this week, as the top three contenders in the Big East all are heavy favorites at home. Showdowns between Cincinnati, Pitt and West Virginia loom on the calendar ahead. But for those to matter, they need to take care of business this week against the heavy underdogs and not start thinking ahead to the stretch run.

2. Cincinnati's receivers vs. the UConn secondary: The Huskies got burned by Tim Brown on an 81-yard pass play to lose this week, but they've been pretty good against the pass this year and have the league's two co-leaders in interceptions (Robert Vaughn and Robert McClain). They will face a major challenge this week against the Bearcats' Mardy Gilyard, Armon Binns and D.J. Woods. Syracuse had some small success slowing Cincinnati down last week by trying to keep everything in front of the defense. UConn might also want to make the Bearcats prove they can sustain long drives.

3. Attack of the backup Zachs: Cincinnati looks likely to go with Zach Collaros again at quarterback as Tony Pike continues to recover from his left forearm injury. Collaros has been outstanding the past two and a half games, though this will be the best team he's started against thus far. UConn's Zach Frazer is back at quarterback now that Cody Endres is out for the season with a shoulder injury. Frazer has been way too erratic this season, including three more interceptions last week at Rutgers, and can't afford those mistakes against the Bearcats.

4. Lindsey Witten vs. Jeff Linkenbach: Witten is tied for second in the nation in sacks with 10.5. Linkenbach has developed into the best left tackle in the Big East, in my opinion. If UConn can't get pressure on Collaros, it could be a long night at Nippert Stadium for the Huskies. Witten needs to bring the heat.

5. Dion Lewis: The Pitt freshman tailback was named a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award this week and floats on the periphery of the Heisman race. Syracuse has been surprisingly stout against the run this season, ranking first in the Big East with just 88.9 yards allowed per game on the ground. Another big game by Lewis against this defense should vault him into the lead for Big East player of the year and other award honors.

6. Paulus and the passing game: Syracuse quarterback Greg Paulus was booed at home last week and then received a passionate defense by his head coach Doug Marrone. Paulus has struggled in Big East play, and he just lost his best and maybe only big-play receiver in Mike Williams, who quit the team on Monday. How do he and the Orange offense respond?

7. West Virginia's pass defense: The deep pass has hurt the Mountaineers the past few weeks and much of the season. Louisville has the worst scoring offense in the Big East but is capable of pulling off some big plays in the passing game with guys like Scott Long, Trent Guy and Doug Beaumont. If West Virginia can tighten that part of its defense up, it should have little trouble at home against the last-place Cardinals.

8. Louisville's quarterback derby: Three guys -- Justin Burke, Will Stein and Adam Froman -- have started, and it's anybody's guess who will get the call this week. Coach Steve Kragthorpe said earlier this week that Burke and Froman, who were both hurt at Cincinnati, should be available for practice. If they're all good to go, Froman likely gets the nod. But West Virginia has to prepare for all three just in case.

9. Speed on the edge: The main difference between West Virginia and Louisville the past two years was that the Cardinals didn't have the defensive speed on the perimeter to contain the Mountaineers' playmakers unlike, say, South Florida. Pat White got outside with ease in last year's game in Louisville, and the Cardinals' quickness hasn't gotten significantly better. Expect at least one huge run, if not several, from Noel Devine and maybe even Jarrett Brown or Jock Sanders.

10. Cincinnati's competition: We're not talking about UConn, but the other contenders for the national title. Keep an eye this weekend on Alabama against LSU, Iowa against Northwestern, Boise State at Louisiana Tech and TCU against San Diego State. Any of them faltering would help the Bearcats' national title chances.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

It's safe to say it wasn't a typical Monday news conference in Syracuse today.

Before he disclosed the stunning news that receiver Mike Williams had quit the team, Orange coach Doug Marrone launched into a passionate defense of quarterback Greg Paulus, who drew some boos at home in Saturday's loss to Cincinnati.
 
 Marc Squire/Getty Images
 Greg Paulus has struggled throwing the ball in Syracuse’s past three games.


According to Donnie Webb's account in the Syracuse Post-Standard, Marrone had tears in his eyes as he read from notes while talking about the former Duke basketball player. Here's some of what he said:
"I have never seen an athlete, at any level, including the NFL, work as hard, mentally and physically, as Greg has worked since he's joined us here at Syracuse. Really, what he's accomplished is extraordinary. Maybe it can't be fully appreciated because most don't know just how difficult it is to play quarterback at a Division I program.

"In the era of video games, virtual reality, it's easy to believe that throwing a pass, reading a defense, avoiding a sack is as easy as the push of a button, that any of us can do. The problem, it's not that easy. We can't do that.

"Despite the turnover and mistake that Greg made, as any quarterback makes, he's exceeded expectations at every level. I think Greg is a victim of his own success. We've seen him make great plays and great decisions and we've come to expect that from him every time. But football is a team game. People don't know when an offensive linemen misses a block or a receiver runs a wrong route. They only see the decisions that Greg makes.

" Greg is one of us. He grew up here. He came back to do something that's never been done before and he's poured every ounce of his body and soul in that task."
Paulus threw an interception in the end zone late in the first half against Cincinnati that could have tied the score. He has had problems with turnovers in Big East play, especially against South Florida. For the year, he has 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

I wonder if the people booing Paulus remember how bad the quarterback play generally was during the Greg Robinson era. Marrone's decision to hand the reins over to Paulus after he had never played college football or even taken a snap in the sport in nearly five years was a bold one, and you had to figure there were going to be some rough patches. Marrone said Paulus is a victim of his early success; at the same time, he's also a victim of the hype surrounding his arrival at Syracuse.

And don't forget that Paulus just lost his best playmaker and top target in Williams. Things won't be any easier going forward. Perhaps it would be a good idea to give freshman Ryan Nassib some more snaps late in the year to get ready for next year.

But Marrone thinks Paulus gives Syracuse the best chance to win, and the Orange are still mathematically alive for a bowl bid. Booing from the home crowd certainly isn't going to help anybody's cause.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

So far, this isn't the romp that Cincinnati is used to on the road in Big East play.

Syracuse is hanging tough, and this game could be tied at 14 if Greg Paulus wasn't picked off by Drew Frey in the final couple of minutes in the second quarter.

One of Cincinnati's touchdowns came on what looked to be a busted field goal try. Zach Collaros was the holder, and after a bobbled snap, he scrambled and threw a touchdown pass. Other than that, though, Syracuse has mostly made Cincinnati drive the field instead of ripping off their usual explosive plays.

Jake Rogers missed a field goal at the end of the half, after Syracuse successfully pulled off the old ice-the-kicker-with-a-timeout routine.

Delone Carter has been a hoss for the Orange, dragging tacklers past the initial point of contact.

The No. 8 Bearcats need to get back on track in the second half. Not because of style points. Because they're in danger of losing this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

It's another strong outing for Cincinnati's Zach Collaros as he replaces Tony Pike.

The quarterback completed all seven of his passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, including a long touchdown pass to Armon Binns. Syracuse is giving the Cincinnati receivers a lot of cushion, trying to prevent the big play. But that's leaving a lot of short passes open, and Collaros is taking advantage.

The Orange put together two good drives in the first quarter. One ended in a punt in Cincinnati territory, but the other was capped by a Greg Paulus touchdown pass. Syracuse looks like it's ready to play -- even if most of its fans didn't bother to show up at the Carrier Dome today.

Halloween in the Big East

October, 30, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

I have to admit, I love Halloween.

In fact, it may be my favorite holiday. I love the fact that it's not about anything other than eating candy, dressing up in costumes and embracing you fears of things that go bump in the night. And the fact that it comes at a great time in the sports calendar doesn't hurt either.

 
 US PRESSWIRE
 Noel Devine and Dion Lewis, who are among the top five rushers in the country, must be scary for opposing defenses.

So, to celebrate this year, here's a list of some Halloween-related items that can be applied to the 2009 Big East season.

Trick-or-Treat -- The trickiest games left for No. 8 Cincinnati's national title hopes: next week at home against UConn, Nov. 13 against West Virginia and Dec. 5 at Pitt. The treats: at Syracuse this week, vs. Illinois on Nov. 28.

Monster Mash -- The hit of the Big East season? Offense. Four teams are averaging at least 30 points. Noel Devine and Dion Lewis are among the nation's top five rushers, while Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman have formed a dynamic duo. Tony Pike and Bill Stull have been among the most efficient passers. Mardy Gilyard, Mike Williams and Jonathan Baldwin have been frightfully good at receiver. There's nothing scary about watching Big East games this season.

Boo (Boo) -- South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe's season-ending knee injury has been the most disappointing boo-boo this season, as he didn't have a chance to cap his terrific career with an enjoyable senior campaign.

Nightmare on Floyd Street -- This could be the title of the 2009 Louisville football program. From BCS participant in January 2007 to a team that has lost eight straight Big East games, with little hope of a turnaround in sight. A loss to Arkansas State on Saturday would be the final nail in the coffin for Steve Kragthorpe.

Black Cat -- While Notre Dame has actually helped the Big East much more than hurt it, this year could be different. The Irish could take the league's spot in the Gator Bowl, meaning the conference's No. 2 team -- even if it has 10 or 11 wins -- could fall all the way to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.

Graveyard -- Every team but Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and West Virginia has already said goodbye to its BCS hopes this season.

Jack-o-lantern -- South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels had a tough task in replacing Grothe. He was excellent early on but has seemingly hit a wall in his development. The light needs to go on for the redshirt freshman if the Bulls are going to make any more noise in the Big East or have a chance against Miami.

Scary Movie -- Rutgers' opening 47-15 loss to Cincinnati at home is a film that Scarlet Knights fans would like to see burned and dragged off to hell.

Haunted House -- Nippert Stadium only seats 35,000 or so, but Cincinnati has the longest home-field winning streak in the Big East, dating back to 2007. Maybe it's because they play the theme from "Halloween" there that intimidates opponent. More likely, it's the Bearcats' talent.

Costumes -- Finally, here are some suggested costumes this year for Big East personalities:
  • South Florida: Pumpkins. What do the Bulls and pumpkins have in common? Both cause a lot of excitement when they first appear in the fall. Then they both get carved up by October.
  • Steve Kragthorpe: Zombie. He'd better hope his career can come back from the dead.
  • Tony Pike: Mummy. The Cincinnati quarterback is used to having his left arm wrapped up; he just needs a little more casting to complete the outfit.
  • Bill Stewart: Abe Lincoln. The West Virginia coach is an avid history buff, and he's the great orator among Big East coaches.
  • Greg Paulus: Orange devil. To commemorate his career at both Duke and Syracuse.
  • Brian Kelly: Dr. Frankenstein. Because he's a mad scientist who always stitches together random parts to make a monster.
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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Apparently seeking a spark for his struggling offense, Doug Marrone took out quarterback Greg Paulus for Ryan Nassib to start the second half. And Nassib responded with a long touchdown pass to Mike Williams.

Is there a quarterback controversy brewing in Syracuse? No question that the Orange got nothing going with Paulus under center and that he made some poor throws last week.

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