NCF Nation: Johnny McEntee

Tell me if you have heard this one before: Cincinnati, Big East champs.

The Bearcats won at least a share of the Big East for the second consecutive season and the fourth time in the past five years with a 34-17 win over UConn on a frigid Saturday, denying the Huskies a bowl spot for the second straight season.

Neither team had much success rushing the football -- nobody went over 100 yards on the ground. Instead, both had to rely on the pass and the Bearcats are simply better in that area than the Huskies. They have been all season. UConn tried to hit some big plays early in the game, but its receivers had a hard time hanging onto the football.

Meanwhile, UConn saw first-hand why other teams have had a tough time slowing down Travis Kelce, who showed why he is the best tight end in the Big East this season. The Huskies had no answer for him, as Kelce accounted for three total touchdowns -- two receiving and one passing.

The turning point, though, came in the third quarter, after Chandler Whitmer took a shot to the head and was forced to leave the game for the second straight week. Johnny McEntee came on in relief. Last week, he was able to lead the Huskies (5-7, 2-5) to the upset win over Louisville. But this week, he threw two interceptions -- including a critical one with UConn trailing 24-17. The Bearcats (9-3, 5-2) converted that mistake into a touchdown run by George Winn, and they never looked back.

Cincinnati finishes the season in a four-way tie atop the Big East standings, declared co-champions with Rutgers, Louisville and Syracuse. The Bearcats' most likely postseason destination is the Belk Bowl in North Carolina against an ACC opponent. But perhaps the bigger question now is whether coach Butch Jones will stick around for another season.

Jones' name has come up for the openings at Purdue and Colorado. Last season, Jones turned down an offer from Illinois -- where his former athletic director is now in charge. Though Jones has continually said that he is happy with the Bearcats, this is a story that bears watching.

As for UConn, there will now be questions about whether coach Paul Pasqualoni enters next season on the hot seat. UConn made a BCS bowl in 2010 and has followed that up with consecutive 5-7 seasons. The offense leaves plenty to be desired and has led some to wonder whether offensive coordinator George DeLeone is on the hot seat himself.

The defense played well enough to make a bowl game this season. The offense did not, and now the Huskies have to re-evaluate in the offseason.
What did we learn in the Big East in Week 13? Glad you asked.

1. Nothing is ever easy in the Big East. Does anybody want to win the conference? The two ranked teams in the league dropped games to teams with LOSING records on Saturday. No. 18 Rutgers choked at Pitt -- the second year in a row the Scarlet Knights fell to a losing team with a Big East title on the line. The Scarlet Knights could have won the league championship outright AND a BCS bowl berth had they won, because No. 20 Louisville went ahead and lost to offensively challenged UConn in three overtimes. At home. In the end, Rutgers backed into at least a share of its first Big East championship, but this is not the way anybody in Piscataway envisioned it happening. Now, as anticipated, the game between Rutgers and Louisville on Thursday night in New Jersey is for a BCS bowl berth. But how excited can a Big East fan get about a matchup of two teams that had major letdowns Saturday?

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireNursing a broken wrist and a bum leg, one can only wonder about Teddy Bridgewater's effectiveness against Rutgers.
2. M*A*S*H Saturday. The list of starters who got hurt Saturday reads like a M*A*S*H Unit: Quarterbacks Gary Nova, Chandler Whitmer and Teddy Bridgewater; running back Jawan Jamison; and linebacker Khaseem Greene. All but Whitmer were able to go back into their games and play. Afterward, each injured player insisted he would be ready for Week 14. The one who poses the biggest concern is Bridgewater, who played the second half with a broken wrist, then sustained a leg injury late in the game. Louisville oach Charlie Strong said Bridgewater would be fine, but how effective will he be, particularly if Rutgers comes after him the way UConn did?

3. Pitt, UConn remain in bowl contention. Most everybody had written off Pitt and UConn heading into their respective games Saturday, considering their opponents. But both pulled off upset victories and need a win in their regular-season finales to get back to a bowl game. We should have known Pitt would come back strong following its bye, considering the Panthers have this strange trend of losing two games, then winning two games. They had dropped two going into their contest at Rutgers, so the pattern called for a win. Tino Sunseri played pretty perfectly, and Ray Graham rushed for more than 100 yards against one of the best defenses in the Big East. As for the Huskies, they showed signs of life under Johnny McEntee in overtime. UConn has now scored 47 total points in back-to-back games after scoring 33 in its previous four games combined. Pitt plays at USF next week; UConn hosts Cincinnati.

4. Syracuse and Cincinnati can win Big East titles, too. Although neither team has a shot at representing the Big East in the BCS, both have hopes of winning at least a share of the Big East title. If Louisville beats Rutgers and Cincinnati beats Connecticut, four teams will finish in a tie for first place. Each would be declared Big East champion. While winning titles is old hat for the Bearcats, it's not for Syracuse. The Orange last won at least a share of a Big East title back in 2004, when there also was a four-way tie for first. It would be something if the Big East had to crown champions headed out the door for new conferences in consecutive seasons. Syracuse coach Doug Marrone deserves a tremendous amount of credit for turning around a team that opened the year 2-4. This title shot is reminiscent of the turnaround Louisville made last season.

5. Temple closes its first Big East season. The Owls wrapped up Year 1 in the Big East with their first losing record since 2008, but coach Steve Addazio will tell you that not all was lost this season. Most everybody picked Temple to finish last in the league. But the Owls did win two games -- including one over current last-place team USF. Montel Harris rushed for more tha 1,000 yards, and many freshmen gained valuable playing experience to set them up for the future. This was a year for Temple to gauge where it stands in a tougher conference. Many will expect much more improvement in Year 2.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Rutgers celebrated a step into a new era this week by joining the Big Ten. Technically, it can celebrate a share of its first Big East title, too, but three other schools may eventually get to do the same.

Because Rutgers fell Saturday at Pitt, 27-6, and because Louisville lost to Connecticut in triple overtime, 23-20, the Big East could finish with a four-way tie.

If Rutgers beats Louisville on Thursday night, it is the lone Big East champion, with just one conference loss. If Louisville wins and if Cincinnati wins two days later at UConn, there would be a four-way tie for the Big East crown, with the conference's BCS berth going to the team ranked highest in the BCS standings, which would likely be Louisville.

One year after falling by 18 at Connecticut in a similar scenario to this year's, the Scarlet Knights failed to move the ball consistently against (again) resurgent Pitt. UConn blew a 10-0 lead at Louisville, came up with a big interception by Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the third extra session and then won it with a 30-yard kick from Chad Christen.

Hobbled by a left-hand injury, Teddy Bridgewater came back and led Louisville on a 13-play, 92-yard touchdown drive with 21 seconds left to set up overtime. He then absorbed a vicious hit on his knee in the extra session, only to come back in overtime No. 2 and hit DeVante Parker for a go-ahead strike.

His last pass will haunt him, however, as UConn — behind quarterback Johnny McEntee, who replaced an injured Chandler Whitmer — delivered in the third overtime.

Rutgers, meanwhile, notched just 50 total yards on 27 first-half plays against Pitt, going into the locker room down 21-0. Snow created for a hard surface, and hard hitting followed, with a number of players getting shaken up on the day.

Gary Nova landed on his shoulder early and left before eventually returning. Khaseem Greene left shortly before the first half after a big hit on a punt return, one he was penalized for, before returning as well. And Jawan Jamison was again limited from what appeared to be the same ankle injury that has bothered him the past couple of weeks.

Jamison eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season, but Rutgers wasn't able to do much on the ground. Jamison finished with 14 yards on nine carries and Savon Huggins rushed for just 18 yards on eight carries as the Scarlet Knights dug themselves a big hole and were forced to abandon the run early.

Panthers running back Ray Graham closed his home career out in style, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Tino Sunseri followed suit, completing 21 of 39 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns.

Pitt is making good on its season of win two, lose two. And if the Panthers win at South Florida next Saturday, they will be bowl eligible.

UConn will be, too, if it can upset Cincinnati, as the Huskies have now won two straight Big East games after an 0-4 start. They can thank their rushing game for that, as Lyle McCombs once again delivered Saturday, notching 133 yards on 29 carries.

And of course, at the top, chaos reigns. Thursday should be fun.

Big East mailblog

September, 21, 2012
Time to open the ol' mailbag.

Nick G in Manchester, Conn., writes: Andrea, we all know about UConn's O this year and how it's been miserable. Last year, we had a pretty bad QB in Johnny McEntee and in the Western Michigan game, he threw for over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns. Do you think this could possibly be a comming out party for Chandler Whitmer against the same team??? I think he has what it takes, good arm, decent accuracy, great feet. Only issue is he tried to take to many chances. ... Your thoughts?

Andrea Adelson: I am not sure last year's game is going to have any bearing on what happens this weekend. I think the bigger problem for UConn has been its offensive line, to be honest. The unit is not playing as well as it did last season, and that has led to a pretty ineffective running game. I don't think UConn has the type of offense that can survive without the threat of the run. So again, I think the Huskies will try to get Lyle McCombs going and try to avoid getting into a shootout!

Patrick in Monterey, Calif., writes: Hey Andrea, Hope your week is going well. I watched the Louisville-NC game on ESPN 3 and have to say, even as a devoted PITT fan, the first half of that game I couldn't think of a better team, outside of maybe Alabama and Oregon, that I've seen play better football! Too bad it was only for that one half and a few minutes of the third. Anyway, my question to you is - how is it even possible that so many press type folks around the country can ignore how dominant this guy Teddy Bridgewater, his coach Mr. Charlie Strong, and the rest of that team have been? I love PITT, but I love good football better, and Louisville football, this year at least, is darn good football! They need more recognition. Don't you think?

Adelson: Any time you get a team that is not one of the national "brand" names, it takes longer for there to be instant recognition. But I actually disagree with your assessment. If you look around the Web this week, Teddy Bridgewater has received a lot of Heisman attention. He got more votes this week in the ESPN Heisman poll and is in seventh place. That means people beyond myself and Matt Fortuna are voting for him. Stewart Mandel over at also has Bridgewater on his early Heisman radar. And Louisville is ranked in the Top 20. All of that leads me to believe people are taking notice of what is developing in Louisville this season.

Ryan in Johnstown, Ohio, writes: AA-- Here is a sane, level headed approach to the 14th member problem. For the love of all things holy feature it in the mailbag. None of the target schools (AFA, BYU) are ready to take the plunge and become full members so lets make an offer similar to the Notre Dame/ACC relationship: offer BYU a contract to play 4-6 BE schools a year out of conference. These could be on a rotational basis or we could give BYU games against San Diego State and Boise State because that just makes sense. Games played at BYU could still be part of their ESPN deal. I would also see if Navy would like a similar arrangement as it would give them greater scheduling flexibility and they would have a better shot at reaching bowl eligibility than as a full member. It would also level Big East football membership at 12, which is a good thing. Throwing in access to Big East bowls would probably be a good thing for both parties.

Adelson: Perhaps commissioner Mike Aresco is reading this very mailbag right now. I actually do agree that Navy would be better served if it tries to stay quasi-independent. I have never felt greatly confident in Navy being an annual bowl team as a member of the Big East. But to your larger point, the Big East is trying to bolster itself to be sure it can survive and thrive into the future. I think you know what I am getting at. If there is another wave of realignment (that is to say if the Big 12 decides to grow), there might be designs on Big East teams. If there are, the goal is for the Big East to have more than enough members to survive.

BearCats Winning in Amelia, Ohio, wrote: I watched the Pitt/VT game to see what my Bearcats might be facing with VT. I found myself actually cheering for Pitt and seeing the Pitt team that everyone had been writing about all spring! Pitt played a great game and put it to VT. As for my Bearcats, Munchie needs to start sleeping with that football. A former Bearcat did when he couldn't hang onto the football! Butch Jones will do all he can this off week to get the team back to taking care of the ball. Munchie needs to start doing that now! I still don't understand since UC was ahead and Munchie couldn't seem to move the team, Jones didn't put in the backup quarterback and give him some work. But of course I am not the coach. Still?

Adelson: I think that was largely a function of wanting to see some consistency out of his starting offense, particularly with a big game looming following the bye. Cincinnati did not look great out there, and I am betting Jones wanted to get them as much playing time as possible because of this strange setup with two byes in the first four weeks of the season. Virginia Tech will have played four games going into next week; Cincinnati only two, one against an FCS opponent.

Greg in N.J., writes: Andrea, please illustrate how the upcoming game between Rutgers and Arkansas is a lose-lose for the Big East. An RU win would result in "it's a down Arkansas team, this doesn't mean anything" or "same ol' big east, can't beat middle of the pack power conference opponents." Your thoughts?

Adelson: I completely understand that assessment. As I wrote this week, Rutgers doesn't have as great an opportunity to make a splash with Arkansas completely unraveling. But I am trying not to take the cynical view. I do think a win would count for something, particularly since it is coming on the road. It might not be as great as beating the No. 8 team in the nation, but this would be its third road win in September. That is pretty impressive.

Michael in Louisville writes: AA says "Bridgewater is third overall on my Heisman Watch" But he is second on your list of best QBs in the Big East. OOOOOH BIG GUNS! Myself and so many others tried to save you from having to wipe that egg off of your face. Once a BJ Daniels always a BJ Daniels. QBs who have been erratic for their entire careers virtually never pull it all together just because they become a senior. But you are young and you will learn from this. Now I know you are going to say "nobody" expected Teddy Heisman to perform the way he is, and that is sort of true, but there was a lot of solid information coming out before the season started indicating this was in fact likely. We Louisville fans tried to tell you it was coming.

Adelson: You are right, Michael. I deserve to be mocked into eternity.
Every year dating back to 2009, at least one true freshman has played -- and started -- at quarterback in the Big East.

You have guys like Tom Savage (now at a different Big East school), Chas Dodd and Gary Nova (battling it out to start), and up-and-coming Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville. While it seems B.J. Daniels has been starting since 2002 -- a joke made by coach Skip Holtz at media day -- he actually started as a redshirt freshman in 2009. I mistakenly had him starting as a true freshman in an earlier version.

[+] EnlargeChad Voytik
Tom HauckCould Pitt's Chad Voytik be the next true freshman to start at QB in the Big East?
So now that fall camps are underway, are there any candidates to play as true freshmen in 2012? As of right now, it does not appear any Big East team will go into the season with a true freshman starting at quarterback. But several players could have a backup role, depending on how they progress. Here is a look at two with the most likely shot.

Casey Cochran, UConn. Given that Cochran is recovering from a broken wrist, the possibility exists that the Huskies just redshirt him this season. Coach Paul Pasqualoni already announced Chandler Whitmer as his starter. But the recent news that Michael Nebrich will transfer certainly makes this an interesting situation to watch. UConn is left with walk-on Johnny McEntee and Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings, who has been absent taking care of personal matters. I think the best-case scenario for UConn is to have Whitmer make it through the entire season and play at a high level. That way, the Huskies can redshirt Cochran and give him four years of eligibility.

Chad Voytik, Pitt. With the transfer of Mark Myers, Pitt now has three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster eligible for this season. Tino Sunseri is the unquestioned starter, despite some of his shortfalls. So now the backup job will be a competition between Trey Anderson and Voytik, a four-star recruit from Tennessee. Coach Paul Chryst said the team would take full advantage of giving Voytik more reps with Myers gone. But so far through the beginning of camp, Anderson and Sunseri have gotten the majority of the reps. "Both Tino and Trey need as many reps as they can get," Chryst said. "Chad has done a great job of studying and learning and that’s not easy, no spring ball and no real reference, but I think he’s done a great job of knowing what to do and I think he goes out and works at it. So I’m pleased where he’s at.” Like UConn, Pitt would be best served to have Voytik redshirt if the Panthers can win without him.
UConn backup quarterback Michael Nebrich has decided to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

Nebrich went into fall camp fighting for the backup job after coach Paul Pasqualoni announced junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer would start for the Huskies. With five quarterbacks on the depth chart, it became clear that there would be a mad squeeze for playing time.

As a true freshman last season, Nebrich played in eight games and passed for 69 yards. He also had 10 yards rushing. UConn now has Whitmer, true freshman Casey Cochran (out with a broken wrist), Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings and Johnny McEntee, who started last year.
With nearly every Big East team having wrapped up spring practice, one constant remains -- open quarterback competitions.

Unless coach Kyle Flood makes a last-second decision following the Rutgers spring game Saturday, four schools will go into the summer without a starter at perhaps the most important position on a team. Here is a quick look at how those competitions stack up:

Cincinnati. Munchie Legaux and Brendon Kay are the top two players vying for the job. Coach Butch Jones has decided not to name a starter, but all indications point to Legaux as winning the job once the fall rolls around. Legaux said during an interview this spring he had been taking most of the reps with the first team.

UConn. Five players remain in the competition -- Junior college transfer Chandler Whitmer, freshman Casey Cochran, Michael Nebrich, Scott McCummings and Johnny McEntee. Nobody distinguished himself through the spring or in the spring game, though Whitmer had the "best" performance of the three. Don't be surprised if Whitmer is the starter, Cochran is redshirted and McCummings continues in his role as Wildcat quarterback.

Pitt. Coach Paul Chryst has not named his starter, either, but he has indicated that incumbent Tino Sunseri has separated himself from Mark Myers and Trey Anderson. Now we'll see what happens when true freshman Chad Voytik enters the mix when he arrives in the summer.

Rutgers. Chas Dodd and Gary Nova went back and forth at quarterback last season for the Scarlet Knights, and neither one has really stood out this spring. Defense has dominated the scrimmages so far. Flood has said he would not make a decision until one player stood head and shoulders above the rest, but would like a starter in place a week to 10 days before the start of the season.

Big East position rankings: QB

February, 17, 2012
We continue on with our 2011 postseason position rankings with quarterback. There should not be too many surprises on this list. For me, it was hardest to separate Syracuse-USF-Rutgers in the middle of the pack. You could also make the case to flop Pitt and UConn.

1. West Virginia. Geno Smith went about shattering school, Big East and Orange Bowl records during his career year for the Mountaineers, throwing for 4,385 yards, 31 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. His development under Dana Holgorsen was about what we expected. Preseason ranking: 1.

[+] EnlargeWest Virginia's Geno Smith
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWest Virginia's Geno Smith passed for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns under new coach Dana Holgorsen.
2. Cincinnati. Zach Collaros' worth to the team was illustrated when he got hurt against West Virginia. The Bearcats lost their grip atop the Big East and ended up sharing the league title. Munchie Legaux was not great, but Collaros was. Cincinnati may have relied more on the run this year, but I thought Collaros and Isaiah Pead complemented each other perfectly. Preseason ranking: 2.

3. Louisville. True freshman Teddy Bridgewater really helped anchor this team once he replaced Will Stein in the starting lineup. He set a school freshman passing record with 2,129 yards and won Big East Newcomer of the Year honors. Without Bridgewater, I'm not sure this team wins a share of the Big East title. He showed poise and maturity beyond his years. Preseason ranking: 7.

4. Syracuse. Ryan Nassib had a career year for the Orange, setting highs for completions, attempts, yards, completion percentage and touchdown passes. There is no doubt he made some significant strides for Syracuse, but the biggest knock is that he never really was able to make the plays to get his team in position to win just one game in the final stretch of the season. Preseason ranking: 6.

5. USF. Coach Skip Holtz rightfully points out that the Bulls offense was improved in 2011 vs. 2010. But I think most of us were waiting on B.J. Daniels to take that next step and become an elite quarterback in the Big East. We are still waiting. He barely improved his completion percentage and threw just 13 touchdown passes -- though he did have a career-high with 601 yards rushing. What sticks out most are critical mistakes against UConn and West Virginia that cost his team wins. Preseason ranking: 4.

6. Rutgers. Greg Schiano went with musical quarterbacks again, switching back and forth and then back again from Chas Dodd to Gary Nova to Dodd. Neither was particularly effective, and both had a penchant for making bad mistakes. It's a true credit to receiver Mohamed Sanu that he was able to have such a great year with such inconsistent quarterback play. Preseason ranking: 5.

7. Pitt. How much more can be said about the way Tino Sunseri played this season? The further removed we are from the year, the more I'm convinced that his coaches let him down. Still, he was not very good in 2011 -- 38 yards passing against Utah was the low point. It was a disaster of a season. Preseason ranking: 3 (Gulp!)

8. UConn. Three quarterbacks in contention, but the Huskies really had no true quarterbacks. Johnny McEntee ended up winning the right to start, but he was completely overmatched. Scott McCummings came in for Wildcat duties and Michael Nebrich was an afterthought. No surprise that this was the worst passing offense in the Big East. Preseason ranking: 8.

Big East offseason to-do lists

January, 20, 2012
Every team has plenty to do in the offseason. Today, I present to you my top priorities for each Big East program headed into the 2012 season.

  • Settle on a quarterback. If 2011 was any indication, then Munchie Legaux seems a sure bet to start next season. He showed flashes, but he needs to spend the bulk of his offseason developing a nice rhythm and chemistry with his receivers. That was one of the biggest roadblocks for him when he took over for Zach Collaros. Cincinnati has some good talent at receiver -- with Anthony McClung, Kenbrell Thompkins and Alex Chisum coming back -- so this must be a top priority.
  • Develop senior leadership. The Bearcats are losing the best senior class in school history, filled with leaders left and right. With guys such as Collaros, Isaiah Pead and JK Schaffer gone, who is going to take the responsibility of leading this team? That is something that must be worked on throughout the offseason.
  • Find a quarterback. Sounds the same as last season, right? The Huskies never really found one in 2011 and that is a big reason why they struggled. Spring practice has the potential to have five different quarterbacks taking reps in Johnny McEntee, Scott McCummings, Michael Nebrich, Chandler Whitmer and Casey Cochran. Somebody has to emerge to take a hold of this offense.
  • Work on improving the secondary. The weakest part of this team last season ranked No. 113 in the nation, so this is a clear area that has to get better. The Huskies were hurt when starting cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson missed a good chunk of the season with a knee injury, and they also had to rely on freshmen in Byron Jones and Ty-Meer Brown. This group will be much more experienced, so you have to hope they will be much better, too.
  • Mature. The Cardinals were one of the youngest teams in the nation last season, and their immaturity showed at times. But now they enter the offseason with exceedingly high expectations. Many preseason lists have them ranked in the Top 25 and challenging for the Big East title. This team will still be young in 2012, so it will be imperative for coach Charlie Strong to help get this group to mature quickly and stay focused.
  • Work on the run game. Strong wants the run game to be the bread-and-butter of the offense, and this was an area that took a step back in 2011 with Bilal Powell gone. Louisville went from being ranked No. 1 in the Big East to No. 5 in the Big East, averaging 121.5 yards per game. That is down over 50 yards per game. Dominique Brown and Jeremy Wright are back, but they have to be consistent and the Cardinals probably need somebody else to emerge.
  • New identity. A new coach means a new identity, so it will be interesting to see how the Panthers look under Paul Chryst and his new staff. We will find out when spring practice opens in March. There is plenty of talent on the roster, but the big question is how will the talent be utilized?
  • Is Tino the man? This is starting to sound like a trend, right? The Panthers have quarterback issues as well after Tino Sunseri had a season to forget. Much of his performance can probably be laid at the feet of former coach Todd Graham, who stubbornly tried to run an offensive system that was not suited for the players he had. You can be sure Chryst will open up the quarterback competition to see who emerges.
  • Handle expectations. The Scarlet Knights have not been so good in the past when the pressure is on. All you have to do is look back at what happened this season, with a shot to win a share of the Big East title. Now they are getting some preseason love and probably have their best team since 2006. So coach Greg Schiano is going to have to do a good job of managing preparation and focus because expectations were raised off a successful 2011 campaign.
  • Quarterback derby. Yet another Big East team with a quarterback question mark. Chas Dodd and Gary Nova ended up splitting the starts this past season. Now there is the possibility that former quarterback Tom Savage transfers back in. I don't know if Schiano can afford to keep playing musical chairs with his quarterbacks every season.
  • Re-focus. The Bulls have to put 2011 behind them and focus on the future. This is still a team that has the talent to win. Coach Skip Holtz has to find a way to get that done. This is going to be a veteran team that has been through good times and bad. He needs leaders who will their teammates to victory, who know how to win close games and are determined to get this team back on top. Who are they?
  • New defense. USF brings in new defensive coordinator Chris Cosh from Kansas State, its third different coordinator in the past four years. Getting the players adapted to his scheme as soon as possible has to be a point of emphasis in the spring and throughout the offseason.
  • More offensive consistency. To be sure, Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon both had career years and made strides for the Orange. But a lot of that was because the run game was inconsistent, and Syracuse found itself trailing late in several games. This team has to find a way to sustain drives and score -- Syracuse was No. 7 in the Big East in scoring offense (24.2 ppg).
  • Shore up the defense. The Orange lose some of their best players on the defensive line, and have to get better in the secondary, which was a major problem for most of the year. Syracuse ranked No. 98 in the nation in pass defense, and they lose some key contributors. Shamarko Thomas is really going to have to step up and take control of this group.
West Virginia
  • Big 12 or Big East? The Mountaineers are bent on leaving for the Big 12, regardless of any court outcomes. On-field issues have nothing on trying to figure out where you are going to be playing. And who you are going to be playing.
  • Defense. Coach Dana Holgorsen has hired a few defensive assistants, but still no word yet on who is going to run the show. That, of course, will determine the future course of this defense. It appears an inevitability that they will no longer use the 3-3-5 that former coordinator Jeff Casteel ran. Plus, players such as Keith Tandy, Najee Goode, Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller are gone. Shoring up this unit has to be tops on Holgorsen's list.

Final: Cincinnati 35, UConn 27

December, 3, 2011

Cincinnati survived a serious second-half scare from UConn to hold on for a 35-27 win and clinch a share of the Big East title -- a season removed from a losing season.

Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia all finish as Big East co-champions. The BCS representative will be determined by the final BCS standings -- where it is almost certain West Virginia will finish as the highest-ranked team. We won't know officially until the standings are unveiled Sunday night, but No. 23 West Virginia is the only Big East team currently ranked in the Top 25.

The Bearcats jumped out to a 28-6 halftime lead but there was fight left in the Huskies in the second half. UConn quarterback Johnny McEntee played much better, and was able to find some holes in the Cincinnati secondary as he led the Huskies on a comeback. McEntee threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes -- to Mark Hinkley and Ryan Griffin. That 25-yard touchdown pass to Griffin came one play following an interception by Munchie Legaux.

Cincinnati got the ball with 5:46 remaining. All UConn needed was one stop to try and complete its comeback bid. But the Bearcats made two third-and-short conversions with runs, and they were able to ice the game despite being outscored 21-7 in the second half. Dave Teggart ended up with four field goals on the day for the Huskies, who had to play the majority of the game without backup quarterback Scott McCummings (concussion).

Legaux threw three touchdown passes, but also had two interceptions. The Bearcats were not as effective using Jordan Luallen as they were last week, as he had four catches for no yards. It was the defense that really made the difference in this game. Walter Stewart scored a touchdown after snatching the ball from McEntee in the end zone, and Drew Frey had an interception return for a touchdown.

The Bearcats had six sacks in the game, and John Hughes and Derek Wolfe were absolute terrors behind the line of scrimmage. Now Cincinnati can look forward to getting back to a bowl game, most likely the Liberty Bowl. UConn ends the season without a bowl berth, a year after representing the Big East in the BCS.

Half: Cincinnati 28, UConn 6

December, 3, 2011
Cincinnati is poised to win a share of the Big East title, and that means West Virginia is likely headed to the BCS.

The Bearcats have a 28-6 lead against UConn thanks to some pretty impressive defensive plays. Walter Stewart had a highlight play in the first quarter, when he simply snatched the ball out of quarterback Johnny McEntee's hands in the end zone for the first touchdown of the game. Stewart was credited with a sack, tackle for loss, forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown all on the same play.

Drew Frey also scored a defensive touchdown with an interception for a score. UConn has been unable to move the ball on offense, and has been really hurt by the loss of backup quarterback Scott McCummings, who left the game in the first quarter after taking a hit to the head. The Huskies had been using he and McEntee effectively over the last three games. Without him, Cincinnati has teed off on McEntee, and he has been sacked multiple times.

The Huskies have 64 yards of total offense -- 5 on the ground. Lyle McCombs has 11 carries for 21 yards. Even when the Huskies got an opportunity on a first-and-goal at the 10 off a fumble by Isaiah Pead, they moved backward and had to settle for a field goal.

If Cincinnati wins, the Bearcats, Louisville and West Virginia finish in a three-way tie atop the Big East standings. West Virginia would most likely go to the BCS as the highest ranked Big East team.
Here are the top story lines in the Big East as the regular season comes to a close.

1. Who is going to the BCS? You want to know as badly as I do. So do Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati. No matter what happens in the West Virginia game against USF on Thursday night, we will not have our answer until Cincinnati plays UConn on Saturday. Just as a quick refresher: West Virginia needs a win and a Cincinnati win to force a three-way tie atop the Big East standings. Tiebreaker goes to the BCS standings, where the Mountaineers are currently the highest-ranked Big East team at No. 23. Louisville needs Cincinnati to lose. Cincinnati needs a win and a West Virginia loss.

Willie Milhouse
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesWith a win Thursday and a Cincinnati win Saturday, West Virginia could be laughing its way to the BCS.
2. Bowl hopes in the air. USF, UConn, Pitt and Syracuse all have a chance to become bowl-eligible with victories. Only three of them have a shot, as Pitt and Syracuse play each other. USF has made it to six consecutive bowl games; UConn to four in a row; and Pitt to three. Syracuse broke its long bowl drought last season. USF and UConn are underdogs; Pitt is favored to beat the Orange. An upset or two will have to happen for the Big East to get more than five bowl-eligible teams this season. The last time the Big East did not have six bowl-eligible teams was 2007.

3. USF magic. In all three USF wins over West Virginia, the Bulls have pulled an upset on a ranked Mountaineers team. Will it happen a fourth time? West Virginia has not won in Tampa since 2005, but USF does not exactly play well on Thursday nights. Shall we hearken back to Week 5, when USF got beaten badly at Pitt? USF is now 0-7 in Thursday night games as a member of the Big East.

4. B.J. Daniels' status. That leads to the next story line. Will the USF quarterback be able to play? Daniels missed last week's game against Louisville with a bruised sternum, and his status is questionable for Thursday. Backup Bobby Eveld has lost both games he has started in his career. The last time West Virginia visited Tampa, Daniels threw for three touchdowns and ran for 100 yards in a 30-19 win. He didn't fare as well last year, throwing three interceptions in a 20-6 loss in Morgantown.

5. Isaiah Pead vs. UConn D. Pead had 246 all-purpose yards in a win over Syracuse last week, and has proven to be the best player on the Bearcats offense. You can bet Cincinnati will try to get him the ball as frequently as possible, but he will be facing one of the better run defenses in the league and the nation. UConn ranks third nationally against the run, allowing 2.7 yards per carry. On the season, no running back has gone over 100 yards on this defense. That's because teams have had much better luck passing on what has been a lackluster secondary.

6. Best QB combos. Which team has the best dual-threat quarterback situation: Cincinnati with Munchie Legaux and Jordan Luallen, or UConn with Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings? The Huskies have used both for nearly the entire season, and have been most effective of late -- McCummings has four of his five touchdown runs in the past three games. The Bearcats used Luallen for the first time in a win over Syracuse last week, and he ran for 77 yards. On two of his runs, he came up just short of the goal line.

7. Does the losing streak end? Syracuse has lost four straight, and coach Doug Marrone said he wanted to make sure his players stopped pressing and starting having more fun on the football field. Perhaps a more carefree attitude will help a team that has had a tough time scoring — and stopping opponents. Syracuse ranks No. 89 in the nation in total offense, and No. 71 in total defense. The Orange face another tough challenge against an active Pitt defensive front, which has 36 sacks on the season.

8. Sunseri rebound? Tino Sunseri had a rough outing in a 21-20 loss to West Virginia last week in the Backyard Brawl. He was sacked 10 times -- nine on the final 25 plays of the game. Many were his fault because he held onto the football too long. Sunseri has followed up his subpar performances with good ones of late. After a bad game against Utah, he threw for 419 yards against UConn. After two turnovers in a loss to Cincinnati, he managed the game effectively in a victory over Louisville. So which Sunseri shows up Saturday?

Final: Louisville 34, UConn 20

November, 19, 2011
Louisville beat UConn 34-20 to become bowl eligible for the second straight season under coach Charlie Strong and stay alive in the chase for a Big East championship.

The Cardinals (6-5, 4-2) have been able to turn around their season after a 2-4 start -- and humbling losses to FIU and Marshall -- behind solid defense and efficient play on offense. That was on display against the Huskies (4-6, 2-3), who had their fair share of missed opportunities and now have to win out to become bowl eligible. Dropped passes and missed open receivers were the story in this game for UConn.

An untimely penalty also cost the Huskies. After forcing Louisville to punt deep in its own territory, Kendall Reyes was flagged for running into the kicker. Louisville took advantage of the mistake. Teddy Bridgewater threw a beautiful 39-yard pass to Andrell Smith on third down, moving the ball to the UConn 10. Bridgewater ended the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to put Louisville up 21-10. The drive ended up going 95 yards, the longest of season for the Cardinals. Bridgewater added a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter to put the Cardinals up 28-10.

UConn tried to rally and cut the lead to 28-20 after a 37-yard field goal from Dave Teggart with 13 seconds left. The Huskies recovered the onside kick, but the game ended with a defensive score from Malcolm Mitchell.

Louisville's run defense played much better this week than last, holding UConn to under 100 yards rushing. The Huskies did have one big milestone in the game, as Lyle McCombs went over 1,000 yards on the season.

Now Cardinals fans are no doubt calculating the odds of getting the BCS berth. Keep this in mind: Louisville has to win out, and would have an advantage in any head-to-head tiebreaker scenario with Rutgers or West Virginia. Louisville finishes its regular season at USF next Friday.

Scott McCummings effective for UConn

November, 8, 2011
UConn has a package of plays for quarterback Scott McCummings each week. He made the most of them against Syracuse last week, playing a good chunk of the second half and a majority of the fourth quarter because the Orange had a hard time stopping him in the Wildcat.

[+] EnlargeScott McCummings
Michael Ivins/US PresswireQuarterback Scott McCummings scored both of UConn's fourth-quarter touchdowns in UConn's win over Syracuse.
It all added up to career-highs for carries (13), yards (59) and touchdowns (two). It was McCummings who scored both fourth-quarter touchdowns to help the Huskies win 28-21. It was McCummings who helped the Huskies rush for three touchdowns on the day. UConn had one rushing touchdown in its seven previous games.

It certainly was a welcome relief for UConn to get such a solid performance out of McCummings, especially considering the way Johnny McEntee has played of late. Against Syracuse, McEntee had two interceptions and a fumble in the first half. McCummings was not perfect, either. He also had a fumble, but he provided some nice consistency in the second half.

"The coaches have been showing a lot more confidence in me than in the past,” McCummings said after the game. “I felt like I was back in high school again. I was having fun out there. It was great. I’m glad I rose to the occasion and helped us get a win.”

Pasqualoni said Monday that McCummings would have his usual set of plays the next time UConn takes the field -- Nov. 19 against Louisville. How many carries he gets just depends on how effective he is running.

"We kind of have the same number of plays up for Scott every week," he said. "We haven't changed a lot there. Sometimes it's the flow of the game and how it's going for him and how the defense is responding to what we're doing there with the Wildcat concept. You really don't know until you get into the game and you start playing."
Here are the top storylines to watch in the Big East in Week 10.

1. Separation. The top four teams in the league play each other, as Cincinnati travels to Pitt and Louisville plays at West Virginia. The Bearcats are 2-0 in the Big East; the other three each have one loss. If Cincinnati and West Virginia win, they would set up a huge conference showdown next week with Big East championship hopes on the line. Cincinnati, West Virginia and Pitt control their own destiny. If one of those teams wins out, it wins the conference.

2. Fast start? Cincinnati has won five consecutive games, but the Bearcats have scored just 23 first-half points in their past three. That is a trend coach Butch Jones wants reversed. While it says plenty about the ability of this team to be able to bounce back after falling behind in its past two games, there also is a sense that it has to start putting together complete games with the toughest part of their schedule ahead.

[+] EnlargeZach Brown
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireSenior Zach Brown will step in as Pitt's starting running back following the season-ending injury to standout Ray Graham.
3. Life without Ray Graham. Pitt embarks on life without its best player Saturday. How will Wisconsin transfer Zach Brown do in his place? Will Tino Sunseri be able to shoulder increasing responsibility without the best player on offense? The Panthers did just fine without him last week against UConn, but they are playing a much better team Saturday. The Bearcats have the No. 1 run defense in the league, and no doubt will try to make Sunseri beat them.

4. Which West Virginia D shows up? The one that played against Syracuse and the first half against Rutgers? Or the one that dominated in the second half of a comeback victory against the Scarlet Knights? Even defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has been puzzled by the inconsistent personality of his unit. One player to watch has got to be Louisville tight end Josh Chichester. The Mountaineers could not cover the tight ends in a loss to Syracuse a few weeks ago; Chichester presents major matchup problems.

5. Hostile environment? The West Virginia game provides a crucial challenge for Louisville, winners of two straight. Not only are the Mountaineers one of the best teams they have faced, but the environment may also be extra hostile because of the way both schools fought to get into the Big 12. Louisville reportedly threw a last-minute wrench into the plan for West Virginia to join the new conference, delaying the move a few days. The Cardinals remain in the Big East.

6. Coach P reunion. UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni might be downplaying it, but the fact remains that his first game against his old team is one of the biggest stories going into this game. Pasqualoni took Syracuse to BCS games and a string of success before a downward spiral ended up dooming him. There is one other important connection in this game -- UConn offensive coordinator George DeLeone has served as a mentor to current Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, and the two remain close.

7. Bounce-back Syracuse? The Orange have been a hard team to figure out because they have been so inconsistent. It is hard to think about BCS games when they missed a chance to build momentum off an important win over West Virginia. The offense really struggled in the face of the Louisville pressure last week, while the defense came out flat and allowed Louisville to score 14 first-quarter points. It was the first time all season Louisville scored that many points in the first quarter against an FBS opponent. How do the Orange respond against a team they should beat? Hint: Throw the ball. A lot.

8. UConn desperation? The Huskies (3-5) are on the verge of being in a BCS game one season and on the couch the next, a similar fate to that which befell Cincinnati in 2010. There is a variety of reasons why this season has not gone well for UConn, and now fans are wondering why Pasqualoni insists on sticking with Johnny McEntee as his starter. McEntee has shown little since being named to the job, but Pasqualoni could not keep going rotating three quarterbacks. He did say this week that freshman Michael Nebrich would not redshirt, so he could get more playing time down the stretch.

9. Gary Nova improvement. You wonder how much longer Rutgers coach Greg Schiano will stick with true freshman Nova, who has had a hand in nine turnovers over the past three games. Schiano still believes Nova gives his team the best chance to win, but also admitted the mistakes have got to stop. Will they against a USF defense that has been shaky at times? If Nova throws more interceptions, how would Schiano handle it during the game?

10. USF oh-fer? It is possible that a team most pegged as being in the top tier of the conference could begin conference play 0-4. USF needs the ship righted, and fast, to stop its three-game slide. The Bulls are coming off a bye, but is that a good thing? The last time they played after a bye, they lost 16-10 to UConn in a game riddled with missed opportunities inside UConn territory, turnovers and penalties. The Bulls are not playing disciplined right now (23 penalties in three losses) and that has to change.