NCF Nation: Matt Grothe

Big East weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
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One last look back at the weekend that was in the Big East:

The good: Louisville continued to carry the conference flag, improving to 9-0. Cincinnati snapped a two-game losing streak by beating Syracuse. South Florida snapped a six-game losing streak by beating Connecticut.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThere are 34 players from Florida on Louisville's roster, and Charlie Strong recruited 27 of them, including QB Teddy Bridgewater.
The bad: Some of the losing teams from Saturday surely will be scratching their heads, particularly Syracuse, which turned the ball over twice (leading to two Cincinnati touchdowns), committed 12 penalties and had one field goal blocked and missed another. And Pitt blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in the house of the now-No. 4 team in the country, missing a potential game-winning field goal in double overtime and going with some questionable play calling late in regulation against Notre Dame.

The ugly: UConn fell at USF for its fourth straight loss. The Huskies did not reach the end zone, and though they kicked a third-quarter field goal, they still have not scored a second-half touchdown since the third quarter of their Sept. 29 home win over Buffalo.

Uh, refs: Losing the way Pitt did hurts enough. But it turns out after the fact that the Panthers should have gotten another chance. Tied at the end of double overtime with a chance to win the game with a 33-yard kick, Kevin Harper booted it wide right after a bad snap. But Notre Dame had two players wearing No. 2 on the field at the same time -- corner Bennett Jackson and receiver Chris Brown -- which the refs didn't see. Pitt should have been awarded a first down and would have had another chance to score and seal the win. "It was a coaching mistake," Irish coach Brian Kelly said afterward.

About time: USF had not one but two picks in its 13-6 win over UConn, becoming the last FBS team to record an interception this season. Better late than never.

Take a bow: USF quarterback B.J. Daniels' college career is over after he suffered a broken left ankle. Sad to see the senior go under those circumstances, especially less than 400 yards from breaking Matt Grothe's Big East record for total yards (10,875).

No more Munchie magic? Munchie Legaux was pulled from the Bearcats' win over Syracuse and backup Brendon Kay did not disappoint, leading consecutive scoring drives to put his team back in front. Kay's numbers don't say much -- 3-of-3 passing for 32 yards and a touchdown, three rushes for 18 yards -- but he played well, and the competition will reopen this week between him and Legaux.

Halloween in the Big East

October, 30, 2009
10/30/09
9:35
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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


As the Big East's associate commissioner for football, Nick Carparelli is responsible for helping put together the league's showcase TV matchups.

 
 Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
 Behind quarterback Tony Pike, Cincinnati ranks third in the nation in scoring, sixth in passing and 11th in total offense.
"We make a conscious effort to put what we feel are the best games where the most people will see it," he said. "It takes a lot of good planning and a little bit of luck."

Whether it was preparation and or just good fortune, the Big East hit a home run with this week's schedule. A pair of 5-0, ranked teams will square off Thursday night when No. 8 Cincinnati travels to No. 21 South Florida (7:30, ESPN).

Not since 2007, when No. 18 South Florida beat No. 5 West Virginia on a Friday night, and Rutgers later upset the then second-ranked Bulls on a Thursday, has the Big East had such a prominent spotlight. This is the latest in the season that two undefeated, ranked Big East teams have played since those back-to-back Thursday night tilts in 2006 between Louisville and West Virginia, followed by the Cardinals and Rutgers.

While the 2006 showdowns each featured a pair of Top 10 teams gunning for a spot in the BCS title game late in the season, this mid-October face-off is just as intriguing for a number of reasons.

Both teams have outside shots at reaching the BCS title game. Cincinnati is already in the Top 10 and, with its upcoming schedule (Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut), could easily be 9-0 if it gets past the Bulls.

South Florida has more rungs on the ladder to climb, but it has already beaten Florida State and gets No. 9 Miami at home on Nov. 28 in a potential BCS talking-point game.

The Bearcats have one of the nation's most prolific offenses, ranking third in the nation in scoring (42 points per game), sixth in passing (329 yards per game) and 11th in total offense (468.2 yards per game). They have a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tony Pike, a first-team All-American candidate in receiver Mardy Gilyard and a quick-strike attack that is averaging a little more than two minutes per scoring drive.

"When you have athletes like they have who get in out in space and a guy pulling the trigger like Pike, you've got a lot of things going for you," South Florida defensive coordinator Joe Tresey said. "You put the tape on, and shoot, they're covering 60 yards in three or four plays."

 
 Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
 Jason Pierre-Paul has 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks this season.


South Florida is known for its defense, and the Bulls rank fifth in the FBS in points allowed (9.4 per game) and ninth in passing defense. They have two of the best pass-rushing defensive ends anywhere in George Selvie and Jason Pierre-Paul.

"It will be a great matchup between offense and defense," Cincinnati center Chris Jurek said.

But don't sell the others sides of the ball short for each team. The Bearcats, despite replacing 10 defensive starters from last year's Orange Bowl team, rank 10th in scoring defense (13.8 points allowed per game) and are tied with USC for the national lead in sacks. They're also third in the country in turnover margin.

Meanwhile, the Bulls -- despite losing star quarterback Matt Grothe for the season with a knee injury -- are scoring 37 points a game and have the second-best passing efficiency rating in the FBS behind redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels. They're also eighth in turnover margin.

"How can you not be excited about this, really?" South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said.

The buzz is evident in Tampa. The Bulls have purchased a billboard near I-4 and I-275 encouraging fans to "Go Green," while the top of the SunTrust Financial Centre downtown will be lit green and gold Thursday. Players and coaches held breakfasts around town this week with local schools, businesses and media outlets to promote the game.

Really, though, this game promotes itself.

"This is why you sign up for this," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "This is why kids come to their respective schools, because they want to play big games like this on national TV."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


Backup quarterbacks already played a big part in Big 12 play before October arrived.

Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was idled with a sprained shoulder, paving the way for Landry Jones to take over for the Sooners for the last two games. And a season-ending knee injury for Baylor’s Robert Griffin last week has 2007 Baylor starter Blake Szymanski inserted back in the lineup – if he can overcome his own shoulder injury sustained in the same game in which Griffin went down.

Here’s a look at the backup quarterback situations around the Big 12 heading into this week’s games.

Ready to roll:

Kansas State: Behind starter Carson Coffman, the Wildcats have Grant Gregory, a fifth-year senior transfer from South Florida who has seen action in three games for KSU so far this season, rushing for 92 yards and passing for 21 yards. Gregory battled Matt Grothe for the starting job at South Florida and played in 21 games earlier in his career for the Bulls.

Has the hype:

Kansas: If Todd Reesing were sidelined, Kansas coach Mark Mangino finally feels comfortable enough to turn to redshirt freshman Kale Pick, who was Kansas’ offensive scout team player of the year last season. Pick is an adept runner who rushed for 47 yards against Northern Colorado, 87 yards against UTEP and an 18-yard scamper against Duke already this season. And Mangino could always turn to Kerry Meier, although he’s much more valuable now playing every down as a wide receiver.

Nebraska: Cody Green came into the Nebraska program with hype that he could see sizable playing time this season as a freshman. He graduated from high school early and arrived in the spring, but a hip injury set him back. But finally healthy, he’s shown flashes of brilliance early in his career. Green broke a 49-yard run on his first college carry and a 24-yard touchdown run last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. He’s also showing maturity as a passer after completing 12 of 17 passes in mop-up time in three games for the Cornhuskers.

Texas: Garrett Gilbert was the most heralded quarterback prospect in the nation after he was selected as the Gatorade and Parade national player of the year last season in high school. Mack Brown has wasted little time getting him game action as Gilbert has completed 11 of 14 passes for 110 yards in three games this season. And his confidence in the offense has grown in each game he’s played.

Texas A&M: Ryan Tannehill is listed as Jerrod Johnson’s backup and would likely be installed if Johnson was sidelined for a long period of time. But Tannehill’s first focus in the Aggies’ offense now is as a wide receiver where he’s produced 11 catches for a team-leading 201 receiving yards. But Tannehill aspires to play quarterback and got the first snaps at the position in the blowout victory over UAB last week when Johnson left the game. He waged a closer battle than expected this spring before Johnson claimed the starting job.

Who knows?

Baylor: With Griffin’s injury, Szymanski takes over. He’s more tested than most backups, considering he threw for a school-record 2,844 passing yards during his season as a starter in 2007 and accounted for 27 career touchdown passes in 22 college games. But behind him is freshman Nick Florence, whose experience consists of one college game -- last week against Northwestern State. If Szymanski isn’t ready to go Saturday night against Kent State, Florence would be entrusted with the starting job.

Colorado: Behind starter Cody Hawkins, the Buffaloes currently have rangy freshman Seth Lobato listed as his backup. They might be in better shape if Tyler Hansen chose to be available. But Hansen, who orchestrated a victory over Kansas State last season as a freshman, has stated he wants to redshirt this season unless there’s a season-ending injury for Hawkins.

Iowa State: Austen Arnaud is one of the most durable starters in the league. But behind him, Paul Rhoads has gotten freshman backup Jerome Tiller playing time in the first three 2009 games. Tiller showed flashes in spring practice, but still would be an inexperienced alternative.

Missouri: Blaine Gabbert is entrenched as the starter. Jimmy Costello has assumed the backup position and has played in two games this season with scant action in garbage time. Coaches like his live arm and feel for the Missouri offense, despite his lack of game experience.

Oklahoma: After Bradford’s injury, Jones was immediately thrust into the lineup and he’s played well, including a school-record six touchdown passes against Tulsa. Freshman Drew Allen is the backup behind him, but coach Bob Stoops has avoided playing him yet with hopes of preserving a redshirt season if Bradford can return to the starting lineup quickly.

Oklahoma State: Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden staged a tight battle to back up Zac Robinson throughout preseason practice. Cate, a redshirt junior, won the No. 2 job but struggled in brief early playing time this season. He was outplayed last week by Weeden, a 26-year-old former minor-league baseball pitcher who rifled a pair of garbage-time touchdown passes against Grambling last week. But neither has much actual game experience with Cate playing in six career games and Weeden in two games.

Texas Tech: Behind Taylor Potts, the Red Raiders have junior Steven Sheffield, who passed for 52 yards and threw a touchdown pass against Rice in the only live action for a Tech backup quarterback this season. Sheffield would be an inexperienced alternative if Potts can’t play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Backup quarterbacks are not just the most popular guy on campus -- sometimes they're the most important. Just ask South Florida and UConn, who have each had to go to their No. 2 signal-callers this season already; neither team has lost since the backup has taken over. And in the most famous recent example in the Big East, Tony Pike stepped in for an injured Dustin Grutza last year. The rest, as they say, is history.

So let's take a look at how each team's backup quarterback situation stands right now, with a series of three categories:

Ready to roll

Cincinnati: The Bearcats went through a full deck of quarterbacks last year, and though Pike might be the best player in the league, at least Brian Kelly knows he has replacements at the ready. Zach Collaros would probably get the first call if something happened to Pike, but Chazz Anderson won games under center last year as well.

Pittsburgh: Though Tino Sunseri has barely played, he was in a heated three-way competition throughout the preseason to replace Bill Stull. And if Sunseri wasn't the answer, Pitt could call upon junior Pat Bostick, whose last two starts were wins at West Virginia and at Notre Dame.

Rutgers: Dom Natale was the starter on Labor Day but lost that status by halftime to rookie phenom Tom Savage. Natale stepped in for Savage last week at Maryland and may have to do so again as Savage overcomes a concussion. Natale is a fifth-year senior, but he's merely a game manager at this point; he was just 4-of-12 for 42 yards against Maryland.

Has the hype

South Florida: B.J. Daniels may turn out to be the story of the season in the Big East. As everybody knows by now, the redshirt freshman took over for conference all-time yardage leader Matt Grothe and promptly delivered a victory at Florida State. What if Daniels, who runs the ball a lot, gets banged up? The Bulls would turn to another redshirt frosh: Evan Landi. Jim Leavitt touted Landi just as highly as Daniels all spring and summer. Landi, who has gotten in at receiver this season, would have to prove Leavitt right a second time.

West Virginia: True freshman Geno Smith was one of the Mountaineers' prized recruits of the offseason, and he saw time late at Auburn when Jarrett Brown suffered a bruised shoulder. Smith has worlds of talent, but he's very raw.

Who knows?

Connecticut: Cody Endres has filled in superbly for the injured Zach Frazer and may hold onto the job. If Endres got hurt now, though, the Huskies would have to turn to freshman Mike Box. UConn coaches love his talent, and he might be the future of the program. But right now, he's completely green.

Louisville: Adam Froman might have won the starting job if he hadn't gotten hurt in training camp. Now he's backing up Justin Burke -- and seeing time as a blocker on kicking teams. The junior-college transfer drew praise for his offseason leadership, but he's an unproven commodity at this level.

Syracuse: Ryan Nassib was the designated starter this spring -- until Greg Paulus decided to return to the sport. Nassib has gotten in a few snaps this year and looked pretty sharp, but he's still a redshirt freshman who hasn't been in many pressurized situations.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Greetings from Doak Campbell Stadium on a hot, muggy Florida morning. It's about 85 degrees and feels 10 degrees hotter with the humidity. Just another fall day in the Sunshine State.

I saw lots of South Florida fans milling about downtown last night. The Bulls are expecting about 12,000 of their supporters here mixed in with the 80,000 or so in the crowd. Surprisingly, this game didn't officially sell out until this week.

As for the game, who knows what to expect from these Bulls? They haven't played anybody of note, haven't shown much on offense and have a freshman quarterback making his first start. So maybe they come out firing on all cylinders and surprise the Seminoles, or maybe their inexperience rears its head.

One area the Bulls will try to take advantage of is the FSU pass defense, which is ranked 117th nationally. B.J. Daniels should be able to make some plays through the air to South Florida's cadre of receivers. The areas I'd worry about for South Florida would be the offensive line, running the ball and stopping the Florida State run. The Seminoles rushed for more than 300 yards last week at BYU, and quarterback Christian Ponder is a dual threat.

USF will need a big game from George Selvie, who's been curiosly quiet so far this season despite playing inferior opponents. It's time for him to live up to his billing.

As for the other face of the program, injured quarterback Matt Grothe will be in the offensive booth today for South Florida, helping out playcaller Mike Canales. It's been a long week for Canales. Not only did Grother get hurt and force him to adjust the offense, but his son, T.J., who's a backup quarterback at Utah State, injured his knee this week as well.

Blogger debate: ACC vs. Big East

September, 25, 2009
9/25/09
11:05
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Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett and Heather Dinich


The ACC and Big East will square off three times on Saturday -- South Florida at Florida State, Rutgers at Maryland and Pittsburgh at NC State. Which means it's time for another round of blogger debate between the conferences.

Melissa Majchrzak via Getty Images
Christian Ponder has gotten off to a fast start this season, passing for 813 yards and 4 TDs.
Brian Bennett: Heather, I've got some good news and some bad news for the ACC. The good news is, William & Mary, Richmond and Middle Tennessee aren't on the schedule this week. The bad news is, three ACC teams will have to play against opponents from an actual BCS conference, the Big East. Should the ACC just go ahead and forfeit all of them now and save itself further embarrassment?

Heather Dinich: Is it March yet? Look, Bennett, last I checked the ACC had four teams in the national rankings and the Big East had ... oh, that's right, Cincinnati. Isn't that the same team Virginia Tech beat in the Orange Bowl last year? South Florida lost its quarterback and Florida State found one. UNC beat Connecticut, and Rutgers ... well, I might have to give you that one. The Pitt game should be interesting, unless, of course, NC State uses the same
offense it did against South Carolina. But what exactly is it you think the Big East has on the ACC heading into this week?

BB: The Big East has a 16-5 nonconference record, compared to the ACC's 17-10 mark. Hey, we could sit here all day and discuss which conference is better -- and I'm sure some people would want us to do that -- but why don't we look at this week's games instead?

Let's start with South Florida at Florida State. What has gotten into the Seminoles? Are they really as good as they looked at BYU this week? I had to check my calendar because I thought for a minute it was 1999 again.

HD: Well, let's just say the Noles CAN be that good. Christian Ponder has been overshadowed by Jacory Harris at Miami, but he's played just as well, and I expect him to be the difference in that game, especially with Grothe out. The question for FSU is which defense will show up. They seem to have given up as many big plays as they've made. What are you expecting from that Tally quarterback, B.J. Daniels?

 
 AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
 Tallahassee native B.J. Daniels will be making his first start versus FSU.
BB: Daniels is really good. He's got a rifle arm and the speed and moves of a basketball player, which he is for the Bulls in the winter. I think they're going to be able to make some plays in the passing game, where they have a lot of weapons. I worry, of course, about his inexperience and whether South Florida can run the ball. Matt Grothe, after all, was their leading rusher the past three years.

I think we both agree that FSU has the edge in that game. What about Pitt at NC State? I watched the Wolfpack get crushed by South Florida last year and lose to Rutgers in the bowl game. Any reason not to think another Big East team will whip them?

HD: I picked NC State, but it's probably the one I was least sure of. The Pack could be starting its fourth different offensive line in as many games, and they've been banged up too much to have any consistency in their secondary. Tom O'Brien has been talking about those units as areas of concern all week, and rightfully so. He's so excited, though, to finally play some "smashmouth football," and he's hoping a win over the Panthers will open some recruiting doors in Pennsylvania.

I'll tell you what, though, Bennett, if there's one difference in this game it's on the sideline, and I'd take O'Brien over Wannstedt. You think he'll have the Panthers in the Top 25 this season? I see you have them at No. 2 in this week's power ranking behind Cincinnati.

Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
Dave Wannstedt has Pitt off to a 3-0 start.
BB: You're harsh on Wanny. Did you know he's 13-4 in his last 17 games? He's got about twice as many wins over FBS opponents as O'Brien does during that time.

I think Pitt is one of the most underrated teams in the country right now. The Panthers have gobs of talent all over the field, and their one big question mark -- quarterback -- has thus far been answered by Bill Stull's solid play. He's completing 70 percent of his passes and making great decisions. If NC State has problems on the O-line and in the secondary, the Wolfpack are in trouble. Because Pitt is absolutely loaded on the defensive line and has plenty of receivers to burn those DBs, especially freakish athlete Jonathan Baldwin. I like Pitt to control this game from start to finish and win a low-scoring battle.

OK, let's get to the Rutgers-Maryland game. The Scarlet Knights apparently have three FCS teams on their schedule now with the way the Terrapins have been playing. What in the world is going on with Ralph Freidgen's team?

HD: Oh, man, there's not even enough space in the blogosphere to start dissecting Maryland's problems. The big man has pinned the Terps' 1-2 start on a bit of bad luck and a young roster, but the truth is their problems range from recruiting to staff continuity -- much deeper issues than their woes up front on both lines. At first it was the defense not holding up its end of the deal, but last week it was the offense, which had four turnovers. To lose to Middle Tennessee two years in a row and barely beat James Madison at home is worse than bad luck -- it's inexcusable.

This is quite a different Rutgers team, though, than when these teams last met in 2007 and the Terps upended a top 10 team. How low has Rutgers sunk since then?

BB: Well, I thought Rutgers was ready to break through this year, and I picked them to win the Big East -- and then they went out and laid an egg in the opener against Cincinnati. This is a team that should be pretty good, with an experienced offensive line and a talented defense. But the passing game has been slow to develop, and now they're starting a true freshman quarterback (Tom Savage) who is a little groggy from a head injury last week. The running game hasn't blossomed and the Scarlet Knights have struggled to score points. Perhaps Maryland will be the cure to what ails them, though I think this could be a sloppy game.

So let's wrap this up. I say the Big East goes 2-1 this week, with Rutgers and Pitt winning. Not bad considering all three games are on ACC turf. What do you say?

HD: Well, I say the ACC goes 2-1, with the lone loss coming in College Park. If I'm wrong, I'll talk to you in March.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


B.J. Daniels will make his first college start at quarterback on Saturday, with the following variables: On the road against No. 18 Florida State. In his hometown, in front of gobs of friends and family. Versus the school he grew up rooting for that didn't recruit him. While taking over for his own program's most famous player.

Whew. That's a lot to take in for anybody, especially a 19-year-old redshirt freshman. But Daniels presents a cool, calm exterior in the face of this week's challenge.
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels is confident he can replace the injured Matt Grothe.

"It's just another game," he says, matter-of-factly.

South Florida coaches aren't surprised by his demeanor. They say that Daniels has carried himself this way since he arrived on campus knowing he would back up Matt Grothe for two years.

"He's always had the confidence and always acted as if he was the No. 1 guy," head coach Jim Leavitt said. "He just handled things well, just worked and didn't worry about much. I'm sure he'll be anxious (Saturday); that's normal. But once he gets in there and gets playing, it'll be like it always is."

Well, the Bulls can hope that things don't change too much with Daniels under center, but the truth is he's replacing a guy who made 41 straight starts. There's simply no way to make up for the difference in experience between him and Grothe.

But when considering sheer ability, the dropoff shouldn't be too severe. South Florida observers have been talking up Daniels for the past two years. His arm strength is better than Grothe's, and though he may not have the uncanny knack for avoiding defenders that Grothe had, Daniels is fast and athletic enough to play basketball for the Bulls in the winter.

"He can throw it 60 yards down the field like it's absolutely nothing," offensive coordinator Mike Canales said. "He's not a 4.4, 4.3-burner type of kid, but you can see his basketball skills in his ability to make people miss. He's so quick and so elusive that he can make people look silly."

Daniels isn't stepping into this situation completely unprepared, either. He appeared in two games last year before getting hurt and receiving a medical redshirt. He played in the Bulls' first three games this season, completing 12-of-15 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns and running for 149 yards and three scores while averaging 8.9 yards per carry.

This spring, because South Florida knew what Grothe could do, Daniels and backup Evan Landi received the majority of the repetitions at quarterback. And during fall camp, when Grothe missed about a week with a hamstring problem, Daniels took all the first-string snaps.

"I've grown a lot ever since the summer," Daniels said. "I tried to prepare myself as if I was the starter, and getting these reps live in a game helped a lot. I feel like I've been practicing forever."

Daniels grew up in Tallahassee and can remember going to a Florida State-Florida game in Doak Campbell Stadium as a young kid. He patterned his game after former Seminoles quarterback Charlie Ward. Despite starring just a few miles away at Lincoln High School, however, he was never recruited by FSU.

He said that snub doesn't bother him, but he'll have a chance to show the Seminoles what they missed on Saturday. Canales won't change the offense much, except to tailor more plays to Daniels' strengths. Expect that to mean more downfield throws, and perhaps rolling him out of the pocket some.

It won't be an easy place to make a college debut, especially against a fast and aggressive Florida State defense. But the Bulls have confidence in their new quarterback.

"He's going to get everybody's respect and be a leader just from the plays he's going to make," Grothe said. "It's hard to stop somebody as talented as he is."

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Quite possibly the best -- and certainly the most accomplished -- player in school history is done for the season. But South Florida doesn't have time to feel sorry for itself, not with Florida State coming up and the Big East soon thereafter.
 Grothe


Head coach Jim Leavitt spoke to the team right after Saturday's 59-0 win over Charleston Southern, during which Matt Grothe tore his left ACL. Even though the Bulls didn't know the severity of the injury at that point, they figured it was serious. Leavitt told them they had to keep going.

"They understand we move forward," Leavitt said. "The players are great. They love Matt to death, and Matt knows that. Injuries are part of the deal. We've had a bunch of them the last number of years. I understand Matt is a little unusual, being a quarterback, most important position on the team and all those kinds of things, but we'll move forward.

"It's the way it is. It's not being callous. It's the way it is. People get hurt in this game and you've got to be prepared. That's why you prepare anybody at any position to be ready to go in and step up and play. Matt would expect us to do that, and we will."

While Grothe was understandably devastated about not having the chance to finish his senior season and not getting the opportunity to play in the first-ever meeting with Florida State, Leavitt said his record-breaking quarterback will be fine. Leavitt plans on bringing Grothe on the road with the team the rest of the season.

"Matt's a strong young man, we all know that," Leavitt said. "He's going to deal with it, he's going to deal with adversity because he has great character. If I was going to have anybody deal with anything, it would be Matt Grothe, as far as I'm concerned."

As for Grothe's replacement, Leavitt heaped praise upon redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels, who he called "a confident young man with tremendous athletic talent and great leadership ability." The coach expressed confidence that Daniels would be fine in his first start on the road in Tallahassee.

"We're excited about him," Leavitt said.

Somebody who knows something about replacing quarterbacks midstream is Cincinnati's Brian Kelly, who had to do it four times last season. Kelly said the hardest part of doing that is tailoring the way the game is called for each different quarterback.

"The players you have in your program are capable physically of running the offense," Kelly said. "It's how you conduct it yourself that changes dramatically. We had to conduct the game differently with different quarterbacks."

Daniels will meet with media members on Tuesday for the first time as a starting quarterback.

Big East power rankings, Week 4

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
8:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


1. Cincinnati (3-0, 1-0): No doubt about it. The Bearcats are up to No. 14 in the AP Top 25 and No. 12 in my ESPN.com power rankings. After the win at Oregon State, they cemented their status as the Big East's banner-carrier, at least for now.

2. Pittsburgh (3-0): The Panthers are undefeated after three games for the first time since 2000. Still not ranked somehow, but they could be favored in their next six games. The defense was superb against Navy, and Bill Stull has given them steady play at quarterback.

3. West Virginia (2-1): The Mountaineers blew a golden opportunity to climb up these rankings and, more importantly, notch a key nonconference win at Auburn. I thought they were the better and more talented team Saturday night on the Plains, but even the Steelers would have trouble winning while coughing up the ball six times. Perhaps the bye week will give them time to practice ball security and get guys healthy, because this is still a dangerous team.

4. South Florida (3-0): The Bulls may have the emptiest 3-0 record in the history of football. They've played nobody, and now they've lost the heart and soul of the team after quarterback Matt Grothe's ACL tear. I'll need to see a good effort from B.J. Daniels and the rest of the team this week at Florida State in order to justify keeping South Florida in the top half of these rankings.

5. Connecticut (2-1): No secret what UConn's staple for success is: Run the ball and be physical on defense. If the Huskies run into a really good front seven or have to pass the ball, they're in trouble. They won't have to worry about either this week against Rhode Island.

6. Syracuse (1-2): The Orange are a play away from being 2-1 and ranking much higher on this list. Imagine that. Still, sixth is the highest I've ranked Syracuse in two years, so you have to call that progress.

7. Rutgers (2-1, 0-1): How did the Scarlet Knights win a game and move down? Simple. It was an ugly, defensive-minded 23-15 slugfest over Florida International at home, and Rutgers' schedule has been light years more manageable than Syracuse's slate.

8. Louisville (1-1): The Cardinals did not look bad against Kentucky despite being heavy underdogs on the road. They played with a lot of intensity and nearly pulled off the upset. If this is the worst team in the Big East, and I'm sticking to that opinion, then the Big East is awfully balanced this year.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Absolutely devastating news for South Florida, as senior quarterback Matt Grothe's season is over with a left ACL tear.

Grothe might be the most valuable player in the entire Big East, given what he means to the Bulls' offense as both a passer and a runner, not to mention emotional leader. One of Grothe's strengths had been his amazing durability; he started 41 straight games after taking over the reins early in his freshman year.

It really stinks for Grothe, who's given his all to his program and now won't get a chance to guide the Bulls in his senior year. How cruel and unfortunate for him that the injury comes just one week before South Florida will play its first-ever game against Florida State in Tallahassee. That's a game that Grothe told me this summer he'd really been looking forward to ever since the schedule came out. He also won't get to play against Miami at home this year.

Where do the Bulls go from here? Well, redshirt freshman B.J. Daniels is extremely talented with a stronger arm than Grothe's. Fellow redshirt freshman Evan Landi also brings a lot of skill to the position, including running ability. But obviously, neither one of them has anywhere near the experience that Grothe had, and Daniels might have to make his first career start at Florida State, which will be a tough spot.

Grothe redshirted as a true freshman and is unlikely to be able to get a sixth year from the NCAA. So that means his career is probably over, just one week after he broke the Big East career yardage mark. You can easily make the case that he's the greatest Bulls player ever.

There will be plenty of time this week to talk about how South Florida adjusts. Right now, though, you can't help but feel bad for a guy who had such an outstanding college career.

Big East stock report

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

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


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

Stock up

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

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

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

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

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

Stock down

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Player of the year race: Defense

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

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

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

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

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

Big East picks

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
8:03
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


The Big East prediction machine is operating on all cylinders. Last week brought a perfect 7-0 record, and I've missed only one in the first two weeks.

Of course, there weren't a whole lot of edge-of-your-seat matchups in Weeks 1 and 2. The competition heats up considerably this week, so I have to raise my game as well.

Cincinnati 34, Oregon State 31: It's asking a lot for the Bearcats to go across the country and beat a good team in a place where it hardly ever loses to nonconference opponents. But consider me a believer in Brian Kelly's team. I think Tony Pike will lead the offense to some early scores to help quiet the crowd, and the defense will do just enough to hold on and win one of the best games of the weekend.

West Virginia 28, Auburn 24: The SEC winning streak continues. Yes, Auburn's new offense has looked great the first two games, but the Mountaineers are far better than Louisiana Tech or Mississippi State. West Virginia can match the Tigers speed for speed, and Jarrett Brown will make enough plays to win in a tough environment.

Baylor 24, Connecticut 14: It's impossible to have any faith in UConn's offense, especially when replacement quarterback Cody Endres has been dealing with a stomach virus all week. The Huskies just can't pass or score, and they're going to have to put points up with electric Bears quarterback Robert Griffin ready to dazzle on his home field.

Kentucky 28, Louisville 14: I saw nothing in the preseason or from Louisville's first game that makes me think the Cardinals have enough firepower to win this rivalry contest. Unless they get some key turnovers or perhaps a special-teams score from Trent Guy, they're going to have a hard time moving the ball on Kentucky's defense. Make it three in a row for the Wildcats over Steve Kragthorpe.

Pittsburgh 35, Navy 21: Ricky Dobbs is going to cause some problems for the Pitt defense with his feet and his arm. But the Panthers should have enough familiarity with the Navy triple option after playing it the past two years. And Pitt's running game, led by Dion Lewis, has been spectacular so far. No reason to think that won't continue.

Northwestern 21, Syracuse 20: I want to pick Syracuse here, I really do. The Orange seem like they're ready to pull off an upset after playing pretty well in their first two Big Ten matchups, and they're back at home. Problem is, I've just seen too many Syracuse games the past few years to truly believe. I say Greg Paulus falls just short of leading his team on a winning drive.

Rutgers 30, Florida International 16: FIU coach Mario Cristobal is a former Greg Schiano assistant who knows the Scarlet Knights' system well. But my crystal ball says that the Golden Panthers don't have the talent to beat Rutgers on the road.

South Florida 48, Charleston Southern 7: The Bulls haven't really impressively dispatched any of their first two cream-puff opponents. Charleston Southern is even worse than the first two, however. Though boredom and looking ahead to Florida State could be an issue, I think South Florida will finally put together two good halves. Maybe Matt Grothe and George Selvie will even dance the Charleston like Pete and Trudy on "Mad Men" a couple of weeks ago.

Last week: 7-0

Season results: 13-1 (.929)

Big East helmet stickers, Week 2

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

Week 2 helmet stickers in the Big East:

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

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

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

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

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

Big East stock report

September, 11, 2009
9/11/09
2:27
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


I'm going to try something new here on Fridays, giving out a list of what's up and what's down in the Big East, along with how the races for the the league's offensive and defensive player of the year are shaping up. It's early, but this should be fun as the season goes along.

Stock up

1. Cincinnati: For obvious reasons. The Bearcats have cracked the Top 25 at No. 23 and could really climb high with a win at Oregon State next week.

2. Dion Lewis: The Pittsburgh back had a smashing college debut with 129 yards and three touchdowns. He could be a star in this league for a long time.

3. UConn's defensive ends: This position looked a little questionable after the departures of seniors Cody Brown and Julius Williams and the offseason dismissal of Marcus Campbell. But senior defensive end Lindsey Witten had three sacks and a safety at Ohio and showed he can be a full-time threat, while freshmen Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams also played well.

4. The Wildcat at Syracuse: They call it the Stallion package, but it's the same Wildcat formation just about every other school is using. Having Antwon Bailey and Delone Carter in the backfield at the same time with Bailey taking the snap added life to the Orange offense.

5. Julian Miller: Who needs Tevita Finau? The third spot on West Virginia's defensive line seemed like a concern going into the season, but Miller had other thoughts. He had 2.5 sacks against Liberty and brought a dose of speed to the Mountaineers' defensive front.

Stock down

1. Rutgers: For obvious reasons. No matter what the Scarlet Knights do the next few weeks, they won't have an opportunity to turn perception from that 47-15 beating until the Oct. 16 game against Pitt.

2. UConn fans: At last report, about 3,000 tickets remained for the North Carolina game. A team ranked 19th comes to town for the home opener, and the Huskies are having trouble selling out their 40,000-seat stadium? What's going on?

3. South Florida's Twittering: First, Jim Leavitt decided to stop tweeting after reports of his players and coaches doing so before the Wofford game. Now it seems that several players' accounts have either been shut down or switched to private. So much for embracing technology.

4. The Wildcat at Rutgers: They call it the Jabu package for quarterback Jabu Lovelace, but it's been so wildly ineffective since last year that it looks like it's time to scrap the project.

5. Steve Kragthorpe as offensive coordinator: Kragthorpe took over play-calling duties himself in the offseason and promised a new look. Fans didn't exactly like what they saw as Louisville scored only 30 points against Indiana State. Perhaps he's holding back the good stuff for next week at Kentucky. We can only hope that wasn't his best stuff last week.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati: Went 27-of-34 for 362 yards and three touchdowns in Week 1.

2. Jarrett Brown, QB, West Virginia: Completed 19 of 26 passes for 243 yards and ran for 69 yards and a score in the opener

3. Jordan Todman, RB, UConn: Ran for 154 yards and a touchdown in Week 1 win at Ohio.

4. Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh: See above.

5. Matt Grothe, QB, South Florida: Went 19-of-23 for 155 yards and one score with an interception and ran for 44 yards versus Wofford.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: See above.

2. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Got his first sack of the year versus Wofford.

3. Curtis Young, LB, Cincinnati: Had 11 tackles and a sack versus Rutgers

4. Reed Williams, LB, West Virginia: Relatively quiet day against Liberty (six tackles) but will be a factor in this race.

5. Aaron Webster, S, Cincinnati: Had 10 tackles and an interception at Rutgers.

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