NCF Nation: Preston Brown

UCF spoils Louisville's dreams

October, 19, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Lorenzo Mauldin trudged off the Papa John's Cardinal Stadium field on Friday night, his head down and with teammate Keith Towbridge's arm draped around him. Before he reached the team's locker room, Mauldin looked up and screamed a four-letter word into the night.

Louisville's players later tried their best to say everything could still work out this season, even after a 38-35 home loss to Central Florida. But Mauldin's primal yell more accurately summed up the feelings of Cardinals fans everywhere.

As a 21-point second-half lead evaporated, so too did all of No. 8 Louisville's dreams of an undefeated season and any outside shot at a national title. Stark reality: the supposed best team in school history isn't even the best team in the American Athletic Conference.

"When you're undefeated, you think about the big game and all that stuff," senior middle linebacker Preston Brown said. "But all that's out the window now with the conference we play in. Now, we've just got to win the conference and hopefully get to a BCS game."

The big questions surrounding the Cardinals this season revolved around their schedule, and that such a soft slate should be reflected in their national ranking. UCF -- a team that has also won at Penn State and lost by three points at home to South Carolina -- proved a perfectly powerful opponent and looks like a deserving Top 25 team in its own right.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Stanback
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's defense was nowhere to be found in the second half, especially on this William Stanback touchdown run.
"A lot of people don't recognize us as being a team that can compete on this level," UCF offensive lineman Joey Grant said. "I believe we just proved to everyone that we can."

Louisville will now need the Knights to lose twice just to have a chance to win the AAC and its automatic BCS bid. Last season, the Cardinals dropped back-to-back games in the old Big East -- including a home loss to UConn -- but still got enough help to make it to the Sugar Bowl, where they stunned Florida. Several players talked about repeating that path.

"We've been down this road before," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said.

Yet expectations for this team far exceeded simply fighting for an AAC title, and Louisville might end up wondering what might have been if not for a third-quarter collapse.

Freshman James Quick's one-handed scoop of a fumbled punt attempt and 30-yard touchdown dash put the Cardinals up 28-7 with 7:52 left in the quarter. The sellout homecoming crowd hopped. And then watched in horror as everything unraveled.

UCF's Blake Bortles completed a 32-yard third-down pass on the following drive to set up a Knights' touchdown. A Louisville fumble then led to another quick score. Then, a defensive stop and yet another score. The Knights had erased a three-touchdown deficit in a little more than seven minutes.

"Never, ever, ever give up," Knights head coach George O'Leary said afterward. "That's what we live on, and they knew that was coming. When they started jumping to [Louisville's] music, I knew we were in good shape."

A fourth-quarter field goal put Louisville behind in the second half for the first time this season. That's when Teddy Bridgewater showed his greatness, leading the offense on an 88-yard drive that was capped by Dominique Brown's 15-yard touchdown rumble. Bridgewater could hardly have played better; he completed 20 of his first 23 passes and finished 29-of-38 for 341 yards and two touchdowns.

For most of the season, though, Bridgewater hasn't gotten a lot of help from his running game, and that was the case again Friday. Dominique Brown ran for 54 yards on the Cardinals' touchdown drive to open the second half and later had that 15-yard score. Other than that, though, Louisville managed only 35 rushing yards. And Strong's strategy to rotate backs every series backfired, as he subbed in Senorise Perry after Brown had dominated that first third-quarter possession. Perry's fumble on his own 17 set up a Knights touchdown one play later.

But Strong was more upset with his defense than anything else. Bortles played every bit as well as Bridgewater, throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns. He had time to scan the field, too, as Louisville failed to record a sack.

"We never got any pressure," Strong said. "You've got to create disruption and pressure. We had our blitzes called, we just didn't execute."

The defense saved the day last week in a slugfest against Rutgers but couldn't hold onto a 35-31 lead with three minutes to go. Bortles spearheaded a 75-yard march that ended on his game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Godfrey with 23 seconds left. Bortles faced no pressure on the throw, and Godfrey was wide open.

Preston Brown said Louisville played its base Cover-2 on that drive, hoping to force UCF into short passes and perhaps create a turnover. Instead, the Knights took what was there, all the way down the field.

"We changed our scheme a little bit, and we missed a lot of shots," Louisville safety Hakeem Smith said. "Pursuit was key, and we missed a lot of tackles."

Strong has tried to block out all the criticism surrounding the Cardinals' schedule this season and has repeatedly told his team that they are the best in the nation. He said that will continue to be the message going forward. Louisville only plays two more teams with winning records (Houston and Cincinnati) and should still finish with a sparkling record. Bridgewater insisted the team would move on and get ready for South Florida next week.

"You can't live in misery," he said. "You can't live in a loss. One loss doesn't determine the whole season."

There wasn't much else a team leader like Bridgewater could say on this night. Mauldin had already summed up the feeling of Cardinals fans everywhere.
Louisville coach Charlie Strong has been asked 1,000 different ways about the makeup of his team headed into 2013, about its potential, about the opportunity to run the table.

And we have not even hit August.

Those questions will only increase as the season grows closer but for right now, Strong wants one of his own answered -- Who will step up and become a leader on this team? The obvious answer is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, of course. But Strong knows you need more than one strong leader to field a championship team.

Though the senior class was very small last year, the Cards got some great leadership out of center Mario Benavides, who had lived through the ups and downs in the program to start virtually every game of his career. Daniel Brown and Adrian Bushell provided leadership defensively.

This year is different, not only because of expectations but because this is a more veteran group.

Yes, Bridgewater is back, but the Cards have a much larger senior class than they did a year ago, and will have more senior starters as well. Strong has keyed on linebacker Preston Brown emerging as his defensive leader, now that he is going into Year 3 as a starter.

The Cards have players accustomed to the system. They have a coaching staff that has remained nearly intact. Strong hopes that helps the team remain focus despite the outsized expectations.

"The guys are really working and they understand," Strong said recently from the ACC spring meetings. "What’s great about it is they’re welcoming the challenge but do we have enough leadership to take a hold of it and do we have enough leadership where our players will understand how hard they have to work?

"It’s all about leadership. You have guys that have been in the program. We’re going into our fourth season as a coaching staff so we feel like we’ve established enough with our players that they understand the workload and what it’s all about now."

Big East all-bowl team

January, 10, 2013
It's time to unveil the Big East all-bowl team, honoring those players who had the best performances in the postseason.


QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville. What more can I say about Bridgewater, who began his 2013 Heisman campaign with a big game against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl? Bridgewater went 20-of-32 for two touchdowns in the decisive 33-23 win.

RB: Prince-Tyson Gulley, Syracuse. Gulley was a running machine, busting free for a career-high 213 yards and three total touchdowns in a 38-14 win over West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

RB: George Winn, Cincinnati. Winn capped a great senior season, running for 130 yards and a touchdown in a 48-34 win over Duke in the Belk Bowl.

OT: Justin Pugh, Syracuse. There is a reason Pugh has declared early for the NFL draft. He showed why he is one of the best tackles in the country in the win over West Virginia, helping pave the way for 369 yards rushing and protecting Ryan Nassib well.

OT: Alex Kupper, Louisville. Those who have followed the Cardinals believe Kupper had one of the best performances of his career in the win over the Gators. For the first time in a four-game stretch, Louisville was able to get its run game going.

C: Mario Benavides, Louisville. Benavides has been the best center in the Big East for several years, and he played well in the final game of his career.

OG: Austen Bujnoch, Cincinnati. Bujnoch played with a foot injury after missing most of the bowl practices and had another great game as the Bearcats ran for 222 yards.

OG: Zack Chibane, Syracuse. Chibane teamed with Pugh on the left side to open huge holes all day.

TE: Travis Kelce, Cincinnati. Kelce capped his monster season with a monster game, catching five passes for a career-high 123 yards -- including the 83-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 44 seconds left.

WR: Anthony McClung, Cincinnati. McClung had three catches for 110 yards and a 25-yard touchdown against Duke in the Belk Bowl in one of the best performances of his career.

WR: Devin Street, Pitt. The Panthers had a dreadful day on offense, but Street was a bright spot with seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 38-17 loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.


DL: Marcus Smith, Louisville. Smith came through in a big way on the line in a dominating performance against Florida. His name does not show up often on the stat sheet, but he made his presence felt.

DL: Brandon Sharpe, Syracuse. Sharpe was a big reason why Geno Smith was flustered all day long. Sharpe finished with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on the day.

DL: Jamil Merrell, Rutgers. Merrell had a huge game in a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech, notching a career-high two sacks in the game as the Scarlet Knights held the Hokies to 196 yards of total offense.

LB: Siriki Diabate, Syracuse. Diabate led the way with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and half a sack, and he contributed to a safety early in the win over the Mountaineers.

LB: Greg Blair, Cincinnati. Blair set a Cincinnati bowl record with a game-high 15 tackles. He forced and recovered a fumble early that changed the momentum against the Blue Devils.

LB: Preston Brown, Louisville. Brown finished with 13 tackles -- 1.5 for loss -- and one pass breakup in the win over the Gators.

LB: Khaseem Greene, Rutgers. Greene was a stalwart once again, finishing the loss to Virginia Tech with 11 tackles, half a sack and one forced fumble he recovered in the end zone -- the only Rutgers touchdown of the game.

CB: Terell Floyd, Louisville. Floyd's 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the opening play of the game set the tone for the Cardinals. It was Louisville's first defensive score of the season.

CB: Brandon Jones, Rutgers. Jones set a career high and Rutgers single-game bowl record with two interceptions against the Hokies.

S: Jason Hendricks, Pitt. Hendricks had a great game in a loss to the Rebels, with a whopping 17 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interception.

S: Calvin Pryor, Louisville. Pryor had six tackles and registered his fifth forced fumble on the season when he recorded his first sack of the season in the third quarter.


P: Matt Yoklic, Pitt. Yoklic had plenty of opportunities to punt in this game and made the most of them, leading all Big East postseason punters with a 48.3-yard average on six punts.

K: Tony Miliano, Cincinnati. Miliano led all Big East kickers during postseason play with 12 points -- making both his field goal attempts and all six extra-point attempts against Duke.

Florida-Louisville game preview

January, 2, 2013
No. 3 Florida (11-1) vs. No. 21 Louisville (10-2)
Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Mercedes-Benz Sugar Bowl, New Orleans

Gators to watch

QB Jeff Driskel: The 6-foot-4, 237-pound sophomore played his best game of the season in the regular-season finale against Florida State. Even though he was still bothered by an ankle injury, Driskel remained composed -- despite being sacked four times and harassed by a pair of NFL defensive ends -- and hurt the Seminoles on rollout passes. It’ll be interesting to see how much he has benefited from the 15 bowl practices in which he didn’t have to evenly split reps with Jacoby Brissett. A lot of players make significant jumps during bowl practices, as CB Loucheiz Purifoy did last season. Is Driskel next?

DT Sharrif Floyd: This might be Floyd’s final game with the Gators because the 6-3, 303-pound junior is considering leaving early for the NFL. Floyd has been a disruptive force all season, with 11 tackles for loss, a sack, and six quarterback hurries (one shy of the team lead). He’ll be matched up against a pair of sophomore guards, John Miller and Jake Smith. The Cardinals average just 127.1 yards per game rushing and are without RB Senorise Perry, who tore his right ACL. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and still leads the team with 11 rushing touchdowns. Floyd will be a big part of the Gators’ plan to make the Cardinals one-dimensional.

S Matt Elam: Elam is another player who could be appearing in his last game for Florida. The 5-10, 202-pound junior also is considering leaving early for the NFL after putting together an All-American season (65 tackles, four interceptions). He’s a rarity in that he can play safety but also has the one-on-one coverage skills to line up at nickel back. He made perhaps the biggest play of the season when he stripped LSU WR Odell Beckham after a 56-yard gain. The Gators went on to score a game-clinching touchdown and beat the Tigers.

Cardinals to watch

QB Teddy Bridgewater: The 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore ended the regular season ranked eighth nationally in pass efficiency. He was named the Big East’s Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,452 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was fantastic in the regular-season finale against Rutgers, when he came off the bench and rallied the Cardinals to a 20-17 victory to win the Big East title in one of the gutsiest performances of the season. Bridgewater had a broken left wrist and a severely sprained left ankle but he still managed to complete 20 of 28 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

CB Adrian Bushell: Bushell transferred from Florida after the 2009 season, spent a year at a junior college, and enrolled at Louisville just before the Cardinals started practices in 2011. It turned out to be a good move for the 5-11, 184-pounder from DeSoto, Texas, and the Cardinals. Bushell is a two-time first-team All-Big East selection and had a team-high 11 pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and an interception to go along with 59 tackles.

WR DeVante Parker: Parker has 38 catches for 712 yards and nine touchdowns this season. That’s a team-high 18.7 yards per catch. The 6-3, 204-pound sophomore is a touchdown machine. He has 15 touchdown catches on only 56 career receptions, which means he’s averaging a touchdown every 3.7 receptions. He’s also a big-play machine, because his 15 touchdown catches are averaging 29.5 yards.

Key matchup

Florida RB Mike Gillislee vs. Louisville LB Preston Brown

Expect a heavy dose of Gillislee today, especially with the state of the Cardinals’ rush defense. Louisville is giving up an average of 151.1 yards per game rushing and opponents have rushed for at least 196 yards in five of the past eight games. The 6-0, 257-pound Brown, who anchors the middle and leads the team with 96 tackles, is averaging 11.3 tackles in his last six games. Gillislee, a first-team All-SEC selection, has rushed for 1,104 yards and 10 touchdowns to become the first UF back to surpass 1,000 yards since 2004. Gillislee is coming off his best performance: 140 yards and two TDs against Florida State, which had the nation’s No. 1 rush defense.

By the numbers

2: Number of victories Louisville has posted over top-five teams. The Cardinals beat No. 3 West Virginia in 2006 and No. 4 Florida State in 2002.

3: Number of victories for Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Gators are 3-5, with victories over West Virginia (1994), Florida State (1997) and Cincinnati (2010).

12.9: Number of points per game Florida is allowing. It’s the fewest allowed in a season since 1964 (9.8).

Big East position rankings: LB

February, 22, 2012
We continue with our final 2011 position rankings by moving to linebacker. There were plenty of exemplary individual performances in this group, as six teams were represented on the Big East first and second teams. But this evaluation is of the unit as a whole, so I am factoring in the performance of every starter, along with depth and stats.

[+] EnlargeKhaseem Greene
Rich Kane/Icon SMIKhaseem Greene's position switch went better than anyone could have expected, as he ended up leading the conference in tackles.
1. Rutgers. Khaseem Greene's move to linebacker was the smartest position change of the year, pushing the Scarlet Knights into the top spot in this category. Greene led the league with 140 tackles en route to Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was essentially all over the field. Greene and Steve Beauharnais were the only linebacker tandem to finish in the top 10 in the Big East in tackles for loss. Add in the much-improved Jamal Merrell and it's easy to see why this group is No. 1. Preseason ranking: No. 4.

2. Cincinnati. J.K. Schaffer had yet another outstanding season for the Bearcats, racking up 100 tackles once again. But quietly, Maalik Bomar put together a nice year as well, and that helped make up for some serious question marks that surrounded this unit going into the season. True freshmen Dwight Jackson and Nick Temple made contributions, but on the whole it was the Schaffer show again and that was enough to boost this group. Preseason ranking: 8.

3. Louisville. Dexter Heyman and Preston Brown had career seasons for the Cardinals, elevating the position and helping Louisville post another outstanding season on defense. Heyman and Brown finished in the top 15 in the Big East in tackles, and Heyman ranked fourth in the league with 16 tackles for loss. His play earned him second-team honors, and he leaves a big hole to fill for 2012. Preseason ranking: 3.

4. UConn. The Huskies were one of two teams without a linebacker on the Big East first or second team. But I thought this position group was vastly underrated for most of the year. Sio Moore came up with some big plays, and Yawin Smallwood and Jory Johnson developed nicely throughout the season. To illustrate how active Moore was, he was the top linebacker in tackles for loss with 16. This unit should be even better in 2012. Preseason ranking: 2.

5. USF. The Bulls were the other team without a linebacker named to the Big East first or second team but that shouldn't diminish the season DeDe Lattimore had. He had seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss and led the team in tackles. In fact, all three linebackers led the team, in Mike Lanaris and Sam Barrington. But the group as a whole underachieved, as the Bulls struggled to get teams off the field and were often times out of position to make a play. Preseason ranking: 1.

6. West Virginia. Middle linebacker Najee Goode had a terrific season, earning first team Big East honors. But beyond him, there were few significant contributions. Injuries hurt and so did inexperience. Plus, the expected emergence of junior college transfer Josh Francis never materialized. Between Jared Barber, Jewone Snow and Doug Rigg, there was not much doing in this group. Preseason ranking: 5.

7. Pitt. The problem in evaluating Pitt is this -- Brandon Lindsey played both end and linebacker in the hybrid Panther role. Does he get evaluated with the line group or the linebacker group? He started eight games on the line, so I gave more weight to his contributions at end. However, I did take him into account for this unit, though it was not enough to life this group up much as a whole. Max Gruder was solid, but otherwise this was a lackluster bunch. Todd Thomas showed some spark but injuries slowed him down. Between Shane Gordon, Greg Williams and Tristan Roberts, there were problems all year. Preseason ranking: 6.

8. Syracuse. It was a struggle for the Orange on defense this season, and linebacker was no exception. Marquis Spruill had to make the transition to middle linebacker and struggled at times. Dyshawn Davis showed glimpses as a true freshman. Dan Vaughan actually was the leading linebacker in tackles. You generally want your linebackers to lead the team in that category, and that was not the case this season. But there is talent here. Another year of development for Spruill and Davis could yield big things in 2012. Preseason ranking: 7.

Big East's most improved players

January, 19, 2012
This season saw plenty of players emerge throughout the Big East. But who was most improved among them?

It was tough in many cases to narrow this down to one player per team. My criteria might be different from yours. I am looking for players who were not on any preseason lists, who were not expected to have breakout seasons, who had yet to live up to their full potential.

For example, it would be easy to say West Virginia receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were among the most improved. There is no doubt they were, as they each got over 1,000 yards. But we all expected them to have big seasons because of Dana Holgorsen. So I went with a different player for West Virginia.

Here are my picks:

Cincinnati: Drew Frey, safety. Runner-up: Derek Wolfe, defensive tackle. This was an incredibly tough choice for me. Wolfe essentially doubled his stats from 2010, ranking No. 5 in the nation in tackles for loss (21.5) and No. 16 in sacks (9.5) en route to Co-Defensive Player of the Year honors. But Wolfe did make my preseason list of top 25 players in the Big East, as I anticipated he would be in store for a solid season. Frey, on the other hand, was a huge question mark going into the year because of the way the Cincinnati secondary played in 2010. He ended up second on the team in tackles (73) and had eight pass breakups. Do you know how many he had last year? One. Frey was first-team All-Big East and emerged as one of the best safeties in the league.

[+] EnlargeTrevardo Williams
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireHuskies defensive end Trevardo Williams, left, lead the Big East with 12.5 sacks.
UConn: Trevardo Williams, defensive end. What a leap Williams made this season, leading the Big East with 12.5 sacks and winning second-team honors. Though he started seven games last season, it was no sure thing that Williams would emerge as the full-time starter. But he more than held his own, and worked in the offseason to use more than just his speed to get after the quarterback. It paid off.

Louisville: Preston Brown, linebacker. When the season started, Brown was not even penciled in as a starter. He played in 13 games in 2010 but coach Charlie Strong was waiting on him to emerge and prove he could be counted on. He most certainly did that in 2011, finishing third on the team with 84 tackles. He was consistently good for most of the season, and he and Dexter Heyman proved to be a great linebacker duo.

Pittsburgh: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle. Donald figured to be counted on to provide depth, but he went ahead and finished second in the Big East in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (16) -- both team-highs. He also added a team-high 11 quarterback hurries. He ended the season as a starter and a second-team All-Big East selection.

Rutgers: Khaseem Greene, linebacker. Runner-up: Mohamed Sanu, receiver. This was really, really, really hard to decide. Sanu set a Big East and school record with 115 receptions and was the best player on offense. Greene won Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year after switching positions in the offseason. So why Greene? Well, Sanu was on my preseason top 25 players list and I thought he had a chance to have a good season because he was healthy and would be playing receiver. But Greene was more of a question mark because he had moved over from safety. He was on nobody's radar for Defensive Player of the Year when the season started, but emerged as one of the finest players in the league. So he gets the nod.

USF: Kayvon Webster, cornerback. Webster was one of the more highly touted prospects USF signed in 2009, but it has taken a while for him to live up to expectations. He did so this season, in his first year as a full-time starter. Webster had 49 tackles and seven pass breakups this season and made the All-Big East second team.

Syracuse: Alec Lemon, receiver. Lemon more than doubled his receiving and yardage totals from 2010 -- setting a school record with 68 receptions for 834 yards with six touchdowns, all career highs. He had seven or more receptions in six games; in 2009 and 2010 he had two games combined with seven or more catches. Lemon quickly emerged as a much-needed go-to receiver, especially with Marcus Sales out (suspension). His performance placed him on the All-Big East second team.

West Virginia: Tyler Bitancurt, kicker. Runner-up: Stedman Bailey. You can make the argument for Bailey and I would not disagree. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin were projected to have big seasons -- both were in my preseason top 25. Bailey was right on the outside. But the strides Bitancurt made were bigger than any other kicker in the Big East. He took his field goal percentage from 58.8 percent to 72.7 percent, moving him from last place to No. 4 in the league. He nailed a 28-yard kick with no time left against USF to give the Mountaineers a share of the Big East title and a BCS berth.

Louisville moves into Big East mix

November, 2, 2011
When Charlie Strong held individual meetings with several of his players two weeks ago, his message was clear.

"I told our players in those meetings, 'You tried it your way. Let's try it our way,'" Strong recalled earlier this week.

The Cardinals were 2-4 at the time, with an offense that moved about as quickly as a traffic jam. The defense, built to be the strength of this team, had given up way too many big plays and blown two fourth-quarter leads. Strong was tired of players not trusting in the system. But maybe more importantly, he was tired of the players not trusting each other.

He needed to get through to them, and the players needed to get through to each other. Players were honest about where things stood with the team. Strong listened.

[+] EnlargePreston Brown
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswirePreston Brown (2) and the Louisville defense have turned things around.
Since then, the Cardinals are 2-0 and squarely in the middle of the Big East race heading into a huge game at West Virginia on Saturday. Both teams are 2-1 in conference play, and a win would keep them near the top of the conference standings.

"Since the meetings, we've really got more trust with each other now," linebacker Preston Brown said. "You can see that in the locker room and everywhere else. We got stuff out in the air, and we became closer. We didn’t separate. Everybody was honest about what was going on, we respected everybody’s honesty and we came closer."

The Cardinals are coming off perhaps their best game of the season after limiting Syracuse to 10 points and scoring a season-high 27. There has been improvement on offense in the past two games with Shawn Watson calling the plays. The offensive line, the weakest part of the team in the early going, has played much better both in the run game and with pass blocking as continuity has been developed among a unit featuring four new starters.

That has allowed Louisville to run the ball, the calling card of a Strong-coached team, and something that is of even greater importance with a true freshman playing at quarterback. Defensively, missed assignments have been sharply reduced. Players are swarming to the ball, tackling better and in position to make plays.

Brown, for one, has come on in the past two games. He had two of the team's four sacks against Syracuse and said he has felt himself improve because he is not merely watching film. He is studying film, watching for tendencies, understanding schemes and looking for hints about what teams like to do in the run and pass game.

He and his teammates now have Louisville ranked in the top 12 nationally in scoring defense (No. 11), rushing defense (No. 12) and total defense (No. 12) -- on pace to finish better than the team that went to a bowl game last season.

"We’re playing really good as a unit," Brown said. "Everybody knows what everybody else is doing, and we're playing good fits. The longer we go into the season, the better we’ll get."

Louisville starts three freshmen on defense, so there was some growing up that had to be done as well. As for whether the Cardinals can have a say in the Big East race, they do need some help for that to happen because they already have a loss to league leader Cincinnati. If the Cardinals can win out and Cincinnati loses twice, then watch out.

But for that to happen, they have to beat a West Virginia team that presents the biggest challenge of the season. Louisville has only won in Morgantown once, but never as a member of the Big East.

"We're just taking it one game at a time," Brown said. "We just know we have to go out there and try to win. We know everybody thinks they’re going to beat us, so we are going to go out with the mindset that we can beat them every week."

Big East helmet stickers

October, 29, 2011
How about a few helmet stickers for a job well done.

Shawne Alston, RB, West Virginia. Alston entered the game with a season-high of 49 rushing yards, but that changed in a 41-31 win over Rutgers. Alston notched his first ever 100-yard game, rushing for 110 yards on 14 carries and also had a career-long 52 yard touchdown run as the Mountaineers relied on him and their run game to win in the snow.

Preston Brown, LB, Louisville. Brown led the Cardinals with 1.5 sacks, and also had seven tackles in an impressive 27-10 win over Syracuse. Louisville had four total sacks on Ryan Nassib. Brown went into the game with no career sacks. He also has made six or more tackles in five straight games.

Tino Sunseri, QB, Pitt. Sunseri threw for two touchdowns and a career-high 419 yards in a 35-20 win over UConn on Wednesday night. The performance was much needed after two consecutive subpar efforts had many tossing criticism his way. But coach Todd Graham said before the game he was sticking with Sunseri as his starter, and that move paid off against the Huskies.