NCF Nation: Scott Long

Big East in the NFL draft

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
8:00
AM ET
The NFL's fortnight of drafting -- what, it was only three days? Really? -- came to an end this weekend. I already touched on the first-round results on Friday. Here's a look at where Big East players went the rest of the draft, with some quick comments on each pick:

Second round

No. 37: Nate Allen, S, South Florida, to Philadelphia: No surprise here, as Allen was mentioned as a possible first-rounder at various points.

Third round

No. 65: Jerome Murphy, CB, South Florida to St. Louis: Here is proof that college production isn't always the most important thing to NFL scouts. Murphy struggled against some of the Big East's better receivers, but he has great physical tools and hopefully will find his niche in the pros.

Fourth round

No. 99: Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati, to St. Louis: If you watched any Bearcats games the past two years, you know that the Rams got an absolute steal. Think Sam Bradford will like having Gilyard around?

No. 101: Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse, to Tampa Bay: He was a first-round talent who was lucky to get picked this high given his off-the-field issues.

No. 107: Marcus Easley, WR, UConn, to Buffalo: Easley had great workouts, and though some thought he would go higher than this, it's still a great story for a guy who was a walk-on this time a year ago.

Fifth round

No. 157: Arthur Jones, DT, Syracuse, to Baltimore: Jones was talked about as a possible first-rounder earlier in his career. This is a great value pick for a player who will always give maximum effort.

Sixth round

No. 177: Carlton Mitchell, WR, South Florida, to Cleveland: Mitchell looked impressive in his workouts, but falling to the sixth round makes you question if he made the right choice in skipping his senior year.

No. 182: Nate Byham, TE, Pittsburgh, to San Francisco: The best blocking tight end in the Big East during his career.

No. 204: Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati, to Carolina: Pike has to be disappointed that he fell this low and that he was drafted by the same team that took Jimmy Clausen a couple rounds earlier.

Seventh round

No. 226: George Selvie, DE, South Florida, to St. Louis: How much would you have bet against the notion that Selvie would be a seventh-round pick at this time last year? Selvie's production dropped after his breakout sophomore year, and now he'll have to prove himself again.

No. 227: Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pittsburgh, to Houston: Surprised to see Dickerson go this low after his great Combine performance. He's a tweener who needs the right team to showcase his skills.

No. 231: Selvish Capers, OT, West Virginia, to Washington: Capers has a lot of talent and potential.

No. 237: Ryan D'Imperio, LB/FB, Rutgers, to Minnesota: The Scarlet Knights' linebacker was drafted as a fullback although he never played it in college.

No. 238: Ricardo Mathews, DT, Cincinnati, to Indianapolis: Mathews didn't get as much attention on the Bearcats' defense as some other players but had a nice senior season.

No. 249: Robert McClain, CB, UConn, to Carolina: McClain had four interceptions last year and also served as the team's punt returner.

Here's a handy-dandy list of NFL Draft picks per Big East school:

South Florida: 5

Rutgers: 3

Cincinnati: 3

Connecticut: 2

Pitt: 2

Syracuse: 2

West Virginia: 1

Louisville: 0

And, finally, some notable players who weren't drafted (I'll have more later on those who signed free-agent contracts): Andre Dixon and Lindsey Witten from UConn; Aaron Webster and Alex Daniels from Cincinnati; Scott Long from Louisville; and Jarrett Brown from West Virginia.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big East stock report, Week 7

October, 14, 2009
10/14/09
8:04
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


Time to stock up on some Big East status reports. OK, my stock is now down for that stupid pun. Anyway, here's this week's stock report, with this week's bonus category of most improved player (hat tip to Adam from Pittsburgh for the suggestion):

Stock up

1. Scott Long: Plenty of people thought I was crazy for including Long in my preseason Big East Top 30 list and, yeah, I probably ranked him too high. But Long has shown he's one of the league's top playmakers, especially after his 92-yard touchdown pass against Southern Miss.

2. Jarrett Brown: Some people got down on Brown after his turnover spree at Auburn. But since the second half of the Colorado game, he's been nearly flawless, including an efficient 22-of-30, 244-yard, no turnover performance at Syracuse.

3. Pitt's offensive line: They buckled down and paved the way for the comeback against UConn, helping the Panthers run for more than 200 yards against one of the Big East's best run defenses. And they keep protecting Bill Stull well, giving up only four sacks all year.

4. Marcus Easley: The former UConn walk-on earned a scholarship this spring and caught a 79-yard touchdown pass in the Pitt game.

5. Rutgers' defense: The Scarlet Knights have eight interceptions and four defensive scores this season. Now let's see if they can do it against Big East competition.

Stock down

1. Greg Paulus: Hard to knock the guy too much considering all he's done under difficult circumstances, but Paulus does have six interceptions in his past six quarters. If he doesn't improve, he might lose his starting job like he did at Duke last season.

2. UConn's fourth quarters: The Huskies have been outscored 40-21 in the fourth quarter against FBS foes this year, including blown leads against Pitt and North Carolina. It's fair to at least ask at this point whether the no-huddle offense is contributing to fatigue for a team that's not especially deep.

3. Justin Burke: Through no real apparent fault of his own, Burke has lost the starting quarterback job at Louisville to Adam Froman, who was handpicked out of junior college by head coach Steve Kragthorpe.

4. Pitt's home field advantage: Despite having a 4-1 team, a crucial Big East game and a lovely fall afternoon, the Panthers drew only an announced crowd of 44,893 to Heinz Field. Many of those fans booed the home team during the game and fled in droves once it fell behind 21-6. They missed the big comeback -- and proved that Pitt doesn't have much of a home-field advantage.

5. Jeff Mullen critics: West Virginia fans loved to criticize their offensive coordinator last year and parts of this season. Well, the Mountaineers have scored at least 30 points in each of their first five games for the first time ever. Not even Rich Rodriguez ever accomplished that. Time to give Mullen some credit.

Player of the year race: Offense

1. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati: Has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 1,493 yards and 13 touchdowns with three interceptions.

2. Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Has rushed 95 times for 631 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

3. Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: Has 38 catches for 517 yards and seven touchdowns.

4. Dion Lewis, RB, Pitt: Has rushed 131 times for 738 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.

5. Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse: Has 45 catches for 712 yards and six touchdowns.

Player of the year race: Defense

1. George Selvie, DE, South Florida: Does he deserve the top spot? We'll find out Thursday night.

2. Greg Romeus, DE, Pitt: Has seven sacks on the season, including one that forced a fumble against UConn.

3. Nate Allen, S, South Florida: Leads the Bulls with 29 tackles and has two interceptions.

4. JK Schaffer, LB, Cincinnati: Has three interceptions and 31 tackles on the year.

5. Lindsey Witten, DE, UConn: Still leads the league with eight sacks but has been quiet of late, including loss at Pitt.

Most improved player of the year

1. Bill Stull, QB, Pitt: After struggling mightily at the end of last season, Stull has picked his game up. He leads the league in pass efficiency and is tied for the Big East lead with 13 touchdown passes.

2. Armon Binns, WR, Cincinnati: The junior had two career catches in 16 games coming into this season, when he has 22 catches for 279 yards and a touchdown.

3. Dorin Dickerson, TE, Pitt: This senior had 14 career receptions before this year, when he has 21 catches for 232 yards and seven touchdowns.

4. Carlton Mitchell, WR, South Florida: He's nearly matched last year's totals already with 22 catches for 377 yards and has tripled his touchdown production to three. He's become the Bulls' long bomb specialist.

5. Derrell Smith, LB, Syracuse: Smith had 73 tackles, seven for loss last year. At middle linebacker this season, he already has collected 55 tackles (6.5 for loss) and 4.5 sacks.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


1. Return of conference play: Big East league play began on Labor Day and then took the rest of September off. It's back this week with two games, each featuring a supposed contender (Pitt, South Florida) against an expected pretender (Louisville, Syracuse). Can either of the underdogs flip those preseason prognostications -- and the league race -- upside down?

2. West Virginia's self-control: You know how coaches like to call mistakes "teaching moments"? Well, Bill Stewart and his staff have had a lot of those moments in the 12 days following the Auburn loss. Six turnovers will do that. Let's see how the Mountaineers respond tonight against Colorado. That will tell us whether that coughing-up fit on the Plains was a temporary setback or symptomatic of a long-term concern.

3. Noel Devine's touches: It's become a sticking point among some West Virginia fans that Devine only got 17 touches -- while producing 154 and three touchdowns -- at Auburn. The Mountaineers have a fine Devine line to straddle; they don't want to overwork him, and they've got plenty of other weapons on offense. Still, I suspect we might see a heavier workload for the star tailback tonight, unless the game gets out of hand.

4. Pitt's discipline: We've been talking about it all week. The Panthers haven't looked like themselves on defense, especially in the NC State game, and have incurred too many penalties. Can they shore that up in time for Friday's game at Louisville? The secondary must tighten up against the Cardinals, or else Scott Long, Doug Beaumont and Trent Guy will be running free and putting a dent in Pitt's Big East hopes.

5. Louisville's defensive front: Can the Cardinals' defense, which had trouble slowing Utah's backup running back last week, contain the powerful Dion Lewis? Pitt's offensive line has given up the fewest sacks in the league, while Louisville's defense has notched fewer sacks than anybody in the conference. Bill Stull may not be the greatest quarterback in the country, but if he has all day to throw, he'll find his many playmakers.

6. Pitt's defensive front: This should be the best defensive line Louisville has faced all year. The Panthers lead the league in sacks and should be able to get penetration and at the very least, force Justin Burke to roll out of the pocket. Emphasis on should, because while guys like Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard got through the NC State offensive line, they couldn't wrap up and finish off quarterback Russell Wilson. They need to hit Burke and get him on the ground to swing the game their way.

7. B.J. Daniels: After his celebrated win at Florida State, the South Florida redshirt freshman quarterback starts his first conference game. Syracuse will now have seen plenty of tape on him. Daniels will need to improve some of his decision-making from the second half of the FSU game, but his speed could be something to behold on that Carrier Dome turf.

8. Syracuse's offensive line: The Orange O-line has been a pleasant surprise thus far, but the challenge really ramps up this week. The Bulls' defensive front was downright intimidating against the Seminoles and will come into this week with a ton of confidence. Will Greg Paulus have time to throw, or will he be running for cover most of the day?

9. Mike Williams vs. the South Florida secondary: Williams will be the best receiver the Bulls have faced this season and Syracuse's top threat to pop a big play. The South Florida secondary has been improved this year, but some of that is a function of the pressure applied up front. Do the Bulls double cover Williams and make someone else try and beat them?

10. Pike pile-up: Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike is in the Heisman Trophy discussion now, and Saturday should provide a good opportunity for him to stuff his stats. Miami of Ohio has been virtually defenseless against the pass this season, and they haven't seen anyone near the caliber of Pike and Mardy Gilyard. A five-touchdown type of day is not out of the question.

What to watch in the Big East

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
8:46
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett


1. Cincinnati's defense vs. the Rodgers brothers: Shutting down Southeast Missouri State and Rutgers was nice. The real test for Cincinnati's rebuilt defense arrives this weekend against Oregon State and their two main playmakers, Jacquizz and James Rodgers. Quarterback Sean Canfield will easily be the best the Bearcats have faced this season, and the back line of the Cincinnati defense may be its most vulnerable area. The Beavers have given up five sacks already this year, so guys like Curtis Young and Ricardo Matthews could apply some pressure up front.

2. The Cincinnati passing game: We know that Pittsburgh could do nothing through the air against Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. Well, Tony Pike is no Bill Stull. The Beavers have given up 251 yards per game through the air this year already to lesser opponents. Can Pike keep up his stellar early-season play and silence the crowd in Corvallis?

3. Just Plains speed: All you ever hear about is the SEC's dominant speed. Well, West Virginia will come to the Plains with plenty of burners of its own, including Noel Devine, Jock Sanders and Tavon Austin. Last year in Morgantown, the Mountaineers looked like the much faster team. Auburn has some impressive athletes on defense, but you can't hit what you can't catch. If West Virginia can eliminate some of the penalties and mistakes it had in the first two games, it should move the ball and put up enough points in this game.

4. The West Virginia defense vs. Auburn's running game: The Tigers have been unbelievable on the ground thus far under Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn, averaging 345.5 yards per game rushing. Those are Pat White/Steve Slaton kind of numbers and then some. How will West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel counter that with his three-man front, especially if top defensive lineman Scooter Berry is unable to go? The last thing West Virginia wants is for Jarrett Brown to be standing on the sideline while the Tigers run the ball at will.

5. Syracuse's grit: Are the Orange content to be a team that plays good opponents tough, like they did against Minnesota and Penn State? Or can they get over the hump, beat Northwestern and prove things have changed under Doug Marrone? The offense needs to open things up a little more. While Greg Paulus has been decent, Syracuse has scored seven points since halftime of the Minnesota game. And the defense will have a challenge against the Wildcats' multi-dimensional offense.

6. UConn's, uh, offense: Maybe Cody Endres is the spark UConn needs at quarterback. That is, if he's over the stomach bug that bothered him all week. The Huskies need something to get them going on offense, because the passing game once again looks anemic. Scoring in the teens is probably not going to cut it against Robert Griffin and Baylor. It's time for offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to show why he was hired.

7. Triple option near the three rivers: Navy befuddles many defenses with its triple-option offense. Pitt has seen it up close the past two years and did a good job shutting it down last year. But that 42-21 win in Annapolis came when the Midshipmen had quarterback issues; Ricky Dobbs is now in control under center and can run or pass. The Panthers' defense needs to tighten up some problem areas from last week at Buffalo in order to keep this one from being close.

8. Dion Lewis: The true freshman has been nothing short of spectacular in his first two college games. LeSean McCoy had a field day against Navy last season, and the Pitt offensive line should be able to open plenty of running lanes for Lewis. Are we in for yet another special performance?

9. Justin Burke's homecoming: The Louisville quarterback is from Lexington, Ky., and will be playing in his home city against Kentucky. He will not get a warm reception. Expect Kentucky to play press man-to-man against the Cardinals receivers, stack the box and force Burke to beat them throwing the ball. Burke doesn't have the strongest arm around, and he must constantly be aware of where the Wildcats' star cornerback, Trevard Lindley, is lining up. He must complete some deep balls to Scott Long or others to loosen up the defense for Victor Anderson.

10. Focus for South Florida and Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights are playing their second straight no-name opponent (Florida International). For the Bulls, this is their third in a row (Charleston Southern). Both have big road games next week, Rutgers at Maryland and South Florida at Florida State. But they need to concentrate on the task at hand and put their outmatched opponents away on Saturday. If not, doubt will linger.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

We've talked about guys who've had big springs, guys who might emerge and guys who came out of nowhere.

But there were also players who missed all or part of the spring because of injuries, suspension, academics or whatever. And several of them are key parts to their team. Here's a look at some players who need to come through this fall after being absent for at least part of spring ball.

Cincinnati: Linebacker Andre Revels was held out of most of the spring after minor offseason knee surgery. The senior is one of the few experienced players on the Bearcats' defense and will be counted on this fall. Young defensive back Dominique Battle was expected to compete for a starting cornerback job this spring but was sidelined at times with an ankle injury.

Connecticut: The Huskies were remarkably injury- and issue-free this spring. They'll hope that continues this fall.

Louisville: The Cardinals are a different team offensively when receiver Scott Long is healthy. Unfortunately, he missed most of last season with injuries and sat out the spring following ACL surgery. He should be good to go in the summer.

Pittsburgh: Starting cornerback Aaron Berry was suspended for the final part of spring drills for violating team rules. Pitt needs him to have his act together and be on the field.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights had a lot of important players miss time this spring with various injuries, including safety Joe Lefeged, leading returning rusher Kordell Young, running back Jourdan Brooks and several of their young receivers.

South Florida: Seemingly every offensive linemen the Bulls missed time with an injury or another problem this spring. Obviously, Jake Sims (finger), Zach Herman (concussion), Sampson Genus (knee) and Jeremiah Warren (academics) all will be needed in the fall for South Florida to contend.

Syracuse: First-team all-Big East defensive tackle Arthur Jones tore his pectoral muscle before the spring and was unavailable. The timetable for his return isn't clear, but Syracuse would have a hard time without him.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers could use Jock Sanders back in the lineup. The speedy receiver/running back was suspended for the spring after a DUI arrest. He will try to return to the team once he completes his court case.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

I've never really understood the phrase "luck of the Irish." The Irish people I know aren't especially lucky, and the one time I found a four-leaf clover as a kid, nothing magical happened.

I'm also not a big believer in luck in college football. I firmly believe you create your own luck by taking advantage of opportunities or minimizing mistakes.

Still, there are several players and/or teams that could use a fortunate bounce here or timely break there in 2009. Since it is St. Paddy's Day after all, let's call it the luck of the Irish (but not Notre Dame; that's a sensitive topic for most Big East fans).

Cincinnati's quarterbacks: It seemed like gremlins, not leprechauns, were after the Bearcats' signal callers in 2008. Three of them got hurt, and Ben Mauk had his appeal for an extra year denied. Cincinnati is due for a year of health from Tony Pike at the position.

Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville: Kragthorpe thought he was inheriting a pot of gold when he took the Louisville job in 2007. Instead, it's been more like a bowl of soggy Lucky Charms. You can argue over just how much he's responsible for the downgrade of the program, but there's no debating that he could use some luck this year with an undermanned team and a disgruntled fan base. Some luck in the health department for receiver Scott Long could help a lot, too.

Matt Grothe, South Florida: Again, you make your own luck, and clearly Grothe has been guilty of forcing passes into places he shouldn't have ventured. But if you watched closely last year, you saw that Grothe had several passes tipped or batted in the air for interceptions. He could benefit from some luck there, as well as some help in the running game for a change.

Syracuse: The Orange haven't been victims of bad luck lately as much as they have suffered from a lack of talent and coaching. Still, the team needs a few breaks this year to get the Doug Marrone era off to a good start, especially with a schedule that sees them opening with Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern.

Adam Gunn, Pittsburgh: The senior linebacker broke his neck in the first half of the season opener on a freak helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Scott McKillop. Now that's bad luck. After being granted a sixth year of eligibility, Gunn deserves a much better fate in 2009.

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Louisville will begin spring practice on Sunday, the first school in the Big East to get back on the field. It will be an important time for the Cardinals, who are trying to fill several holes after a second straight season that ended without a bowl game. I caught up this week with head coach Steve Kragthorpe for the latest installment of our spring Big East Q&A series.

Is spring time an exciting time for the coaching staff?

 
  AP Photo/Mel Evans
  Steve Kragthorpe will take on offensive coordinator duties this season.

Steve Kragthorpe: To me, spring ball is always one of the fun parts of our job, in terms of taking a new group of guys and molding them together, seeing how all the pieces start to fit together. We've got a lot of guys who've maybe had no roles at all that are going to jump into roles and some guys who've had minor roles who are now going to jump up into major roles. And the fun part about spring practice is there's always a surprise or two, a guy you weren't quite sure was ready to play who jumps up and says, "Hey, I'm ready to take one of these spots."

How do you see the quarterback competition shaping up, and how will you divvy up the spring reps there?

SK: We'll divide them up pretty much equally for the major part of the spring and start to see guys separate from each other. And as guys start to separate, we'll give them a few more repetitions. But my goal is not to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practice. We will do that about 10 days before the first game. But I'm looking for guys to be consistent, I'm looking for guys that move the chains, I'm looking for guys to lead the other 10 guys on that field and I'm looking for guys who, over a continuum of time, can be a consistent performer.

 You have to shape your offense around the talents of the quarterback, obviously. So how do you, as your own offensive coordinator, do that now if you don't yet know who will be your starter?

SK: We're going to install concepts and make sure we do a good job of establishing an identity on offense, establishing a way of playing the position of quarterback and a way of going about playing offense. And then from there we'll wrinkle, based upon what guys do well, based upon what guys are stepping up ... For us, we want to make sure we're very conceptual on offense, we're very concise in terms of our teaching and we establish a system. And from that system we'll wrinkle based on the guys who need the ball in their hands.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Fear not, Big East football fans. In less than a month, South Florida will be back on the practice field, with the rest of the league teams starting their spring drills shortly afterward.

There will be no shortage of situations to follow during the spring. There's a new head coach at Syracuse, new coordinators almost everywhere and no fewer than five teams seeking a new quarterback.

We've got all the story lines covered here in our team-by-team spring primer:

Cincinnati Bearcats

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

• Defense, defense, defense. Safety Aaron Webster is the only returning defensive starter from 2008, so this spring will be about finding out who's ready to step into bigger roles. Several backups have experience, including linebacker Andre Revels and defensive end Curtis Young. But all jobs should be open. And with this week's firing of defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, the Bearcats could be working under a new scheme.

• Cincinnati brings back quarterback Tony Pike, receiver Mardy Gilyard and its top two rushers in Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel. But the spring will be time to find new playmakers as well. Isaiah Pead averaged 6.6 yards a carry in limited duty as a freshman and should see his role increase. The bubble wrap will come off promising redshirt freshman Quentin Hines. Receiver D.J. Woods had a solid freshman season and will need to build upon that to help replace Dominick Goodman.

• You don't normally pay much attention to punters in spring practice, but this is an exception. The Bearcats have to find a suitable replacement for two time All-American Kevin Huber.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Two weeks ago, a big win over South Florida made Louisville 5-2 and had fans dreaming of an improbable Big East title. In response to a question on one of my weekly chats, I said Steve Kragthorpe was probably the frontrunner for league coach of the year.

 
 AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
 Steve Kragthorpe is 11-10 since taking over for Bobby Petrino after the 2007 Orange Bowl.

Two ugly losses later, the Cardinals are just hoping to make it to any kind of bowl game, while fans have gone back to lambasting Kragthorpe on message boards and radio waves.

One man who hasn't been swayed by these shifts is Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich. Anyone who thinks Kragthorpe is in danger of losing his job simply doesn't understand the situation or Jurich's faith in his second-year coach. Jurich laid it out this summer at an athletics board meeting, when he said that the Cardinals were in a "rebuilding process" and added "the next two years ... I just want to get through them." He still feels that way.

"My expectations were not high this year because I knew the reality," Jurich said on Wednesday. "One thing I didn't want to do to the fans was lie to them.

"When I said we'd spend the next two years rebuilding, there was a lot of flack that came with it. Nobody wants to hear that. [But] it's a long haul and I knew that and I buckled up for it.

"It's hard for some people to hear that when one year you're going to the Orange Bowl and now you're not. Our fans are so new at this, they thought we'd be going to the Orange Bowl every week, but it's not like that."

Kragthorpe's relationship with the fan base has been tenuous at best at times during his tenure. He has gone 11-10 since taking over for Bobby Petrino after the 2007 Orange Bowl win. He has lost to Syracuse in consecutive years and has failed to beat his biggest rival, Kentucky, in two tries.

The phrase "rebuilding process" didn't make sense to those who saw Kragthorpe take over a 12-1 BCS team. Kragthorpe has attempted to manufacture a different type of program at Louisville, dismissing scores of players for various disciplinary infractions. Twenty underclassmen -- a full recruiting class -- left the team between the spring of 2007 and the start of camp this year for varying reasons.

"We're getting closer to where we want to be," Kragthorpe said Monday, "but certainly we've got to win more football games. That's my job."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

1. Pat White and Noel Devine vs. the UConn defense: It's no big secret how the Mountaineers have hammered the Huskies the past few years. Their skill players have sliced and diced through the Connecticut defense, doing so last year to the tune of 517 rushing yards. Obviously that can't happen again if UConn wants to register its first win over West Virginia. The problem for the Huskies is the Mountaineers' offense looks like it finally put things together in its last game against Auburn.

2. The Huskies' quarterback situation: Coach Randy Edsall is now saying it will be a game-time "announcement" rather than a game-time decision over whether Cody Endres or Zach Frazer starts. That seems to indicate he has known for some time who will be under center. Whoever starts might determine the offensive game plan. Against Cincinnati last week Endres passed 42 times, but most of them were manageable throws at safe distances. Frazer could help the Huskies stretch the field more with his big arm. One or the other needs to play well.

3. Donald Brown: How will the nation's leading rusher fare against West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense? The Mountaineers lead the Big East in scoring defense and have only allowed two 100-yard rushers this season. But they haven't seen anyone quite like Brown, who hasn't failed to go over 100 yards this season. Running the ball effectively will be UConn's best bet for keeping White and Devine off the field.

4. "Rent" control: Connecticut can't afford to repeat last year's performance when it lost three fumbles in a 66-21 loss in Morgantown. West Virginia can't be nearly as sloppy as Cincinnati was last week when it had six turnovers at Rentschler Field and fell 40-16 to the Huskies. UConn has created the most turnovers in the Big East with 17, while West Virginia has coughed it up the fewest times (8). Turnovers are always big, of course, but in this game and in this league, they can make all the difference between a close game and a blowout.

5. Jimmy Clausen vs. the Pittsburgh pass defense: Another obvious matchup, one so obvious that Notre Dame will surely try to exploit it as much as possible. The Panthers gave up six touchdown passes to Mike Teel last week in a loss to Rutgers. How many can golden boy Clausen throw? Expect Pitt to change up its personnel and scheme significantly this week. It has to.

6. LeSean McCoy vs. Notre Dame's defense: The Irish have been mediocre at best against the run this season. Michigan State's Javon Ringer rang up 201 yards against them earlier this year. McCoy has been brilliant his last four games and has been especially good on the road. The bigger question may be how Pitt's offensive line, reshuffled after the loss of center Robb Houser, clears lanes for him.

7. Pat Bostick: After Bill Stull suffered a concussion last week, it appears Bostick will start at quarterback for Pittsburgh. Bostick was thrust into a starting role last year as a true freshman, and the Panthers had to dumb down the offense for him. Until two weeks ago, the plan had been to redshirt him this season. He threw a momentum-killing interception in the Rutgers loss. There will be a lot of pressure on Bostick going on the road to South Bend, and Pitt probably can't win without some semblance of a passing attack.

8. Louisville's mental state: The Cardinals had a big, emotional win over South Florida last weekend and then absorbed the loss of their top wide receiver, Scott Long, to an ACL injury. Now they're going on the road for the first time in conference play. You would think Louisville has to be motivated to avenge last year's loss to Syracuse, and the Carrier Dome is hardly an intimidating environment any more. But if the Cardinals -- who have been a slow-starting team this season in the best of circumstances -- come out flat, they'll only give the Orange more reason to believe.

9. Cam Dantley: The Syracuse quarterback maintains a slippery grip on the starting job and was nearly pulled in favor of Andrew Robinson during a brutal second half at South Florida. If he can't get things going early, don't be surprised to see the Orange turn to Robinson, who engineered last year's upset at Louisville.

10. Greg Robinson: The other Syracuse Robinson remains on this list, and might this be the weekend for some resolution to the coach's status? The Orange have had two weeks to prepare for the one Big East team they beat last season, and a loss would officially guarantee another losing season. With Clemson and Washington already on the hunt, how much longer can Syracuse AD Daryl Gross wait to get his next coaching search started?

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

  • Cincinnati has a senior-laden defense and a favorable home schedule. The Bearcats better take advantage by protecting Nippert Stadium, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
  • South Florida's Big East hopes are already on life support, and that haunts the team's veterans, Brett McMurphy writes in the Tampa Tribune.
  • "Why can't we win championships?" senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "It's just mind-boggling. We have just as much or more talent than anyone in the conference. We work hard and these coaches work so hard, why can't it be us? It's mind-boggling."
  • The Syracuse offense hasn't been much better with Cam Dantley at quarterback, Donnie Webb says in the Syracuse Post-Standard. Might Andrew Robinson get another chance soon?
  • The Pittsburgh-Notre Dame series has featured numerous star performances over the years and could do so again this weekend with LeSean McCoy and Jimmy Clausen, Kevin Gorman writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  • West Virginia is dead last among 119 FBS teams in kickoff coverage, and Ellis Lankster has been shaky fielding punts, Dave Hickman notes in the Charleston Gazette.
  • UConn can't explain why it's so much better at home than on the road, but the Huskies hope the trend continues this Saturday against West Virginia, Dave Solomon writes in the New Haven Register.
  • Scott Long's Louisville teammates plan on wearing his No. 84 in games the rest of the season to show support for the wide receiver, who's out for the season with a knee injury, Rick Bozich writes in The Courier-Journal.

Big East Week 10 picks

October, 30, 2008
10/30/08
12:29
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Well, I was feeling pretty good about myself after correctly picking West Virginia to beat Auburn last Thursday. Then Saturday came and ... well, let's not talk about Saturday. I did not predict that Rutgers and Connecticut, who played a Jurassic 12-10 game the week before, would combine for 94 points the following week. How'd that one get past me? Anyway, I soldier on for another week:

THURSDAY

South Florida 27, Cincinnati 24: Both teams need this win badly, and the Bearcats have beaten the Bulls the past two years. But even though South Florida has lost two of its past three, it has still played better than Cincinnati, which was awful at Connecticut and struggled past Rutgers and Akron. It's unclear whether Tony Pike or Chazz Anderson will start for the Bearcats, and the unsettled situation at quarterback leads me to lean toward Matt Grothe and the Bulls.

SATURDAY

West Virginia 28, Connecticut 20: The Huskies will come as close as they ever have to knocking off West Virginia but will fall just short in the end. The Mountaineers' offense is finally clicking, and Pat White has owned UConn throughout his career. The underrated West Virginia defense will do enough to slow Donald Brown and whomever Randy Edsall puts in at quarterback.

Notre Dame 27, Pittsburgh 24: Jimmy Clausen and Charlie Weis can't wait to get after that Pitt secondary after Rutgers burned it for six touchdowns. The Panthers won't be as bad this week because they won't have to respect the Irish's running game as much. But with Pat Bostick likely in at quarterback and a hastily revamped offensive line, Pittsburgh won't score enough to win in South Bend.

Louisville 23, Syracuse 10: The Orange have had two weeks to prepare and believe they can beat the Cardinals after doing it last year. Louisville took an emotional hit with the loss of Scott Long to a season-ending knee injury this week, so expect this one to stay close for awhile. The talent divide is too great, however, and Syracuse will pull its usual late-game fade.

Last week: 1-3

Season results: 30-17 (63.8 percent)

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

  • Cincinnati has a senior-laden defense and a favorable home schedule. The Bearcats better take advantage by protecting Nippert Stadium, Bill Koch writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
  • South Florida's Big East hopes are already on life support, and that haunts the team's veterans, Brett McMurphy writes in the Tampa Tribune.
  • "Why can't we win championships?" senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie said. "It's just mind-boggling. We have just as much or more talent than anyone in the conference. We work hard and these coaches work so hard, why can't it be us? It's mind-boggling."
  • The Syracuse offense hasn't been much better with Cam Dantley at quarterback, Donnie Webb says in the Syracuse Post-Standard. Might Andrew Robinson get another chance soon?
  • The Pittsburgh-Notre Dame series has featured numerous star performances over the years and could do so again this weekend with LeSean McCoy and Jimmy Clausen, Kevin Gorman writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  • West Virginia is dead last among 119 FBS teams in kickoff coverage, and Ellis Lankster has been shaky fielding punts, Dave Hickman notes in the Charleston Gazette.
  • UConn can't explain why it's so much better at home than on the road, but the Huskies hope the trend continues this Saturday against West Virginia, Dave Solomon writes in the New Haven Register.
  • Scott Long's Louisville teammates plan on wearing his No. 84 in games the rest of the season to show support for the wide receiver, who's out for the season with a knee injury, Rick Bozich writes in The Courier-Journal.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Mike Teel, QB, Rutgers: The senior snapped out of his season-long slump in a big way, throwing a school-record six touchdown passes and racking up 361 passing yards in the Scarlet Knights' 54-34 win at Pittsburgh.

Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers: Britt was the main beneficiary of Teel's big day, catching five passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns.

Scott Long, WR, Louisville: The junior finally had the breakout game everyone expected, catching five balls for 134 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-20 win over South Florida.

Dave Teggart, K, Connecticut: Starting for the first time, he ended UConn's kicking troubles by drilling 4 of 4 field goals attempts in the Huskies' 40-16 win over Cincinnati.

Noel Devine, RB, West Virginia: Devine sliced through Auburn's defense for 207 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries in Thursday's 34-17 win.

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