NCF Nation: Scott McCummings

UCF KNIGHTS

Spring start: March 13

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Bortles' progress: Blake Bortles threw for 3,059 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he figures to be one of the better signal-callers in a Big East that has few consistent returning standouts outside of Teddy Bridgewater.
  2. Replacing Ishmael and McDuffie: UCF loses arguably its two best players in Kemal Ishmael -- who was the Conference USA defensive player of the year and team MVP, notching 124 total tackles and three interceptions -- and Quincy McDuffie, who was the C-USA special-teams player of the year and offensive team MVP.
  3. Beginning the transition: You voted UCF as the newcomer most likely to succeed in the Big East in 2013, and the Knights do seem to be the most ready of the C-USA newcomers. They won 10 games last season, play arguably the toughest nonconference schedule annually of the newcomers, and will have the most natural rival in USF.
CINCINNATI BEARCATS

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: April 6 (open practice), spring ends April 13

What to watch:
  1. The Tommy Tuberville era kicks off: Tuberville's stint at Cincinnati got off to an unceremonious start publicly, but Cincinnati got a proven coach who has had plenty of offensive success. The school has usually been a step up the ladder for coaches -- the past three of whom left after three successful seasons each -- but the Bearcats have gone in another direction this time.
  2. The ground game: Cincinnati faced the same question last year upon losing Big East offensive player of the year Isaiah Pead. George Winn ended up outproducing Pead. Who will replace Winn this year? Ralph David Abernathy IV is the most proven returner, but he does not fit the mold of an every-down back. Regardless, with all five offensive line starters back, the transition figures to be relatively smooth, if not as productive.
  3. Defensive line production: Cincinnati got used to playing without Walter Stewart, but it also loses Dan Giordano, who had five sacks in 2012. Although its 31 sacks as a team were good for second in the Big East, the production was down from the previous season.
CONNECTICUT HUSKIES

Spring start: March 11

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Offense under T.J. Weist: The numbers were ugly -- 110th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring -- resulting in George DeLeone being stripped of his duties. (He's still the offensive line coach.) Weist comes over from Cincinnati, where he coached receivers the past three years.
  2. Defense under Hank Hughes: Conversely, UConn must now replace defensive coordinator Don Brown, who lifted the Huskies to 10th nationally in total defense last season. Hughes enters his 13th season on staff but is tasked with replacing a number of standouts at each position -- Trevardo Williams, Sio Moore and Blidi Wreh-Wilson, to name a few.
  3. Whitmer's growth: Chandler Whitmer returns after passing for 2,664 yards with nine touchdowns and 16 picks in 2012. He had little help up front, and there is more depth at the position this year with Scott McCummings and incoming recruits Richard Lagow and Tim Boyle, both three-star prospects.
HOUSTON COUGARS

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  1. Quarterback competition: David Piland is the returning starter, having thrown for 2,929 yards with 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2012, but he will be challenged by juco transfer Billy Cosh and three-star recruit John O'Korn.
  2. Defense under David Gibbs: The Cougars' defense really has nowhere to go but up after a 2012 season that saw it finish 115th nationally, 107th in scoring, 92nd in rushing and 115th in passing -- numbers that resulted in the ouster of Jamie Bryant. Gibbs most recently worked with the NFL's Houston Texans.
  3. Building depth: The Cougars bring back 43 players from 2012, 14 of whom were starters. Throw in a 26-man recruiting class -- five of whom are currently enrolled -- and Houston can begin to build depth needed to sustain its level of play in a new, better conference.
LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Spring start: March 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Backfield options: Senorise Perry, last year's starter, will not be in full-contact practice after tearing his ACL late last season. His backup, Jeremy Wright, is not enrolled in classes. Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff are the next three guys on the depth chart, although Brown is the only one to have proved much thus far.
  2. Teddy Heisman continuing arc: Bridgewater went from conference-known to nationally known in 2012, and his strong finish against Rutgers and Florida will only amplify the hype heading into this season. If Bridgewater's improvement resembles anything like that of this past season, those Heisman whispers will become much louder.
  3. Clint Hurtt's shadow: Simply put, this is an issue that isn't going away anytime soon. AD Tom Jurich stands behind the defensive line coach, whom the NCAA says provided false or misleading information during its investigation of Miami, and the situation figures to linger until this never-ending Hurricanes case is complete.
Every year dating back to 2009, at least one true freshman has played -- and started -- at quarterback in the Big East.

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

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

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

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

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

As a true freshman last season, Nebrich played in eight games and passed for 69 yards. He also had 10 yards rushing. UConn now has Whitmer, true freshman Casey Cochran (out with a broken wrist), Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings and Johnny McEntee, who started last year.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- I had a chance to catch up with UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni during the Big East spring meetings. We talked about where the quarterback race stands and some of his remaining questions heading into fall practice.

Do you have a front-runner in the race to be your starting quarterback?

PP: Chandler Whitmer had the best production in the spring game, so I think there are members of the media, and I’ve been through this before, that like to choose the quarterback. If the members of the media, based on the spring game, were choosing the starting quarterback, Chandler Whitmer would be the front-runner. But I’ve been in this long enough to know that it’s not based on one performance. It’s the body of work over an extended period of time. They all did some pretty good things in the spring. Having said that, we’re going to come back into preseason camp and we’re going to continue the competition but I would like very, very much to make a decision as soon as I can.

[+] EnlargePaul Pasqualoni
AP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaPaul Pasqualoni still has a decision to make regarding his starting quarterback.
It did drag on into the season opener last year.

PP: I preferred for that not to happen. Years back when we had Donovan McNabb, Kevin Johnson and Keith Downing all competing, it was the same thing; we were trying to figure it out. We weren’t able to do it early in preseason, so we did it in the end to get all the scrimmages in and get all the opportunities to watch and see them play and produce. If we have to, we’re going to do that, but if we don’t have to, we’re not going to do that. I’d like to be able to say tomorrow, 'Here it is, let’s go,' but I just can’t do that. So we’re going to grind it out. It’s a big decision, obviously, and we’re going to try to make the best, informed decision that we can.

How will you manage the reps with all five still competing?

PP: We did a great job of managing the reps in the spring, so we’ll go back in and we’ll manage the reps the same way. They’ll each get a significant number of reps. Scotty McCummings will still have the majority of the Wildcat reps, although he works on the entire game plan and we’re trying to develop him as a drop-back passer as well. We’ll divide them up and we’ll do the best we can with it.

If Casey Cochran doesn’t emerge as your starter, have you given thought to redshirting him?

PP: We haven’t discussed any of that yet. We really don’t talk about redshirting anyone at this point. My policy is I want them coming in with a non-redshirt mentality when they get on campus. My fear has always been if you start to talk that redshirt mentality and they come into camp and they’re not ready enough, it affects their conditioning and the way they go through practice. I want them coming in and all competing.

How about the development of your offensive line this spring. Where does that group stand?

PP: We’re anxious to get Jimmy Bennett back. He’ll be back. He’s been cleared, he’ll work out full go here in early June. He was really one of our better tackles last year. The biggest issue with Jimmy is to get him ready to go but keep him healthy. Adam Masters got nicked up in the spring, we have to get Adam back, and over at right tackle, Kevin Friend has been working hard. So if Jimmy’s back and Jimmy’s playing tackle, it gives us flexibility to put Adam back at guard. Alex Mateas and Tyler Bullock are competing at center. There are a few freshmen I want to see practice, Tyler Samra, Rennick Bryan. I want to see where they can fit in the top 10. So those are going to be all really big things for us with the offensive line in camp.

How about the defensive line? It seemed Ryan Wirth had a good spring game.

PP: Ryan Wirth got nicked up but then he came back for the spring game and had a very productive spring game. He’s a senior, and we expect to get senior leadership out of him. Shamar Stephen, Angel Pruitt, I thought Julian Campenni had a productive spring until he got hurt. He cut his ear and was unable to play in spring game but he had a productive spring. We’re not there yet on the defensive line, and we’re not there yet on the offensive line, but we’re going in the right direction. We’ve got the right guys on the bus. It’s a matter of getting them in the right seats now.

What are your biggest questions then, aside from quarterback?

PP: Offensive line, defensive line, and what the depth is going to be at both the tailback position and the wide receiver position.

Losing D.J. Shoemate was obviously tough.

PP: It was. We know what Lyle McCombs can do. But we’ve got to find out who the next two guys are.

At receiver, Shakim Phillips seemed to have a good spring as well.

PP: Shakim had a good spring, Mike Smith is back and he’s played a lot of football for us. Nick Williams is back. We’ve got the two young guys in Tebucky Jones and Geremy Davis who have done pretty good, and then we moved Deshon Foxx out to wide receiver and he showed some promise. I think we know who the older guys are there. Now we have to figure out the younger rookie guys and see what kind of depth we have. I want each of them to have a role. To say that I’ve got all that figured out right now -- I don’t.
With nearly every Big East team having wrapped up spring practice, one constant remains -- open quarterback competitions.

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

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

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

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

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

Big East position rankings: QB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big East offseason to-do lists

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

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

Half: Cincinnati 28, UConn 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: UConn 40, Rutgers 22

November, 26, 2011
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What a letdown for Rutgers.

Playing for a shot at a Big East title and BCS game, the Scarlet Knights imploded in every way imaginable. UConn took advantage and won 40-22, keeping its bowl hopes alive. The Huskies (5-6, 3-3) need a win next week at Cincinnati to become bowl eligible.

The loss eliminates Rutgers (8-4, 4-3) from contention for a Big East title and BCS berth.

So much was on the line in this game for the Scarlet Knights, but they failed to show up. The three areas they have prided themselves on the most this season -- special teams, protecting the football and solid defense -- all failed them.

Rutgers turned the ball over a season-high six times, allowed one long kickoff return after another to Nick Williams, and saw the Huskies notch a season-high for points scored. The Scarlet Knights came into the game with the No. 1 defense in the Big East, but they gave up 40 or more points twice in league play.

The result was one of the most disappointing losses under coach Greg Schiano. Chas Dodd was pulled in the fourth quarter, with Rutgers down 40-10. Gary Nova threw two touchdown passes to Brandon Coleman, but he also had two interceptions.

For UConn, it was the most dominating performance of the season. The Huskies turned the first three Rutgers turnovers into 21 points and essentially put the game out of reach. Lyle McCombs had 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and Scott McCummings added two touchdowns. Williams ended up with 158 yards on three kickoff returns and one punt return.

The Huskies had six sacks and held Rutgers to minus-9 yards rushing -- a week after the Scarlet Knights rolled up 203 yards on Cincinnati. UConn only attempted 17 passes in the game.

Predictions: Big East Week 12

November, 17, 2011
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I went into this week thinking I would go with all underdogs. Then I looked at the odds. The combined lines for all three Big East games on Saturday: 4.5. USF and Connecticut are each favored to win by 1; Cincinnati by 2.5. I really, really think all three teams are going to win. Do I dare go with favorites again, after going 1-3 last week? The overall record has slipped now to 39-20.

Cincinnati at Rutgers, noon, ESPNU. There is really only one question going into this game -- Can the Bearcats win without Zach Collaros? If you saw my bowl picks, then I clearly think the answer is yes. Asking backup quarterback Munchie Legaux to go on the road in his first college start and win is a tall order to be sure. But he has a terrific running back in Isaiah Pead, a solid offensive line and a good defense with him as well. I think Rutgers has a chance to take advantage of matchup problems with Mohamed Sanu against a secondary that gives up big plays. But Chas Dodd has an affinity for taking sacks, and Cincinnati has been terrific in that department. Derek Wolfe has the potential for a huge day. Home teams have not exactly dominated in Big East play this season (all three lost last week). The Bearcats might be favored, but who expects them to win? Me. Cincinnati 27, Rutgers 23.

Lousiville at UConn, noon, Big East Network. The Cardinals had a big problem stopping the run against Pitt last week. Most disturbing is that the Panthers are without leading rusher Ray Graham, and have one of the shakiest offensive lines in the Big East. Now they play a team that has found its groove in the run game. Lyle McCombs has three straight 100-yard games, and Scott McCummings is coming off a career day, with 59 yards and two touchdowns against Syracuse. Neither of these teams moves the needle much when it comes to offensive fireworks. It's all going to come down to the run game -- whoever is most effective wins. UConn has not lost a Big East home game yet, but the Huskies will on Saturday. Coach Charlie Strong has stomped those video games to the ground. Louisville 21, UConn 20.

Miami at USF, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. USF fans have directed me to never pick the Bulls again. What if I pick them right here? The Bulls got a much needed win over Syracuse last week, and as has been the case throughout their history, they "get up" for the big nonconference games. Big East games, not so much. Miami might be down, but it would not diminish the impact of a win here any less. Both teams are fighting for their bowl lives. The big key is going to be whether or not USF continues its stellar play against the run. Lamar Miller is an explosive back who averages 5.7 yards a carry and has more than 1,000 yards this season. I really do think USF is going to win, so I am picking Miami. Hope that makes you happy, USF fans. Miami 30, USF 28.

Scott McCummings effective for UConn

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Cincinnati is the clear front-runner. There was separation at the top of the Big East, all right. Who would have guessed when the season started that Cincinnati and Louisville would be the top two teams after Week 10? The Bearcats remain undefeated in league play at 3-0, but they do not make anything easy on themselves. They have had to come back to win each of their conference games. They won each of their last two against USF and Pitt by three points. In no way are they dominating, but a win is a win and they have a big edge over the Cardinals. Louisville has won three straight to get to 3-1 in Big East play and emerge as a threat. But it dropped its first conference game to the Bearcats. So the Cardinals need help to get back to a BCS bowl game. The goal remains simple for the Bearcats -- win out.

[+] EnlargeChas Dodd
Noah K. Murray/US PresswireChas Dodd led Rutgers to a comeback win over USF.
2. Backup quarterbacks are in. Who led comeback wins for Rutgers and UConn? Their backup quarterbacks. Rutgers turned to former starter Chas Dodd in the fourth quarter to provide the Scarlet Knights with a spark after Gary Nova was not able to do much leading the team. Dodd and Mohamed Sanu keyed the tying scoring drive late in the fourth quarter against USF. Rutgers won in overtime 20-17. Meanwhile, Scott McCummings ran for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to allow UConn to erase a 21-14 deficit and beat Syracuse 28-21. Neither Dodd nor McCummings was perfect. Each had his share of mistakes (and a turnover each). But both got much-needed wins.

3. West Virginia needs help. The Mountaineers were the preseason pick to win the Big East. But now they will need to win out and get plenty of help to have any shot of making it back to a BCS game. Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been the play of the defense in the past several games. Syracuse and Louisville had season highs for point totals against the West Virginia defense. Rutgers had a season-high 31 first-half points. The pass rush was there at times in a loss to Louisville, but it has not been consistent. The defensive play hasn't, either. Losing seven starters clearly has taken a toll, and West Virginia cannot beat teams with a good offense alone. That has been made clear.

4. Syracuse, USF reeling. Just in time to play each other Friday night in Syracuse. The Orange have dropped two straight; USF has lost four straight. Interestingly, neither team has been able to build off its defining wins of the season. Syracuse dominated West Virginia with 49 points but has scored a combined 31 in the next two games. USF squeaked by Notre Dame, beat three cupcakes and has lost its Big East games in all ways you could dream. After that Irish game, the possibilities for the season seemed limitless. After Syracuse beat West Virginia, some started dreaming about the Orange Bowl. Now both teams are left to figure out what has gone wrong.

5. Pitt falls short again. The Panthers lost yet another heartbreaker on Saturday, falling to Cincinnati 26-23. It was the third game this season they have lost by four points or fewer. The others -- Iowa and Notre Dame -- were not nearly as painful simply because the Cincinnati loss cost Pitt a chance to control its own chances in the Big East. Now the Panthers are 2-2 in Big East play and 4-5 overall, fighting to make it to a bowl game.

Final: UConn 28, Syracuse 21

November, 5, 2011
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UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni beat his former team, as the Huskies overcame five turnovers to beat Syracuse 28-21 and keep its bowl hopes alive.

After a first-half that was plagued with one mistake after another, the Huskies had no turnovers in the second half and made several gigantic plays. The big difference: linebacker Sio Moore intercepted Ryan Nassib, and UConn was able to convert the mistake into a touchdown when Scott McCummings ran the ball in from 7 yards out in the fourth quarter.

The Orange had a final chance to try and mount a game-tying drive but failed to convert on fourth down. The teams combined for eight turnovers in a sloppy game, but that Nassib turnover was the only one either team was able to convert into a touchdown.

It was a huge win for UConn (4-5), which still needs to win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible. Still, the Huskies got much better play from their offensive line and Lyle McCombs, who had a career-high 152 yards rushing and a touchdown. McCummings overcame a fumble in the first half and ended up with two touchdowns. And the UConn pass defense, which has been shaky without Blidi Wreh-Wilson, held its own.

For Syracuse (5-4), it was a second straight missed chance to become bowl eligible. The Orange have lost two straight and have been completely inconsistent on offense. Nassib was playing much better in the second half until his interception -- he finished with two on the day. The Orange could never really establish their ground game, and failed to get a 100-yard rusher for the second straight week. The run defense could never really slow the Huskies down. The Orange gave up a season-high 198 yards on the ground.

UConn mistakes add up

September, 17, 2011
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The same old problems plagued UConn in its disappointing 24-20 loss to Iowa State.
  • Lack of offensive consistency.
  • Too many plays given up on defense.
In fact, a similar fourth-quarter storyline played out last week in a loss to Vanderbilt. Both times, the Huskies had the lead in the final quarter. And both times, they could not hang on, in part because of defensive breakdowns. There is no question the defense has been spectacular at times this season. What is so maddening is the big plays it has given up in both games. After UConn took a 20-17 lead with 12:51 to go against Iowa State, the Cyclones marched right down the field on an eight-play, 65-yard drive to take the lead back for good. They converted two third downs on the drive.

"From an execution standpoint we have to improve offensively," coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We were able to get the lead … and then we kind of let them off the hook and let them score when we had been playing really well defensively. ... So, very disappointing. Very disappointing loss."

Still, most of the blame for the 1-2 start lies with the offense. There are only so many times the defense can bail out an offense that has been so inconsistent. The UConn defense got three interceptions in the early going, but the Huskies converted those into only three points, failing to break the game open. Scott McCummings and Michael Nebrich each missed wide-open receivers who would have scored sure touchdowns. Johnny McEntee looked just as off as he did last week. The running game was inconsistent last night, too. D.J. Shoemate made his season debut but had a critical fumble that led to an Iowa State field goal.

After starting the game gaining all those turnovers, UConn ended up giving the ball away three times, too. Adding insult on top of all that, normally surefire kicker Dave Teggart missed two field goals -- from 41 and 43 yards -- but he made two attempts from 50 and 52.

UConn clearly needs to make a decision at quarterback and tighten up on defense. Or this could be a long season.

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