NCF Nation: Tino Sunseri

UM, ND look for last 'forever moment'

September, 3, 2014

As a placekicker, Justin Tucker abides by the philosophy of focusing on the action and not the consequence. On Thanksgiving Night 2011 in College Station, Texas, as he lined up with a one-point deficit and just three seconds left in the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry as all knew it, Tucker couldn't help but betray that creed.

"I can tell you in that particular situation it was very difficult to put those emotions into the back of my mind and just focus on the task at hand," said Tucker, now with the Ravens. "But we were able to do it, and I'll tell you what: That place shut up real quick; 88,000 people -- you could probably hear a pin drop in there."

This is the lasting memory of one of several college football rivalries that has gone by the wayside in the era of realignment. This is, on a smaller scale, the opportunity that awaits Michigan and Notre Dame on Saturday night in their final scheduled meeting.

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEverett Golson can etch himself further into Notre Dame lore if he leads the Fighting Irish to a series-ending victory over Michigan on Saturday.
Brian Kelly said the first thing he thinks of regarding the Wolverines is that he's lost to them three times. That image can change in a hurry with a signature blow in one final matchup under the lights.

Just ask those from other dormant rivalries, Pittsburgh-West Virginia among them.

"When I think back of all the frustrating losses of my career, and we had a few, that's the worst by far," former Panthers defensive tackle Chas Alecxih said of the 2011 finale of the Backyard Brawl.

Pitt entered Morgantown looking to upset the eventual Orange Bowl champs. The Panthers were ACC-bound in two years; the Mountaineers Big 12-bound the next fall. Todd Graham, in his lone year coaching Pitt, relayed how he'd been told he could lose 11 games in a year so long as he beat WVU. Former players talked to the team about how important it would be to end the series on top.

A 13-point Pitt lead eventually gave way to a 21-20 defeat, punctuated by a Tino Sunseri fumble on the last play.

"I just remember as the clock ran out I just fell on my face, I just hit the ground for about 30 seconds, man," Alecxih said. "I just remember that agony, and just knowing that that was going to be the last game, and we were always going to say we lost the last Backyard Brawl."

All this from a player and program that, four years earlier, had been part of an upset that changed the college football landscape.

WVU was a four-touchdown favorite and a win away from a BCS title-game berth when the three-win Panthers visited to close 2007.

"It was just so gloomy, and all I really remember is just getting whacked with beer cans," then-freshman quarterback Pat Bostick said of the bus ride in. "I go, 'OK, this is everything people say it's going to be.' There weren't necessarily batteries being thrown or nickels or dimes being thrown, but there were certainly some obscenities."

Bostick threw a wrench into the Mountaineers' plans, orchestrating a 13-9 win that knocked WVU out of title contention. Coach Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan less than three weeks later.

For the entirety of the hour-plus ride home, Bostick and his teammates sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads," the official song of the state they were departing.

"To be honest with you, I don't know if I can count on one hand how many people I actually saw after the game," Bostick said. "It was like the place died. It was just a ghost town after. I don't know where they all went, how fast they (left), but they got out of their quick."

Bostick was at the 2011 finale in his current role as the team's radio analyst, and he joked he wasn't sure he'd make it down to the locker room alive in his Pitt polo.

The intensity was considerably less hostile the last time Missouri and Kansas faced off, a 24-10 Tigers win in 2011. Part of that can be attributed to the neutral-site atmosphere at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, where the game was played from 2007-11. Part of that can also be attributed to the overall apathy of Kansas fans, former Missouri receiver TJ Moe said.

"They were so horrible in those days," Moe said. "We were trying to get a win and move along there. We certainly didn't like those guys, but they came in so defeated after losing nine games before they even got to us that it really wasn't that bad."

An O'Fallon, Mo., native who grew up on the Border War, Moe said it still remains a point of pride that he went 3-0 against the Jayhawks during his career. He finds it hard to believe the game is no longer played after the Tigers moved to the SEC. From his perch, the ball is in Kansas' court.

"We just want to play you guys because the rivalry is fun, so if you don't want to play, fine, we'll get somebody else," Moe said. "It's a rivalry that's a big deal to fans on both sides. Everybody at Kansas is saying, 'You guys left us. You screwed us. We're not playing you anymore.' Which is fine."

Michigan-Notre Dame lacks the longevity of the others, as it has been played just 41 times, thanks to several interruptions. The Backyard Brawl was played 104 times, the Border War was played 120 times and Texas-Texas A&M was played 118 times before the Aggies' SEC move.

Realignment might have other ideas, but everyone interviewed for this story expressed hope his rivalry would return.

"What is truly lost at its core is a great football matchup between two -- I won't say two 'great' teams -- I'll say one great team and their little brother," Tucker said, laughing.

For now, he has his forever moment in rivalry lore, and that could be at-stake again this weekend should the Michigan-Notre Dame matchup resemble those of recent past.

"The fact that we got to end it with a bang, the Texas Longhorns got to put the dagger in that 118-year rivalry," Tucker said, "that's a great feeling."

Q&A with Pitt OC Joe Rudolph

May, 21, 2013
Pitt offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Joe Rudolph is entering his second season with the Panthers and he has six returning starters to work with. It’s a young group that’s facing a lot of questions, but Rudolph addressed some of those concerns and his quarterback competition in a spring interview. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

[+] EnlargeJoe Rudolph
Courtesy of Pittsburgh athleticsJoe Rudolph, in his second year as the Panthers' offensive coordinator, has a young group of players in key roles for 2013.
How did Tom [Savage] look this spring? A lot of fans haven’t seen him play. What does he look like as a quarterback?

Joe Rudolph: For the position in general I think there’s excitement. Tino [Sunseri] had held that down for the last couple of years, and somebody new being in that spot, I think everyone is excited to see. Tom, it’s a unique group with Tom being a fifth-year senior and having some experience and some success early in his career and then really some young guys and Chad [Voytik] being the one who is pushing … and Tra’Von [Chapman] coming in as a high school senior and starting his career early. And Trey [Anderson] is doing a good job. He’s wearing a coach’s hat. Todd’s been fun to watch this spring. I think you truly can see the urgency in his approach to it and I think he takes that very seriously. I think he’s going to be a player who truly wants to play fast and play with a full knowledge base. As he gains that, you can see him having more fun and playing faster and being more in the moment, so I’m excited to see how hits fall camp. Once you actually go through it, you gotta get it out of your mouth. You gotta get the signal from the sideline, you gotta get the guys up, you gotta shift, motion, see the defense. As that becomes more second-nature to him, I think you’ll continue to see him play faster and faster. He’s got really a great length of time in summer where he can study what we’ve done, study some things from the past, put it together. I think he’ll take a great approach to it. When you see a fifth-year senior taking that type of approach, it’s great for those guys. It’s a unique group in the room with the age difference, but pretty complimentary in a lot of ways.

Is it hard for him to take an assertive leadership role because he hasn’t played a snap for you guys?

JR: By the nature of the position you’re going to have to. You’re in charge of the huddle, you’re getting them up, you kind of have to be that, but as he gains that confidence in the details of his position, I think you’ll see that emerge and his comfort level will continue to emerge.

Did he read the defense well this spring?

JR: Yeah, and I think that’s it, it starts with where are my guys going to be? How will my read roll into it? You go up there, you get it out of your mouth easy from calling the play, you know where your guys are going to be, and then it’s supposed to be easy enough to say let me look at this picture and go through my read. I think there’s some progression to all of it. I think that’s really what we saw the last week of spring from him, where he was starting to really put it together. It’s a good place to be, now hopefully we keep taking advantage of the summer, and I think he will. I think he’ll work his tail off.

From the outside looking in, the perception is there is a question at quarterback, nobody on the offensive line who has really played the same position, Rushel Shell transferring, a lot of questions. Where is your comfort level at right now with all of those things?

JR: A huge comfort level is in the coaching staff. Those guys do an outstanding job. Their relationships with their players in the room is outstanding, and so I have great comfort in that. I also have great comfort in the approach of the guys to work and learn. You’re right, we have two tackles who are moving to guard, but their approach to that, how does the experience last year help them be good players this year? It doesn’t the first day of spring, but I think as they get comfortable with their assignments and their job at guard, the experience of them being a tackle will really come into play for them, and their experience of being out of the field will add to that communication. It’s going to be a young group. You say that and you’ve got a wide receiver in Devin Street we’re obviously excited about who has a lot of ability and will be a senior. Quarterback might be exactly the same, a fifth-year senior, but other than that, looking around, there are a lot of young faces. There could be two freshmen starting in the O-line. J.P. Holtz at tight end, he’s still in a freshman year even though he started 10 games, so, you’ll have some young players out there. I think the approach of our guys and how they take advantage of the summer will be big for them. Rushel is a loss, and you wish him the best. You hope everyone finds the best thing for them to be successful, but I’m excited about the guys in the room. I think they sense the opportunity and they have taken advantage of things this spring to bring that out. There will be a nice influx and we’ll see who can help from the guys who walk in the door here in a few months.

Check back tomorrow for Part II of this interview.
The ACC’s crop of 2013 quarterbacks will be an interesting blend of old and new. Veterans Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd both decided to return for their senior seasons instead of leaving early for the NFL draft, but several big names -- like EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon -- will be missing. Here’s a quick rundown of the position heading into the 2013 season:


CLEMSON: Boyd returns. The record-setter should be a Heisman candidate, considering he led the ACC in passing efficiency, was second in passing average/game, and threw for 36 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions.

MIAMI: Stephen Morris returns. Morris should be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and he might have the best offensive line in the conference to work with. Last season, Morris started all 12 games and threw for a career-best 3,345 yards and 21 touchdowns, completing 58.2 percent of passes. He set the school single-season total offense record with 3,415 yards.

NORTH CAROLINA: Bryn Renner returns. He was No. 3 in the ACC last season in passing average per game (279.7), and he was No. 3 in passing efficiency. He finished with 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

VIRGINIA TECH: Thomas returns. This was a huge boost to the Hokies’ offense. Thomas has started the past 27 games for the Hokies, passing for 6,096 yards and 37 touchdowns, and running for 1,015 yards and 20 scores.

WAKE FOREST: Tanner Price returns. He threw for 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he’ll be helped by the fact that standout receiver Michael Campanaro returns. Price completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,300 yards.


VIRGINIA: Phillip Sims returns, but Michael Rocco transferred. Sims is the most likely starter, but how much playing time will David Watford see? While sharing time with Rocco last season, Sims finished with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,263 yards.

MARYLAND: C.J. Brown, who tore his ACL before the start of the 2012 season, is the most likely starter. This position can only get better for Maryland in 2013, as the Terps were down to their fifth-string quarterback last season. He started five games in 2011, but this would be his first full season as starter.

BOSTON COLLEGE: Senior Chase Rettig returns. He started all 12 games last season, completed 54.2 percent of his passes, threw for 3,065 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The reason BC isn’t in the “great shape” category is because Rettig will have his 103rd offensive coordinator. The good news is that Ryan Day is a former BC offensive assistant, so it’s not like they just met.

DUKE: Veteran Sean Renfree has to be replaced. Anthony Boone isn't a rookie, but this will be his first season as a full-time starter. Boone has had the strongest arm of any of the quarterbacks on the roster, including Renfree. Boone played in 11 games in 2012, completed 51.6 percent of his passes (49 of 95) for 531 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns.


FLORIDA STATE: Manuel must be replaced. Clint Trickett is the leading candidate heading into the spring, and he has the edge in experience, but he will compete with Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston. Trickett started two games in 2011, filling in for the injured Manuel, but this past season he only threw the ball 34 times. Coker played in four games and threw it five times.

GEORGIA TECH: Tevin Washington must be replaced. Vad Lee is the front-runner heading into the spring, but Justin Thomas will give him plenty of competition. Lee didn’t start any games in 2012, but he got plenty of meaningful snaps and ran for 544 yards and nine touchdowns, and threw for 596 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

NC STATE: Glennon must be replaced. This position is a huge question mark for the Pack, especially considering the program has gone through a staff change, with Dave Doeren taking over. Manny Stocker and Pete Thomas are the front-runners heading into spring ball. Stocker threw the ball just twice in 2012 as a true freshman, and Thomas has two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2012 season per NCAA rules because he transferred from Colorado State.

PITT: Panthers fans rejoined when the final seconds ticked off the clock in the BBVA Compass Bowl because they won't have to watch Tino Sunseri play another down. Sunseri did start for three seasons, but this program is looking for a major upgrade at the position. Competition in the spring should focus on transfer Tom Savage, a former Freshman All-American, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik, a four-star recruit from the class of 2012.

SYRACUSE: The Orange have to replace record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib, who just had the best single-season passing year in school history. They thought they had an incoming stud in Zach Allen, but the Texas recruit de-committed after coach Doug Marrone left for Buffalo, and Allen pledged to TCU. That leaves the job wide open in the spring between backup Charley Loeb, junior John Kinder, and dual-threat Terrel Hunt. Ashton Broyld, who moved to running back in 2012, could be in the mix as well.

Best Big East moments of 2012

January, 14, 2013
The calendar reads 2013, but it is time to take a quick look back at the best moments of the 2012 season.

Best moment, period: Louisville 33, Florida 23, Allstate Sugar Bowl. OK this game was technically played in 2013, but it still counts as the best moment the Big East had. Louisville may be headed out the door, but the Big East should own this moment, considering the constant beating it has taken over the past two seasons. Louisville is proof that the Big East can survive without its big-name programs. Remember, Louisville was only added to the Big East after the first raid took Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Since joining in 2005, the Cardinals have gone to two BCS games and have an up-and-coming football program. It stings that they are leaving, but the program has taken off under the Big East umbrella.

Best Big East game: Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31, overtime. I thought this was the most thrilling game of the season, and had folks talking Big East football on a Friday night in October. Cincinnati had 10-point leads in the first and second half before the Cardinals came back twice under Teddy Bridgewater. After Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 64-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker with 1:56 to go, Cincinnati did not cave. Munchie Legaux answered with a 26-yard, game-tying touchdown pass of his own to Damon Julian with 1:03 to go to send the game into overtime. One of the moments everybody will remember is the "Butch Jones shrug," after botching the ice-the-kicker timeout. Jones called timeout just before Louisville kicker John Wallace attempted a 30-yard field goal in overtime. The snap was high and the kick sailed wide. Wallace nailed the try that counted, and the Cardinals escaped with the win.

[+] EnlargeTyler Matakevich
Cal Sport Media/APTemple's defense got a boost after freshman LB Tyler Matakevich cracked the starting lineup.
Best performance by a freshman: Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple. Matakevich was an unheard-of prospect when the season began, but that all changed at the end of 2012. Matakevich won Big East Freshman of the Year honors after he completely dominated when he got his opportunity in the starting lineup. He ended up with double-digit tackles in seven of the eight games he started.

Best performance by a sophomore: Bridgewater. There is no doubt Bridgewater was the best player in the Big East this season, as he ended up throwing for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. His emergence gives the Big East a legitimate Heisman contender in 2013.

Best performance by a junior: Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers. Ryan had another outstanding season as one of the premier shutdown cornerbacks in the country, finishing as an All-Big East first-team selection. He was second on the team with 94 tackles and was the only player in the nation with at least 90 tackles, four interceptions and 18 passes defended.

Best performance by a senior: Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. There were plenty of outstanding senior performances this season, but Greene was the best of them, repeating as Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Greene ended the season with 136 tackles, six sacks and six forced fumbles.

Best comeback performance: Syracuse. When the Orange started the year 2-4, how many of you predicted Doug Marrone would become the next coach of the Buffalo Bills? Syracuse ended the season as one of the league's hottest teams with wins in six of its last seven games. Last year was the exact reverse -- Syracuse started 5-2 and could not win another game. Interesting how that all worked out, isn't it?

Best "firsts": Syracuse and Pitt both hit offensive firsts this season. Syracuse had a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in school history. Ryan Nassib finished with 3,749 yards passing; Jerome Smith had 1,171 yards rushing; and Alec Lemon had 1,070 yards receiving. Meanwhile, the Panthers had a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time in school history. Tino Sunseri finished the season with 3,288 yards, while Ray Graham had 1,042.

Best record: Big East 4-1 vs. SEC. Now this is truly something the Big East can brag about. The lone blemish belongs to Pitt, which lost to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl. While it may be true that three of those four wins came against teams with losing records, you can't deny how important it was for Louisville to beat Kentucky and Florida; for Syracuse to go on the road and beat Missouri in November to clinch bowl eligibility; and for Rutgers to go on the road and beat an Arkansas team that was ranked in the preseason. Before the year began, many opined about the tough games for the Orange and Scarlet Knights on the road, particularly since they were late additions to the schedule. Neither opponent may have been as good as advertised in the preseason, but there's still no denying the enormity of the wins.

Big East bowl superlatives

January, 10, 2013
Time to take a last look back at the best and worst of bowl season.

Best quarterback not named Bridgewater: Brendon Kay, Cincinnati. No question that Teddy Bridgewater had the best day among Big East quarterbacks with his performance against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. But I am here to remind you about the terrific day Kay had in a 48-34 win against Duke in the Belk Bowl. Kay finished 17-of-25 for a career-high 332 yards and a career-best four touchdown passes. He also added 76 yards rushing, his second game in 2012 tallying 70 or more yards on the ground. Kay, the game's Most Valuable Player, tied a Cincinnati bowl record with his four touchdown passes.

Worst offense: Rutgers. We all know we were watching a pretty miserable offensive performance in a 13-10 overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the Russell Athletic Bowl. But just how bad was it? Well, Virginia Tech and Rutgers mustered 196 yards of total offense -- the worst performance of all 70 bowl teams. No other bowl team went below 200 yards of total offense. But, hey, Gary Nova -- still the Rutgers quarterback.

[+] EnlargePrince-Tyson Gulley
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsSyracuse's Prince-Tyson Gulley ran wild against West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.
Best individual performance: Bridgewater did what we have grown accustomed to seeing. But best bowl performance of all goes to Syracuse running back Prince-Tyson Gulley, who was an absolute machine in a 38-14 win against West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Gulley ran for a career-high and bowl-record 213 yards and three total touchdowns. Only two players had more rushing yards during bowl season. And Gulley, well, he obliterated his old single-game career high of 98 yards, set against Louisville in November.

Worst overall performance: Pitt. Rutgers' offense was abysmal in the bowl game, but the Scarlet Knights played well enough on defense to win. Pitt? Well, Pitt flat out did not show up in the BBVA Compass Bowl, and lost 38-17. Recurring theme of the season, right? With Ray Graham out, Pitt was severely limited with its options on offense, even though Rushel Shell was productive early. Tino Sunseri was ... Tino Sunseri, ending his streak of games without an interception. And the Panthers finished with 266 total yards, while allowing Ole Miss to run for 224.

Best game: Louisville 33, Florida 23. There is no getting around how big this win is, not just for Louisville but for the Big East. What is particularly interesting is I have heard more people give credit to Louisville than blame Florida for failing to show up. Props to coach Charlie Strong, who wanted this game so badly, you could just see him pounding home that message over and over and over again during bowl preparation. His players wanted to win more, plain and simple.

Best quote: "We hit a streak this year, we were 90 and no one gave us respect. And it's funny to watch, people get to the Big East, they say don't talk about the Big East, they don't play anybody. I hope they opened up their eyes, because on any given night, if you prepare well, if you focus in and if the preparation's there for your team, you can go beat anybody. That just shows it doesn't matter. There's so much parity in college football right now, who is to say who is the best team out there." -- Louisville coach Charlie Strong.
Brace yourselves.

This is not the ACC power rankings you are used to. It is bigger. Let’s hope it’s not badder. The first version of the 2013 ACC power rankings reflects the addition of Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange. There are 14 teams here (and Boston College is still last). Welcome to the league, Pitt and Cuse.

There are still plenty of questions for several teams that have players still undecided about their NFL careers, but this is your first take on a ranking likely to change many times between now and the opening kickoff. Lots can happen (and does) during signing day, spring ball and summer camp, but here is how Andrea Adelson and I think the ACC will shape up this fall based on what we know now:

1. Clemson -- With quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris working together again, the Tigers would have the best coordinator/quarterback combo returning in the ACC. The defense should take another step forward in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU was a monumental springboard for the program heading into the offseason.

2. Florida State -- The Seminoles will be going through a transition, as coach Jimbo Fisher has to replace at least five assistants on his staff, as well as starting quarterback EJ Manuel. With several players, including defensive end Bjoern Werner, leaving early for the NFL draft, the Noles will have to reload.

3. Miami -- The Hurricanes hoped their self-imposed bowl ban was a preemptive strike against NCAA sanctions. With quarterback Stephen Morris returning, along with ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson and what could be one of the best offensive lines in the ACC, expectations should be much higher for the Canes in Year 3 under Al Golden.

4. Georgia Tech -- The Yellow Jackets will have some momentum and confidence to build on after their bowl win over USC, but more importantly, they’ve got an experienced, talented roster to work with. Georgia Tech will have eight starters back on a defense that made measurable progress in the second half of the season.

5. UNC -- Coach Larry Fedora is going to have to work some magic in trying to replace leading rusher/returner Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper. Quarterback Bryn Renner will be a senior, though, and the Tar Heels have other talented running backs waiting in the wings.

6. Pitt -- The moment every Pitt fan has been waiting for -- Tino Sunseri will no longer be the starting quarterback in 2013. Does that mean the position gets an automatic upgrade? Promising running back Rushel Shell returns, and Pitt's defense should be much better, but questions remain on the offensive line.

7. Virginia Tech -- The school has yet to announce any staff changes, quarterback Logan Thomas has yet to announce whether or not he is returning for his senior season, and the Hokies open the schedule against national champion Alabama. Doesn’t look good.

8. Syracuse -- Major questions surround the Orange now that coach Doug Marrone has left for the Buffalo Bills. This is a team that already had to replace starting quarterback Ryan Nassib, all-Big East tackle Justin Pugh, record-setting receiver Alec Lemon and leading tackler Shamarko Thomas. But Syracuse does have 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with linebackers Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis. Many questions must be answered before 2013 begins.

9. Maryland -- It can only get better, right? Maryland was down to its fifth-string quarterback last year, linebacker Shawn Petty. Starter C.J. Brown should be ready to return to the starting lineup this summer and healed from a torn ACL. The defense has some big shoes to fill, but the Terps should have enough experience to be bowl bound in their final season in the ACC.

10. Wake Forest -- The Deacs were thrown off track last season by injuries and suspensions and should be a better team this year. Quarterback Tanner Price returns for his senior season, along with receiver Michael Campanaro, who should be one of the best in the ACC if he can stay healthy.

11. Duke -- The Blue Devils have to replace quarterback Sean Renfree and his top target, ACC record-setting receiver, Conner Vernon. Duke went to its first bowl game since 1994, but the program still has something to prove after losing its last five games of the season. The Coastal Division should collectively be stronger this year.

12. Virginia -- Phillip Sims will take over at quarterback after the transfer of Michael Rocco, but how much time will David Watford see under center? The hires of Tom O’Brien and Jon Tenuta were smart moves, but the staff will have to find a way to extract more out of many of the same players who struggled last year.

13. NC State -- Quarterback Mike Glennon is out, and first-year coach Dave Doeren is in. The Wolfpack will have an entirely different look this fall, and some bumps in the road should be expected as the program begins a new era under Doeren.

14. Boston College -- The Eagles have lots of work to do under first-year coach Steve Addazio. It all starts with recruiting, but the staff is also going to have to find a way to improve the running game and get the defense back to its stingy ways.

Thanks to 24-point first half and commanding performance by its defense throughout the afternoon, Ole Miss captured its first bowl victory since 2009 with a 38-17 win over Pittsburgh in front of a sea of red that was a part of a record crowd of 59,135 for the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The SEC improved to 5-3 in bowl games, while the Big East ends bowl play with a 3-2 record.

It was over when: Ole Miss back up quarterback Barry Brunetti pushed forward on a quarterback keeper for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 31-10 Rebels with 21 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Game ball goes to: First-year coach Hugh Freeze. He didn't throw any passes or make any tackles, but he had his players very ready for Saturday's bowl game. This game meant a lot to players and fans, and the Rebels came out fast on offense and hunkered down on defense. After missing out on a bowl game the last two seasons, and winning just six total games during that span, Ole Miss finished the year 7-6 after a major culture overhaul thanks to Freeze's guidance.

Stat of the game: Ole Miss held the rushing advantage over Pittsburgh 222-81.

Stat of the game II: Pittsburgh defenders Jason Hendricks and Shayne Hale combined for 30 tackles and 21 of those tackles were solo.

Best call: All year, Freeze rotated his quarterbacks throughout games. Bo Wallace was always the starter but Brunetti would come in for obvious running plays. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it was a little too obvious, but it certainly worked on Saturday. Wallace finished the game with 151 passing yards and three touchdowns to two interceptions on 22 of 32 passing. He also ran for 27 yards, while Brunetti totaled 34 yards, but helped really open up a running game that finished with 222 yards and 4.6 yards per carry.

Unsung heroes of the game: Running back Jeff Scott left the game early with a hamstring injury, leaving freshman Jaylen Walton to help carry the load. He kept the chains moving for the Rebels, carrying the ball 10 times for 56 yards. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry in the process. Linebacker Mike Marry has been one of the most underrated players in the SEC this year and he had a very productive day. He was all over Pitt's backfield, registering four tackles for loss. He finished the day with seven total tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

What Ole Miss learned: This team brought a lot of fight to Birmingham, Ala. When Scott went down with his hamstring injury, there had to be some concern on that Ole Miss sideline that the Rebels' offense might lose some of its rhythm. It didn't. The Rebels continued to work the ground game with other options and just wore down the Panthers up front. That running game helped open up the passing game and helped the Rebels enter the offseason with a ton of momentum after this win.

What Pitt learned: It had no offense without star senior running back Ray Graham. He had a heck of a career with the Panthers, but a hamstring injury kept him out of the BBVA Compass Bowl, and the Panthers just couldn't replace his production on the field. Pitt ran the ball 36 times for 81 yards, averaging just 2.3 yards per carry. Rushel Shell replaced Graham, rushing for 79 yards on 25 carries. That lack of a running game severely limited the Panthers through the air as well, as quarterback Tino Sunseri passed for just 185 yards.

Pitt keys for BBVA Compass Bowl

January, 5, 2013
Let's take a look at three keys for Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Ole Miss.

1. Steady Tino. Did you hear the one where Tino Sunseri has not thrown an interception since Sept. 15 -- a span of 270 straight passes (along with a change in the calendar year)? Believe it, people. Now, that streak has not exactly meant a perfect season for the Panthers -- they have lost four games since Sept. 15 -- but at least his ability to make better decisions has not meant unmitigated disaster for the Panthers offense. If Pitt wants to win this game, it's going to need another near mistake-free performance: no interceptions, no dumb sacks, no costly decisions. Steady as Tino goes, so go the Panthers.

2. Establish the run. Ole Miss has one of the better run defenses in the country, allowing just 133 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. But for Pitt to win this game, it is going to need to have another good performance from Ray Graham, who is playing his final game for the Panthers. In six wins this season, Graham is averaging 96.3 yards per game with nine touchdown runs. In six losses, that average goes down to 77.3 yards per game with only two touchdown runs. You see the trend.

3. Motivation. One of the most frustrating things about watching Pitt play this season was the way it played down to the level of competition. Lose to Youngstown State and UConn. Get pumped for games against Louisville, Notre Dame and Rutgers -- even though two of those ended in losses. With Pitt playing in this bowl game for a third straight season, what is the motivation going to be for this team? Ole Miss is making its first bowl appearance since 2009. It will have more fans in the stands too, which could give the Rebels an advantage. Pitt also is playing without a defensive coordinator, so you have to wonder whether that will have any impact. The bottom line question: Which Pitt team is going to show up?
Here are three keys for Ole Miss in its matchup with Pittsburgh in Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ESPN):

1. Patience is a virtue: Pittsburgh has a pretty sturdy defense. Even with those six losses on the season, the Panthers' defense ranks 17th nationally. The Panthers have allowed just 14 passing plays of 25 yards or more, tied for sixth nationally. That means Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace will have to be patient with his throws. Pittsburgh intercepted 13 passes on the season and allowed just 12 touchdowns through the air, so Wallace can't take a lot of chances with this defense -- and he has taken a lot of chances this season. Wallace has thrown 15 interceptions on the season, so his careless play could really cost the Rebels on Saturday. Pittsburgh is stingy enough that Wallace doesn't need to help it out.

2. Bring the pressure: Ole Miss' defensive line has been a pleasant surprise for the Rebels this season. It was supposed to be a weak point, but it came on in a big way. The Rebels enter the game second in the SEC in sacks (34) and tackles for loss (92). The Panthers have struggled this season in pass protection, so if this Ole Miss line can play like it has for most of the year, Pittsburgh could be in trouble. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has been pretty efficient this season, throwing for 3,103 yards with 19 touchdowns to two interceptions. He hasn't thrown a pick since Sept. 15, so the Rebels have to put him in awkward situations in order to force him to finally make some mistakes. The defense has been better compared to last season, but it showed it isn't built for a shootout. Pitt hasn't really been involved in any, but if the Rebels can't get good pressure on Sunseri, one might break out anyway.

3. Run, run and run some more: The Panthers have held their own for the most part on defense, but if the Rebels are going to be successful for 60 minutes, they have to get a solid run game going. Ole Miss averages 169.7 rushing yards per game, while Pitt is surrendering just 129.1. That's good enough for 25th nationally, so the Rebels have to establish a running game to open things up for Wallace and the passing game. Running back Jeff Scott has to be a big factor. He's the Rebels' best rushing weapon, and while he isn't the biggest thing out there, he can turn regular runs into big plays with his speed and elusiveness. He'll have help with Wallace and with athlete Randall Mackey, who will line up in the backfield as well, but Ole Miss has to be patient. Running the ball effectively will be key to wearing down the Panthers' defense.

Pregame: BBVA Compass Bowl

January, 5, 2013
Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-4 Big East) vs. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 SEC)

Who to watch: It's pretty obvious that the most popular person wearing a football jersey in the state of Mississippi is Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound sophomore gobbled up the defensive backfields of LSU and Mississippi State during the last two weeks of the season, catching 13 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns. Now, he takes on a Pittsburgh defense that is giving up less than 200 passing yards a game through the air. The Panthers have also given up 12 passing touchdowns while collecting 13 interceptions. Expect Pitt free safety Jason Hendricks to try and take Moncrief out of deep-ball situations. He was one of the Panthers' most productive defenders this fall, and is Pitt's last line of defense against Moncrief. In order to get the most out of Ole Miss' offense, the Rebels must feed Moncrief.

What to watch: Pitt has quite the dynamic duo in quarterback Tino Sunseri and running back Ray Graham. Because of their solid play this fall, the Panthers have their first 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. The Panthers will try to establish the run to open up the pass, but it will do so against quite the line. Ole Miss' defensive line really came along this fall. What was supposed to be down year for the Rebels up front turned out to be pretty eventful. The Rebels rank third in the SEC with 34 sacks (2.8 per game) and totaled 92 tackles for loss during the regular season. The Panthers struggled with protection during the season, giving up a Big East-leading 34 sacks, which means Rebels defensive end C.J. Johnson, who leads Ole Miss with 6.5 sacks, could be in for a productive day.

Why to watch: Sure, these are two 6-6 teams going at it, but both come into the game with very interesting storylines. Remember, Pitt began the season 0-2, which included an embarrassing loss to Youngstown State to start the season. But the Panthers bounced back in a big way, winning four of their last six games. They ended the season with wins against Rutgers and South Florida by a combined score of 54-9. They also took Notre Dame to triple overtime before losing by a field goal. Thanks to the guidance of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels are in their first bowl game since 2009, and won six games after totaling just six wins in the previous two seasons. If not for a couple of second-half meltdowns, the Rebels might have won eight games this season.

Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Pittsburgh 21. The Rebels weren't supposed to be here, but Freeze's transformation of the program made Ole Miss a legitimate team in the SEC West this season. The momentum from that Egg Bowl win will carry over into a big win in Birmingham. Pittsburgh's defense has been pretty good all year, but the Rebels' spread and their heavy amount of speed will be too much for the Panthers late in the game.
Time for our final regular-season installment of what we learned in the Big East.

1. Louisville is going to the BCS. And the most likely destination is the Orange Bowl. There is a chance, however, that No. 21 Northern Illinois jumps into the top 16 to take an automatic spot. If that happens, Northern Illinois would go to the Orange and Louisville to the Sugar Bowl. We will not know for certain until the final BCS standings are revealed tonight. If the Cards take their talents to South Beach, they will face future Atlantic Division rival Florida State on Jan. 1. If they are headed to New Orleans, coach Charlie Strong will face his former team in the Florida Gators on Jan. 2. Either way, Louisville got the BCS berth with an incredible 20-17 come-from-behind win over Rutgers on Thursday night, a victory that took just about everything out of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. He was the hands-down story of the game, but it should be worth noting that Rutgers has this penchant for flopping on the biggest stage. The Scarlet Knights went 0-2 this season in trying to secure a BCS berth and 0-1 last season in trying to win a share of the Big East title. And back in 2006, they lost two Big East games after rising into the top 10 in the national standings. They did win a piece of the Big East this season, but that is little consolation to a team that had every opportunity to get to the BCS.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireA broken wrist and sprained ankle didn't stop Teddy Bridgewater from leading Louisville to victory.
2. Four teams can call themselves champs. Although Louisville is representing the Big East on the biggest stage, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Syracuse can call themselves champs, too. Each team finished 5-2 in Big East play -- and the league recognizes all as champions. Many expected Louisville and Rutgers to have a good shot at the crown. Cincinnati has won its share -- four in the past five years. The biggest surprise is Syracuse, a team that started the season 2-4. The Orange didn't even play this week but were the biggest beneficiary when Louisville won. It is tough deciding whether Doug Marrone or Butch Jones did the better coaching job this season. Sounds like a Take 2 post between Tuna and myself this week! Stay tuned.

3. Pitt is going bowling. Seriously, you guys, I am pretty sure the Panthers could have rolled their helmets onto the field and beaten South Florida on Saturday night. That was one of the worst offensive performances I have ever seen -- a new school-low 117 total yards and four turnovers. It was incredible to see tight end Evan Landi move the ball better than Matt Floyd when he had to take a few snaps from center late in the game. But back to Pitt -- the Panthers are headed to a bowl for the fifth consecutive year, and they really got there the hard way given all the ups and downs of the season. Yeah, they might be headed back to Birmingham, Ala., which would be a downer for many of the upperclassmen on the team. But getting these extra 15 practices in is extremely valuable for coach Paul Chryst and the returning players, since there will actually be stability in the offseason. And here is a note that might surprise you (it surprised me). Tino Sunseri passed for more than 3,000 yards this season, and Ray Graham ran for more than 1,000 -- the first time Pitt has ever had a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher. Now imagine the possibilities moving forward.

4. Skip Holtz and Paul Pasqualoni turned in the most disappointing seasons. Both fan bases are getting antsy with the men in charge of their programs, and for good reason. USF and Connecticut, respectively, are the only two teams in the Big East that have failed to go bowling in consecutive seasons. That is not encouraging, when you consider how generally competitive the Big East is from top to bottom. Holtz is on the hottest seat, after his team completed a school-worst 3-9 season with a 27-3 loss to Pitt. When asked following the game whether he expects to be back, Holtz said, "I'd certainly like to be. There's been a lot of hard work that has gone into this, through players, coaches. There's a lot of underclassmen on that field ... a lot of young talent on the field. I understand the hardened position we've put a lot of people in, with the record that we have. ... I understand the nature of this business is to win games."

Pitt routs USF, extends season

December, 1, 2012

Lose two, win two.

It has been the formula for Pitt all season long, and in the end it was enough for the Panthers to extend their campaign into bowl season for the fifth straight year.

Pitt was efficient throughout the night in Tampa, Fla., and South Florida simply wasn't, a big reason for the 27-3 Panthers win. Paul Chryst's squad has come a long way from as ugly an 0-2 season-opening start as possible, and now he gets 15 more practices and one more game with his squad. It was an up-and-down first year, beating Rutgers and USF in the final two weeks of the season to get to 6-6.

The future may not be as bright for the Bulls, who turned it over four times, netted just 6 rushing yards and -- once again -- kicked a field goal late with the game well out of reach. The boo birds were out in full force inside Raymond James Stadium, capping a program-worst 3-9 campaign and a second straight 1-6 Big East record, with questions about third-year coach Skip Holtz's job status continuing to mount.

Pitt, meanwhile, jelled offensively, with fifth-year quarterback Tino Sunseri earning himself one more collegiate start by completing 19 of 25 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. Ray Graham added 93 yards and two scores on the ground, and Mike Shanahan caught nine passes for 116 yards.

USF had just 55 yards of total offense entering the fourth quarter and finished with a program-worst 115 on the night, a fitting end to a lost season.
What did we learn in the Big East in Week 13? Glad you asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big East mailblog

November, 16, 2012
Bring me your questions ...

Bearcat Territory writes: Andrea could you please clarify for us whether the highest rated "team" or the highest rated "champion" from the Group of Five will obtain an automatic berth in one of the elite bowls? Respected sports analysts have used both terms inconsistently in their immediate reports.

Andrea Adelson: Yes, I am happy to clarify. This is the wording from the news release announcing the final agreement on the playoff structure: The highest-ranked champion from the five conferences that are not in contract bowls will be guaranteed a spot in a host bowl.

Tim in Durham, N.C., writes: Andrea, I am a very frustrated Pitt fan and I know this is our last year in the Big East, but I have said all along it really needs to be a rebuilding year to prepare for the ACC. That being said, why has it been that three coaches with minutes of game tape have not been able to see what multiple Pitt fans see and that is that Tino Sunseri is not a Division I quarterback? I know that he is not all that is to blame for Pitt's records, but he is not much of a help, either, with his limited leadership ability, inability to bring teams back from behind, and weak/inconsistent arm strength and accuracy. It seems we would have been better suited to play youth and go through growing pains, than not get any experience for next year. Sorry so long!

Adelson: I do understand the frustrations, but have completely disagreed with this line of thinking all season. Why should any team "tank" a season on purpose just for a youth movement? Sunseri is not Collin Klein, but he is in the middle of having his best season for the Panthers. If there was a better option, I can absolutely guarantee Paul Chrsyt would have used him. Chryst has maintained Sunseri gives them the best chance to win every week. There is no way he is starting Sunseri just to hold the team back. Secondly, if I were to point a finger of blame this season, the first might go to the inconsistent defense. Somebody needs to explain how the Panthers let UConn get its offense going. That to me was way more of a problem last week. I do agree that Sunseri has come up small in some of the bigger moments -- (cough, cough, Notre Dame) -- but the playcalling was pretty bad if you ask me. I look forward to hearing what Pitt fans have to say if the struggles continue next season with a redshirt freshman at quarterback.

Friendly Trashtalk in Cincinnati writes: Good call on the Cincy game. Has Rutgers ever won at Nippert? Friday night I'll be watching my DVD of the 2006 blowout (when Rutgers thought they were going to the national championship) in order to prepare myself for Saturday's game!

Adelson: I am sure those DVDs have been burned across New Jersey. Now to answer your question, Rutgers has won in Cincinnati once -- 10-7 in 1987.

RJ in Morristown, N.J., writes: AA, I have to take exception vehemently with your article about Mike Aresco and the "steady Big East" ship. While there is no doubt it was important to bring someone like him in to lead our conference, your conclusions are about as substantiated as some of those found in the Freeh Report (OK, that might be stretching it). So what has he done according to you: 1) Guaranteed Access to future playoff... Well if you consider it a win that we in the Big East have been relegated to being considered "one of the OTHER 5 conferences", can't give him full credit though, he gets equal credit with the commish's of C-USA, the MWC, MAC and Sun Belt 2) Got the Big East on open market of tv negotiations... Or you can flip it to say that ESPN didn't want to offer to large of a deal until they realized how little other networks would be willing to offer, you can judge this as a win when we get a deal on par with the ACC 3) Kept members happy... Ask the most loyal fans and constituents of Rutgers, UConn, and Louisville and they will admit that they are still holding out hope that one of the other power conferences comes calling (basketball schools?, the money isn't the same so they really have no impact) 4) Got divisions squared really think this is an accomplishment? A temporary alignment based on geography putting Temple in the "West"? 5) Kept Big East relevant into the future...this one makes me laugh the most because in all logical thinking, this can't possibly be judged at the present time, we'll only know if this is true 5-10 years from now when Aresco has probably left this job, if he kept the Big East relevant after this mess we find ourselves in. I generally think you do an excellent job at blogging, Andrea, but I'm not sure all of your conclusions can be substantiated by the facts at this point.

Adelson: I appreciate your comments, RJ, and understand your point of view. But here is the thing all Big East fans should remember first and foremost: The Big East was never going to be included among the "power conferences" in the future playoff structure. This was not a decision made by a network, but one made by the commissioners of those respective leagues. So yes, you can say the Big East was "downgraded." But 1. The Big East does not have an automatic tie-in to one of these bowl games in the current structure, so it was not going to magically get one past 2014. 2. Forget about having to share with the MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA and Sun Belt. This should be viewed as a guaranteed spot for the Big East, given the remaining and incoming members. If the Big East champion is not any better than the champs from those four leagues, they do not deserve a spot in a marquee game, anyway. I am not going to judge conference stability on whether fans want to get out. But I believe the phone calls from those in charge of their respective programs looking for a lifeboat have stopped. Now, we might not really be able to judge relevance into the future, but hammering out a deal at least gives the Big East a seat that everyone thought was going to be taken away.

Jay in San Francisco writes: It seems as though Louisville's special teams are a real weak point for the team. The inability of being able to even get touchbacks on a kickoff is giving up tons of yardage. And, don't even get me started on basic punt and kickoff return coverage. What are your thoughts on this? It continues to cost the Cards each week.

Adelson: I will let these stats speak for me. Louisville ranks No. 8 in the Big East in punt return average; No.7 in kickoff returns; No. 8 in punting; and No. 8 in kickoff coverage defense. That includes a Big East-worst five touchbacks -- that is tied for second-worst in the nation.

Mike in Piscataway writes: Hi Andrea, great job as always. Everyone thinks the RU - Ville games is going to be the biggest game of the year; however as a Rutgers fan (since 1998) this week in Cincy is technically our first-round playoff game. If we lose, and then win out, Cincy still has the tiebreaker advantage. If we win, it does not matter if we lose at Pitt the following week, because the last game of the year will then decide our BCS fate. Would you agree?

Adelson: Thanks, Mike. I agree 100 percent. This is an absolute must-win for Rutgers.

AL in St. Louis writes: Andrea, do you think the Big 12 is starting to regret grabbing West Virginia instead of Louisville? It seems like the Cards might be a big player in the new Big East to come!

Adelson: I was wondering when somebody was going to ask me this, but I thought the question would be more along the lines of: "Do you think West Virginia regrets leaving the Big East?" It is going to take more than nine games to start labeling regrets, Al. The way Louisville has played this season -- particularly on defense -- I'm not sure the Cardinals are 9-1 in that league right now.