NCF Nation: What we learned
Florida State is still unbeaten: For the third time this season, Florida State trailed at the half, but the Seminoles once again staged a dramatic comeback followed by a nail-biting defensive stand on their opponent's final drive to remain unbeaten and keep their playoff hopes alive. Jameis Winston was the star, as he completed 15-of-16 passes for 181 yards in the second half and lead the 31-27 comeback win, while Rashad Greene and Travis Rudolph both caught TD passes. It's clear Florida State isn't the same team it was a year ago, but the Seminoles' ability to continually fight back and find ways to win might be even more impressive.
A healthy Louisville is pretty good: We knew Louisville's defense was good. The offense, on the other hand, was a problem. But Saturday's 30-18 win over NC State was the Cardinals' first game with a full lineup of healthy stars on offense, including QB Will Gardner, running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker. The trio injected some life into the proceedings, as Louisville scored 30 points for the first time in a month, and Dyer and Parker combined for 305 yards. Dyer racked up his first 100-yard rushing performance since 2011. It was a nice addition for Louisville but also a reminder of what might've been for the Cardinals, had the offense been this healthy from the start of the season.
Clemson can win ugly: The Tigers' offense has mustered just two touchdowns and averaged just 4 yards per play without star QB Deshaun Watson the past two weeks, but they've still managed to win both games. Chalk it up to a spectacular defense that once again stuffed an opponent's ground game. Boston College entered as the No. 5 rushing offense in the nation, but Clemson racked up 14 tackles for loss and surrendered just 120 yards on the ground in its 17-13 victory and held BC nearly 200 yards below its season average. Cole Stoudt won't be confused for Watson any time soon, but if he can continue to make a handful of plays a game, this defense should be enough to carry Clemson a long way.
Marquise Williams is UNC's QB: It's hard to believe there was a QB debate in Chapel Hill earlier this year. Williams has been unstoppable in his past two games -- which, coincidentally, were the first two games in which Mitch Trubisky wasn't given regular playing time. Williams set a North Carolina record with 38 completions, threw for four TDs and rushed for one more while leading a dramatic 48-43 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech late in the fourth quarter. In his past two games, Williams has compiled 696 passing yards, 205 rush yards and nine touchdowns.
Pitt's not dead yet: Thursday's 21-16 win over Virginia Tech proved to be a resurrection for Pitt. The Panthers had dropped three in a row as their QB struggled and defenses ganged up to stop star tailback James Conner. Against Virginia Tech, however, Pitt looked much improved. Chad Voytik didn't have to do much with his arm (92 yards), but he racked up 118 yards on the ground, and the win further stifled Tech's hopes for a division title and rekindled Pitt's.
What did we learn during our Big East spring fling? Let us count the ways.
1. Defense first: The Big East lost a lot of offensive star power to NFL and graduation, including four of the league's top six rushers in 2008 and all but two members (Mardy Gilyard and Nate Byham) of the first team all-league offense. Some of the strongest units in the conference this season figure to be on the defensive side, where Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Connecticut and South Florida all look solid. This may be a year of lower-scoring, physical grinders in league play.
2. Mighty mites rule: For whatever reason, many of the playmakers who have emerged in the Big East could all apply for a 6-foot-and-under league. There are holdovers like West Virginia's Noel Devine (5-foot-8) and Louisville's Victor Anderson (5-9). Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis (5-8, on a good day) has emerged as LeSean McCoy's possible successor, while UConn may look to Jordan Todman (5-9) to fill Donald Brown's cleats. Antwon Bailey (5-8) should get a lot of carries at Syracuse, while Cincinnati may work Darrin Williams (5-7, if that) into the offense. If you like quick, small backs, the Big East is your nirvana.
3. QB and O-lines remain a concern: A few dilemmas got resolved in the spring, but many more remain at some of the vital offensive positions. Two legitimate contenders, West Virginia and South Florida, have major question marks on the offensive line, while Pitt, Rutgers, Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut don't have firmly established starting quarterbacks heading into the fall.
4. Youth will be served: More players are seeing the field right away as freshmen across America these days, and we could be watching dozens of first-year guys making an impact in the Big East. Just about every school in the conference is counting on newcomers as reinforcements this summer. South Florida coach Jim Leavitt has said as many as 20 members of his recruiting class could play in '09. West Virginia figures to plug in several freshmen at the skill positions, while UConn will look for some immediate receiver help. Pitt might start a true freshman (Lewis) at running back, Rutgers could add freshmen to help its defensive front, not to mention possibly Tom Savage at quarterback, and Syracuse and Louisville will play anyone with skill. This looks like a transitional year in the Big East, where the next young wave of stars begins to replace the veteran big names (Pat White, Donald Brown, LeSean McCoy, Mike Teel, Kenny Britt, Scott McKillop, etc.) that left after '08.
5. Nobody knows anything: Across the Big East this spring, every coach privately wondered who the favorite would be in 2009. Only a psychic would dare try to list the order of finish in the league this coming season. The conference may enter the year without a frontrunner and without a preseason Top 25 team in the bunch, but several teams should improve as the season goes along. This could be the most unpredictable -- and therefore fun -- year ever in the Big East.