Overview: USF became the latest Big East team to make a national splash with a 21-13 win over West Virginia last week. Trouble is, the rest of the league hasn't followed suit. Rutgers lost its toughest nonconference game, against Maryland. Even Syracuse followed its win over Louisville by losing 17-14 at Miami University. That leaves Cincinnati and Connecticut joining USF as the league's undefeated teams. The Bearcats will play in perhaps their most critical Big East game since joining the league by starting their conference schedule at Rutgers on Saturday night.
Best matchup: Rutgers vs. Cincinnati. The Scarlet Knights are looking for revenge against Cincinnati, the team that ended their 9-0 start last season with a 30-11 rout. The subplot is Ray Rice's revenge on the Bearcats' run defense, which held him to a season-low 54 yards last year. Rice, who has rushed for 528 yards and nine touchdowns, will try to improve on last year's mark against the Big East's leading run defense.
The pressure is on: Rutgers QB Mike Teel. He put up excellent passing numbers against Buffalo, Navy and I-AA Norfolk State but the schedule is tougher now. He was 25-of-44 for 310 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against Maryland. He will have to improve to avoid back-to-back losses for the Scarlet Knights.
Who's hot: USF LB Ben Moffitt started 32 games before recording his first interception. He has had three in the past two games, with a pair (one returned for a touchdown) coming against West Virginia. … Louisville WR Harry Douglas has caught 25 passes for 428 yards and two touchdowns in his past two games but missed last week's win over NC State with an ankle injury. … Syracuse is one of four teams in the country that has thrown only one interception. Andrew Robinson hasn't been intercepted in his past 104 pass attempts.
Who's not: West Virginia TB Steve Slaton's production has decreased each of the past four games to a 13-carry, 54-yard game against USF. … Two of West Virginia center Mike Dent's shotgun snaps led to negative plays in the loss to USF. An awkward snap led to a botched handoff, and another snap sailed over the head of backup QB Jarrett Brown. … Pittsburgh is 112th in the country in turnover margin, with 14 giveaways compared to six takeaways.
Keep your eye on: Cincinnati has needed to be careful with QB Ben Mauk's surgically repaired shoulder, but coach Brian Kelly has become more confident in Mauk's arm over the past few weeks. Previously, Mauk has needed to be spelled by backup Dustin Grutza. Mauk, the nation's fourth-most efficient passer, will try to justify that confidence against the Rutgers defense.
Numbers game: USF became the fastest team in the modern era of college football to get into the top 10. There have been only 106 AP polls and 112 coaches' polls since USF became a full-time I-A member in 2001. … USF and Florida Atlantic play Saturday, and they have combined to force 35 turnovers this year. FAU (18 forced turnovers) ranks second nationally in that category, while the Bulls (17) rank third. … Cincinnati and Kansas are the only schools in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense.
Freshman to watch: Cincinnati redshirt freshman WR Marcus Barnett has become a top target in the Bearcats' passing game. The slot receiver has 22 catches for 278 yards and five touchdowns. All are team highs. He had Cincinnati's longest play of the year last week with an 80-yard touchdown grab from Mauk.
BIG EAST STANDINGS
Injury update: West Virginia QB Pat White (bruised thigh) is a game-time decision against Syracuse. … Connecticut TB Donald Brown (ankle sprain) left in the third quarter of last week's rout of Akron. UConn has an off week before facing Virginia next week. … Louisville DL Michael Adams will miss the remainder of the season and may not play again because of concussion issues. … Pittsburgh OT Jason Pinkston will miss the rest of the season following shoulder surgery. … Rutgers SS Ron Girault has been limited this week with an ankle injury. … USF center Nick Capogna (knee) expects to return against FAU after playing only four snaps against West Virginia.
They said it: "That's amazing, a guy can make a quote like that when he doesn't have any idea. The truth is we have two non-qualifiers out of 110 on our team or I'll resign tomorrow. And those two will both get their degree. Why that bothers me is it takes a hit at the credibility of our program that we can't do it with just hard work. There always has to be some reason. That is the heart and soul of our program. So he's attacking the heart and soul." — USF coach Jim Leavitt, responding to comments from Alabama coach Nick Saban that USF's success in is part because of its ability to admit players that could not get in academically at other schools
"I had to scream at him when I came in on Monday. He was in here at 7:30 a.m. with a football in his hand, wanting to go out and throw some. I had to tell him, 'We're not working out today; go to class, go get treatment, go get some rest, take a break.' " — Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt on freshman QB Pat Bostick. The Panthers are off Saturday.
"There are still plenty of goals out there. But, yeah, that margin for error is gone. We can't make mistakes. There's no time to come out slow. We have to come out and play our best football the rest of the year." — Rutgers' Rice on the 34-24 loss to Maryland, in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger)
Worth noting: Louisville suspended backup TB George Stripling for Friday's game against Utah for violating team rules. WR JaJuan Spillman was suspended indefinitely. … ACC officials acknowledged they missed a call on a helmet-to-helmet hit from Rutgers DB Joe Lefeged on Maryland QB Jordan Steffy. Steffy was knocked out of the game with a concussion. Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen said Rutgers "went after him. They wanted him out of the game." Rutgers coach Greg Schiano declined to comment.