November 1, 2007

Everyone chasing UConn in Big East

MORE WEEK 10 BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

THis week's games
Overview: Connecticut remains the only team unbeaten in league play. The Huskies defense held strong when it counted in last week's 22-15 upset of USF. Making a resounding case for the best team in the league, though, was West Virginia. Pat White and Steve Slaton ran all over Rutgers in a 31-3 win at Piscataway. WVU is off this week, but UConn has a big one when it plays host to Rutgers. Cincinnati and USF, which enter on two-game losing streaks, play in Tampa in another good matchup.

Best matchup: Rutgers at Connecticut. The individual matchup between Rutgers TB Ray Rice and Connecticut's linebackers will be intriguing enough, but so will a matchup between two possible rivals. Connecticut has seven players from New Jersey on the roster, including three starters. The two teams have 30 combined players from Florida.

The pressure is on: The teams playing in Tampa. USF and Cincinnati each started 6-0 and made a dent in the polls, with the Bulls rising to No. 2 in the BCS and the Bearcats reaching No. 15 in The Associated Press poll. But neither has been able to continue its early season success. Each takes a two-game losing streak into the meeting at Raymond James Stadium. The winner keeps its head above water while the loser falls to 1-3 in the conference and begins to make bowl plans for Birmingham or Charlotte.

Who's hot: Connecticut sophomore TB Andre Dixon has set career-highs in carries in each of the past two weeks; he had 54 carries for 282 yards in games against Louisville and USF. The Big East has two of the top five scoring defenses in the country, No. 3 Connecticut and No. 4 West Virginia. The Mountaineers rank third in the country in total defense. Syracuse NT Arthur Jones had four tackles for losses against Buffalo on Oct. 20, giving him nine tackles for losses in his past four games.

Who's not: Pittsburgh is 3 yards away from possibly being 5-3 instead of 3-5. TB LeSean McCoy fumbled at Louisville's 1 on Pitt's final play to seal a 24-17 Cardinals win last week. Earlier this season, a Pat Bostick pass fell incomplete on fourth down from Navy's 2 to seal a Navy 48-45 win in double-overtime. After running for 186 yards and four touchdowns against Florida Atlantic, USF TB Benjamin Williams has run for 71 yards with no touchdowns on 22 carries in the past three games combined. USF QB Matt Grothe has completed only 51.7 percent of his passes while throwing three interceptions in the past two games. Syracuse's punt-return unit has done next to nothing. The Orange have 14 punt-return yards this season.

Keep your eye on: The Syracuse-Pittsburgh game could be dubbed the "Hot Seat Bowl." Syracuse's Greg Robinson and Pitt's Dave Wannstedt lead the only two Big East teams with losing records. Injuries have knocked out key players for both teams this season, but the loser could be in for a long November.

Numbers game: For the first time since 1993, Syracuse had two 100-yard receivers when Taj Smith and Mike Williams both hit triple digits against Buffalo on Oct. 20. Connecticut has intercepted opposing quarterbacks 18 times; Huskies quarterbacks have thrown only four interceptions. Louisville QB Brian Brohm is second nationally in passing yards, with 3,229. Texas Tech's Graham Harrell is first at 3,979. Rutgers' Rice went over the 1,000-yard mark last week. He is the first Scarlet Knight ever with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. UConn has a plus-12 turnover margin. Pitt has scored 22 TDs this season. The Panthers also have allowed 22 TDs this season.

West Virginia2-17-1
South Florida1-26-2
Freshman to watch: Syracuse TB Doug Hogue will make his first career start against Pittsburgh in place of Curtis Brinkley, who is out for the season with a broken right tibia. Hogue had 24 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown in relief of Brinkley in the 20-12 win over Buffalo on Oct. 20.

Injury update: Pittsburgh expects G Joe Thomas (hamstring) to return against Syracuse. USF WRs Taurus Johnson (ankle) and Amarri Jackson (knee) missed practice time this week, leaving their status questionable for Saturday. TB Mike Ford returned to practice after being taken to the hospital with a rib injury. Rutgers SS Ron Girault is expected to play against Connecticut after missing four games with a sprained ankle.

They said it:
"The bottom line here is that I fully understand that the University of Connecticut and the University of Connecticut football program is being used by the network to leverage cable companies in our state ... to add ESPNU to their platform. We understand that. We know that's what's happening."
Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway. UConn's game against Rutgers will be televised on ESPNU. Comcast, the largest cable provider in the state, does not carry ESPNU.

"For it to be insinuated that we're somehow leveraging the nation's largest cable provider by putting on a single game or series of games in one particular market is simply ridiculous. With all due respect to Jeff, I don't think he completely understands our business and I wouldn't presume to comment on his business, either. We're partners with UConn and the Big East, and the exposure that the conference and the school has gotten through our television deal is quite remarkable if you look at it in totality."
ESPNU vice president and general manager Burke Magnus

"It's an elimination game. There's no question about that. The team that loses eliminates itself from the Big East championship."
Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly on Saturday's game at USF

Etc.: West Virginia and Louisville are off this week before they meet Thursday in Morgantown. Jacob Ramsey will replace Butler Benton as Cincinnati's starting tailback after Benton lost two crucial fumbles. .. Until this season, Rutgers never had faced back-to-back ranked opponents. This week's game with UConn will mark the Scarlet Knights' third consecutive contest against a ranked team. After road teams won six of the first seven conference games, home teams have won five of the past six. Rutgers has allowed just four sacks, second-fewest in the nation to Tennessee's three.

MORE WEEK 10 BREAKDOWNS: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

David Fox is a national writer for He can be reached at

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