November 8, 2007

Big East enters stretch run with different look

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FOX'S BIG EAST PICKS
THis week's games
Thursday's game
West Virginia 42, Louisville 32
Friday's game
Rutgers 35, Army 14
Saturday's games
USF 27, Syracuse 14
Cincinnati 28, Connecticut 21
Overview: The Big East wouldn't mind turning back the clock a year - or even a few months. At this point last season, Louisville defeated West Virginia 44-34 in a meeting of two undefeated teams. A week later, in a second TV ratings bonanza, Rutgers defeated unbeaten Louisville to put the unbeaten Scarlet Knights into the top 10. But in the follow-up to the Big East's breakout season, the league has fallen on hard times. Louisville's defense has knocked the Cardinals and this week's rematch with the Mountaineers off the national radar. Rutgers has lost three of its past four; the only win came against USF, which has lost three in a row since being ranked No. 2. The final month of the season is brightest for West Virginia, the league's only top-15 team, and Connecticut, the league's only undefeated team in conference play.

Best matchup: Louisville offense vs. West Virginia defense. The last two games between the Cardinals and Mountaineers have included 168 total points, but West Virginia has turned its fortunes defensively since last year's meeting. The Mountaineers lead the league in rush defense, pass defense and total defense. It's likely, though, that the only way Louisville wins is if it's a high-scoring game.

The pressure is on: USF. The Bulls have gone from No. 2 in the country to tied for last place in the Big East. The Bulls have to beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome to avoid falling into the cellar by themselves. The Bulls must find more offensive options beyond Matt Grothe, who accounted for all but 24 yards of offense in last week's loss to Cincinnati. USF also needs to cut down on turnovers (11 in the past three games) to end the season on a positive note.

Who's hot: Cincinnati SS Haruki Nakamura had an interception, two forced fumbles and 11 solo tackles against South Florida last week. Syracuse WR Mike Williams set a school record last week with a touchdown catch in his sixth consecutive game. Connecticut's Tyvon Branch is averaging 36.1 yards on kickoff returns, with two touchdowns. He has also recorded three pass deflections and 16 solo tackles in the past three games.

Who's not: USF's Grothe has thrown nine interceptions to three touchdowns in four Big East games. Cincinnati kicker Jake Rogers has made only three of his past seven field-goal attempts. In six trips to the red zone against Connecticut, Rutgers settled for four field goals and a touchdown. The Scarlet Knights were 0-of-2 in the red zone two weeks ago against West Virginia.

Keep your eye on: If you can find it on TV, Connecticut's game at Cincinnati will be worth a look. UConn has the Big East lead, and Cincinnati kept itself in the race with last week's 38-33 victory at USF. It could be decided late, with six of the teams' conference games being decided by a touchdown or less this year. To the frustration of both programs, the game has been banished to ESPNU, following Penn State-Temple.

Numbers game: Big East opponents have outgained Connecticut in each game this year despite the Huskies' 4-0 conference record. Rutgers outgained UConn 511-396 yards last week. Connecticut has allowed 13 touchdowns. Only Ohio State has allowed fewer (11). Cincinnati's 31 points in the first quarter were more than USF had allowed in a game this season. Home teams are 8-8 in league games this season. Cincinnati leads the nation with 21 interceptions. UConn is second with 19.

BIG EAST STANDINGS
TeamConf.All
Connecticut4-08-1
West Virginia2-17-1
Cincinnati2-27-2
Louisville2-25-4
Pittsburgh2-24-5
Rutgers2-35-4
South Florida1-36-3
Syracuse1-32-7
Freshman to watch: In the absence of USF WRs Amarri Jackson and Taurus Johnson, redshirt freshman Carlton Mitchell had seven receptions for 110 yards in the 38-33 loss to Cincinnati.

Injury update: Rutgers SS Ron Girault (ankle) returned against Connecticut after missing four games. Syracuse QB Andrew Robinson hopes to play against USF despite a cracked rib. Cincinnati CB Mike Mickens (leg) is questionable for Connecticut. Rutgers DT Eric Foster (leg) is questionable for Army.

They said it:
"I would like to see everybody wearing a gold shirt, a gold sweatshirt, waving a gold towel, a gold pom-pom. Wear gold shoes, even. We don't sell beer, so we can't sell gold beer."
West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez on how he hopes the crowd dresses Thursday night

"All the newspapers were ripping our defense and saying we couldn't stop anybody. After a while, you get tired of that."
West Virginia DT Keilen Dykes

"Sometimes, I go on the Internet to see what people are saying about me and about the team. The last three weeks, people are trashing the team and they're trashing me. And these are supposed to be USF fans."
USF QB Matt Grothe, in The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times

Bowl implications: Connecticut (8-1) and West Virginia (7-1) need to win out to secure the Big East championship and the resultant BCS berth. The teams meet Nov. 24. Louisville (5-4) and Rutgers (5-4) need one more win to be bowl eligible. Cincinnati and USF are playing for bowl positioning.

Etc.: LeSean McCoy became the third Pitt freshman to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, joining Curvin Richards and Tony Dorsett. Connecticut suspended FB Lou Allen, who has five rushing touchdowns this year, for a violation of team rules. Andre Dixon will remain Connecticut's starting tailback despite 154 rushing yards last week from Donald Brown. Brown will be used more in a backup role, though.

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David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.




 

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