Syracuse, Ryan Nassib take top spots
Say this for the Big East: The title chase won’t be without intrigue.
Losses by Louisville and Rutgers last week gave Syracuse and Cincinnati a chance to claim shares of the Big East title. Meanwhile, the two teams that scored the upsets -- Connecticut and Pittsburgh -- still have hopes of becoming bowl eligible.
By Thursday, most of the league will know where it stands for the Big East title. A Rutgers win over Louisville would give the Scarlet Knights their first outright Big East title and a trip to the BCS. A Louisville victory would result in a three-way tie (Louisville, Rutgers, Syracuse) at least and a four-way tie (Cincinnati) at most.
A three-way tie would result in the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings claiming a BCS bid -- a tiebreaker that likely ends in Louisville’s favor. In the event of wins by Louisville and Cincinnati next week, a four-way tiebreaker would first determine the teams with the best records against the other three. In that case, Louisville and Rutgers would have a 2-1 record. From there, the BCS standings between Louisville and Rutgers would determine the Big East’s representative.
In short, the contest is the same as it’s been for most of the final month of the season with Rutgers and Louisville vying for a BCS slot. Rutgers, though, is the only team that make the process simple with a win Thursday.
Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Ryan Nassib, Syracuse -- The senior for the Orange takes the spot that’s been held by Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater for most of the season. In the last six games for Syracuse, Nassib has 13 touchdown passes to one interception. He’s also completing 61.1 percent of his passes during this 5-1 stretch for Syracuse.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville -- Bridgewater fought through a broken wrist and ankle injury to go 30 for 53 for 331 yards in the 23-20 loss to Connecticut.
3. Montel Harris, Temple -- Harris’ season is more than his 351-yard, seven-touchdown effort against Army two weeks ago. After rushing for 106 yards against Syracuse, Harris has topped triple digits against four Big East opponents (USF, Connecticut, Louisville and Syracuse).
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers -- Greene remains tied for the Big East lead in tackles with 115 stops, but the Scarlet Knights had their worst defensive performance in a conference game this season in a 27-6 loss to Pittsburgh.
2. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh -- With three tackles for a loss against Rutgers, Donald has had 12.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage in the last seven games. The Panthers defensive tackle leads the Big East in that category with 14.
3. Sio Moore, Connecticut -- Moore continues to pace the Big East’s best run defense. In the last three games, Moore has had 5.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and three pass breakups.
Coach of the Year Standings
1. Doug Marrone, Syracuse -- Marrone led one of the best in-season turnarounds of any team in the country from a team that started 2-4 to one that won five of its last six. The Orange will head to a bowl for the second time under Marrone and will wait at home this week, hoping to gain a share of the Big East title.
2. Kyle Flood, Rutgers -- Rutgers remains the only Big East team in position for an outright conference championship. However, the sloppy effort in a 27-6 loss to Pittsburgh was not an encouraging sign.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville -- Losing on the road to Syracuse is one thing. Losing at home to Connecticut is another. The Cardinals’ run game was non-existent and the passing game struggled to connect until the fourth quarter.
Big East Post-Week 13 Power Rankings
1. Syracuse (7-5, 5-2)
Last week’s rank: 3
Week 13 result: Beat Temple 38-20
The same team that struggled to put together extended winning streaks (i.e. more than two games) is suddenly the hottest team in the Big East. The Orange finished season by winning five of the last six to give Doug Marrone his best conference record (5-2) in five seasons at Syracuse. The numbers from the first half of the season to the second are pretty startling: Syracuse was minus-10 in turnover margin during the 2-4 start and is plus-nine in the final six. Ryan Nassib receives most of the acclaim (see above), but the run game has improved from 127.5 yards per game in the first half of the season to 216.2 in the second. Naturally, the Orange averaged 38.5 points per game over the last six games, 20 points better than in the first six.
This week: Season complete
2. Rutgers (9-2, 5-1)
Last week’s rank: 1
Week 13 result: Lost to Pittsburgh 27-6
Rutgers sustained a handful of in-game injuries against Pittsburgh, which the Knights hope do not carry over into the the Louisville game this week. Quarterback Gary Nova was knocked out for a series due to a head/neck injury. Khaseem Greene sat for most of the first half after a hard hit on Pitt’s Cameron Saddler. Running back Jawan Jamison remains hobbled with an ankle injury, limiting him to nine carries. And right guard Andre Civil continues to battle his own ankle injury. All but Civil are almost certian to return for Louisville. The rash of beat-up players, particularly on offense, is a concern for a Rutgers team that’s accounted for two offensive touchdowns and 16 points in the last two games.
This week: Louisville (Thursday)
3. Louisville (9-2, 4-2)
Last week’s rank: 2
Week 13 result: Lost to Connecticut 23-20 in overtime
Louisville’s fate seems to rest solely on Teddy Bridgewater, for better or worse. The sophomore quarterback has proven capable of taking over at times, but he couldn’t do it all against Connecticut. Battling through a broken left wrist and later a right ankle injury, Bridgewater was able to rally from 10-0. But he misfired late in the game at times against Connecticut, including an interception in overtime. Without Senorise Perry, the Cardinals’ run game has struggled mightily. Louisville topped 100 rushing yards with at least one touchdown on the ground in the first nine games. In Louisville’s last two losses to Syracuse and UConn, the Cardinals have rushed for a total of 75 yards for 2.1 yards per carry with no touchdowns.
This week: at Rutgers (Thursday)
4. Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2)
Last week’s rank: 4
Week 13 result: Beat USF 27-10
Cincinnati bounced back from a lackluster offensive showing against Rutgers with a balanced effort against USF, its sixth win over the Bulls in the last seven games. Running back George Winn returned to form with 119 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Brendon Kay was 17 of 27 for 178 yards with a touchdown plus 48 rushing yards and a score. The Bearcats can claim a share of the Big East title for the fourth time in five seasons with a win over Connecticut, who likely will provide a bigger defensive challenge to Cincinnati than USF.
This week: at Connecticut
5. Connecticut (5-6, 2-4)
Last week’s rank: 7
Week 13 result: Beat Louisville 23-20 on overtime
The situation at Connecticut was dire at the start of November as the Huskies were working on a four-game losing streak. On Nov. 3, UConn was 3-6 and winless in the Big East. After back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh and Louisville, the Huskies are a win over Cincinnati away from being bowl eligible. Despite an injury to versatile lineman Adam Masters, Connecticut and running back Lyle McCombs have reasserted themselves in the last two games. UConn rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh and 149 yards and a TD against Louisville. Those numbers aren’t huge, but the Huskies rushed for 178 yards combined in their first four Big East games this season. One concern this week is the health of starting quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who left the 23-20 overtime win over Louisville after taking a shot to the head.
This week: Cincinnati
6. Pittsburgh (5-6, 2-4)
Last week’s rank: 5
Week 13 result: Beat Rutgers 27-6
To continue a wacky season for Pittsburgh, the Panthers handed Rutgers its first Big East loss in dominating fashion. As the Scarlet Knights dealt with injuries to key players, Pitt jumped to a 21-0 halftime lead. Running back Ray Graham topped 100 rushing yards for the third time in the last four games, and Tino Sunseri continued his case as the most improved player in the league. The Pitt quarterback was 21 of 39 for 227 yards with two touchdowns, though he did fumble near the goal line. A win over USF this week would make Pittsburgh bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season under its third coach.
This week: at USF
7. Temple (4-7, 2-5)
Last week’s rank: 8
Week 13 result: Lost to Syracuse 38-20
Temple’s bowl chances ended as Syracuse pulled away in the second half for an 18-point win. With an 11-game schedule, the Owls could have received consideration for one of the Big East’s spots with a victory. Despite the final record, Temple’s first season back in the Big East should be considered a success. The Owls won two league games despite returning seven starters. The Syracuse game, though, followed a similar pattern for Temple this season as the Owls kept the game close for the first half (and actually led 20-17 in the third quarter), but they couldn’t keep pace as the game wore on. If there was any key takeaway from the Syracuse loss, it’s that Temple may have found next season’s quarterback in junior Clinton Granger. “Juice” Granger added a spark to the pass game by completing 16 of 23 attempts for 173 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions while rushing for 61 and a score.
This week: Season complete
8. USF (3-8, 1-5)
Last week’s rank: 6
Week 13 result: Lost to Cincinnati 27-10
USF locked up its worst season in the program’s short history by falling to 3-8 on Friday. In the last three games, largely without starting quarterback B.J. Daniels, the USF offense has mustered only 32 total points and 315.7 total yards per game. Oddly enough, the maligned USF defense had two of its better performances in the last three games, holding UConn to 327 yards and Cincinnati to 372. Both were the lowest total USF had allowed against FBS competition this season. The Bulls will face a Pitt team motivated to seal a postseason berth this week. That’s perhaps a bad sign for USF, which has not looked inspired during the final weeks of the season.
This week: Pittsburgh
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