Connecticut at Rutgers
Friday, 7:30 p.m. EST
This may not grab a national spotlight, but there is intrigue involved. Connecticut has played slightly better than Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights are at home. More intriguing, though, is the matchup between the Big East’s top rushing team (UConn) and the league’s top rush defense (RU).
In addition, this is the 30th meeting between the schools. “It’s two football teams that are competitive year-in and year-out,” said RU coach Greg Schiano. “There’s geographical proximity. It’s a good rivalry.”
Actually, RU has fallen on hard times, but leads the series 20–9 and has won four of the six Big East matchups between the two. Connecticut, however, enters as a solid favorite after stringing together back-to-back wins, including last week’s 40–21 victory over Vanderbilt.
“To beat an SEC team at home for the first time is a good win,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall. “Now we’re looking forward to getting Big East play started.”
The question on the Rutgers side centers on whether quarterback Tom Savage will be able to play after suffering an injury to his throwing hand. Schiano called it a “game-time decision for sure.” RU also suffered a blow when fifth-year senior linebacker Jim Dumont suffered a freak injury in practice Monday and was declared out for the season.
Without Dumont, Rutgers, ranked seventh nationally in run defense (80 yards per game average), might have a tougher time containing Connecticut back Jordan Todman, ranked fourth nationally in rushing, averaging 159.5 yards.
Syracuse at South Florida
Saturday, noon EST
Both Syracuse and South Florida enter the game with 3–1 records. To hear Orange coach Doug Marrone, however, the visitors will have an uphill battle on Saturday.
“Since arriving in the Big East, South Florida has really dominated us,” Marrone said. “Skip Holtz knows how to win and has an all-star staff. Plus, they are coming off their best game of the year.”
Holtz, USF’s coach, certainly seemed pleased with his team’s 31–3 win against Florida Atlantic last week. Specifically, he was upbeat about quarterback B.J. Daniels, even though he has five interceptions against four touchdowns.
“He’s really starting to learn (the offense),” Holtz said. “From a mental aspect, he’s getting better and better every week.”
Holtz called Syracuse a “much improved team.” However, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa will be a true proving ground for the Orange. SU’s wins have been over Akron, Maine and Colgate. The hope for the underdog Syracuse team is that an off-week helped the team prepare. A nice connection between quarterback Ryan Nassib, ranked first in the Big East in pass efficiency, and receiver Van Chew has also developed. South Florida, though, enters with the league’s top pass defense.
Memphis at Louisville
Saturday, 2 p.m. EST
This is a matchup between a Conference USA team in Memphis and a former C-USA team in Louisville. Of course, after moving to the Big East, Louisville soared before falling back to earth and turning to ex-Florida assistant Charlie Strong. This season, Strong has the Cardinals at 2–2. They turned in their best offensive performance of the season last week at Arkansas State in a 34–24 win. “Our team continues to get better and better each week,” Strong said.
That’s not the case with Memphis, now 1–4. The Tigers dropped back-to-back games for the second time this season after losing to Tulsa 48–7 last Saturday. Quarterback Ryan Williams was also knocked out and suffered a mild concussion. Coach Larry Porter, however, has not ruled out his QB for this non-conference game.
“They’re struggling,” Strong said of Memphis. “Their quarterback got knocked out. But they have a good running game and defense. It’s good to be playing this one at home.”
Louisville quarterback Adam Froman enters the game as the Big East leader in total offense, averaging 251.8 yards per game. He’s second in passing (235.5).
The U of L holds a 22–19 lead in a series that dates back to 1948.
Pittsburgh at Notre Dame
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly helped Cincinnati dominate the Big East. Now, he’s turned his attention to the league’s struggling preseason league favorite.
“Notre Dame is a very talented team,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “I know Brian Kelly from being in the league and, schematically, there are a lot of similarities offensively, defensively and in special teams. It’s a big game for us, going on the road.”
It’s also a big game for the Big East, which has been struggling with non-conference games. Both teams are coming off victories, but Pitt’s was over Florida International, while Notre Dame’s was over Boston College. The teams are similar in that all of their losses have come at the hands of ranked teams.
Pitt was without Big East offensive player of the year Dion Lewis last week, but Ray Graham stepped in for his first career start and rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns. Overall, however, the Panther offense is ranked seventh in the eight-team Big East in total offense.
Pitt’s pass defense, also ranked seventh in the league, will be tested by Fighting Irish quarterback Dayne Crist, who has thrown for 1,358 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions.
The teams will be playing for the 66th time in a series that began in 1909. The Irish hold a 44–20–1 series lead.
UNLV at West Virginia
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
The most intrigue in this game surrounds the health of West Virginia running back Noel Devine. In the Mountaineers’ last game, Devine suffered a foot injury in a loss to LSU. WVU, however, didn’t play last weekend, and there’s a chance the back will play Saturday.
“We’re going to run him enough to win the football game,” WVU coach Bill Stewart said this week. “And if he can’t go, you just have to go with Plan B.”
That may be power back Ryan Clarke. It may also include true freshman Trey Johnson, who has been opening eyes since fall camp.
Regardless of who plays, the Mountaineers should have success. UNLV ranks No. 106 in the country in rush defense and last week allowed 374 rushing yards (and 516 total) to a Nevada team that was never forced to punt.
While West Virginia is 3–1 and sitting just outside Top 25 polls, UNLV of the Mountain West is 1–4 after losing 44–26 to Nevada. The Rebels, however, have played three Top 25 teams.
Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati
Saturday, 7 p.m. EST
It’s not a football season unless Miami and Cincinnati compete for the Victory Bell, which commemorates the oldest non-conference rivalry in college football. And this year there’s a twist. The UC coach, Butch Jones, has intimate knowledge of Miami as the former coach of Mid-American Conference peer Central Michigan. “I have great knowledge and respect for the Mid-American Conference,” Jones said.
That’s probably a good thing. The RedHawks enter the game 3–2, while the Bearcats enter at 1–3. UC, however, should be well-rested after playing just once since Sept. 16. In addition, Cincy played its best game of the season in a 31–29 loss to Oklahoma at Paul Brown Stadium.
Jones will send the Big East’s worst defense into the game, but also the league’s best passing attack. QB Zach Collaros has completed 77-of-127 passes (60.6 percent) for 964 yards and nine touchdowns with just one interception.
This should be a good game. Miami held Florida to 212 yards in a 34–12 setback and forced three turnovers. The only other loss was a 51–13 decision at Missouri. QB Zac Dysert has thrown for 1,058 yards and five touchdowns, but with six interceptions.