South Florida at West Virginia, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST
Much in this game will hinge on the play of USF quarterback B.J. Daniels. In sum, the Bull has been downright disappointing this season. Against Florida, he completed five passes to teammates and four to Gators. In his last outing, South Florida’s 13–9 loss to Syracuse, he was 9-for-23 with two interceptions.
Last season against West Virginia, however, Daniels ran for 104 yards, passed for 232 and three touchdowns and led the Bulls to a 30-19 win in Tampa.
“He went through us, around us, under us, whatever he wanted to do,” said WVU coach Bill Stewart.
That, however, was before Jim Leavitt was replaced as coach by Skip Holtz and a new offense. And, fresh off the SU performance, Daniels is now in Morgantown, after a short practice week, for an ESPN affair set to be played before a rowdy WVU night crowd.
WVU is a solid favorite, but Mountaineer QB Geno Smith will be taking on a strong USF pass defense, ranked No. 1 in the Big East. On the flip side, though, West Virginia will put forth the league’s No. 1 total and scoring defense, led by linebackers Anthony Leonard, J.T. Thomas and Najee Goode.
The Mountaineers, 4–1, need to win to prove their No. 25 rankings are warranted. South Florida, 3–2, needs to win to get back on track. The Bulls lead the series 3–2 and all three wins have come against ranked WVU teams.
Cincinnati at Louisville, Friday, 8 p.m. EST
The story of this battle for the Keg of Nails centers around new Louisville coach Charlie Strong, who has led his Cardinals to a 3–2 record and two straight wins, including last weekend’s impressive 56–0 victory over Memphis.
“It’s a very, very good football team,” said Cincinnati coach Butch Jones. “I love their defensive front. It’s very quick, active. They have two great running backs (Bilal Powell and Victor Anderson). And Adam (Froman) is doing a great job at quarterback.
“I see them improving week to week. They’re now expecting to win. Charlie’s doing a great job there.”
Strong’s forte, defense, is ranked fifth in the Big East, but his offense is tops in rushing, passing and total offense.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is 2–3 after turning in its best two games. Last week, it drubbed Miami, Ohio, 45–3. In the team’s previous outing, it barely lost to Oklahoma after putting up 461 yards of offense. The Bearcats have the Big East’s top rushing defense.
“It’s a tough test,” Strong said. “It’s really critical we get off to a good start.”
Cincy holds a 28–21–1 series lead.
Pittsburgh at Syracuse, Saturday, noon EST
Syracuse is off to a 4–1 start for the first time since 1999. No one, however, was paying much attention until the Orange went to Tampa last week and knocked off South Florida 13–9. Now it’s getting serious.
“There’s a better trust between coaches and players, players and players,” said SU coach Doug Marrone. “You see it carrying over to the field.”
Much of that carryover has been on the defensive side. Syracuse has held three opponents to single-digit scoring totals and is allowing an average of just 14.8 points, despite a 41–20 loss at Washington.
“It’s a much improved football team,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “They’re running more of a pro style offense. The line is more physical. They have two physical backs. And defensively they’re tougher on the run. They’re stacking the box. Much more aggressive.”
SU’s Delone Carter had his second straight 100-yard game last week at USF. QB Ryan Nassib and wideout Van Chew have become a formidable combo.
Pitt, meanwhile, needs to reestablish itself after falling to 2–3 last week after a 23–17 loss to Notre Dame. The Panthers have one of the nation’s best running combinations in Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, yet rank seventh in the Big East in scoring offense and are eighth in scoring defense.
Army at Rutgers, Saturday, 2 p.m. EST
This game isn’t as much about the participants as the stadium. It will be the first contest between FBS programs at New Meadowlands Stadium.
Both teams, however, would like the win for bragging rights. The schools are separated by just 76 miles.
Rutgers enters as a favorite and Army has lost 12 straight games to Big East teams. Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano, however, sounded concerned earlier in the week. “Army has a very, very good team,” he said. “They do things differently in all three phases of the game. It’s a race to get ready. … We’re certainly up against it.”
There is reason for concern. The Black Knights are 3–0 in road games and 4–2 overall. Their option attack ranks ninth nationally in rushing, averaging 274.3 yards. Fullback Jared Hassin leads the team with 393 yards and six touchdowns.
The story on the RU side is at quarterback. Freshman QB Chas Dodd has been named the starter in place of Tom Savage after sparkling in a win over Connecticut. The Scarlet Knights have the Big East’s third-ranked rushing defense.