South Florida at Cincinnati, Friday, 8:00 p.m. EST
There’s not much mystery in what this game means to the participants. South Florida is trying to straighten out its offense and start climbing out of the Big East cellar. The Bulls are 0–2 in league play. Coach Skip Holtz’s team hasn’t produced an offensive touchdown in its last two games against Syracuse and West Virginia. This week, Holtz and his staff looked at changes that could be made to the team’s offense, including checking out freshman Terrence Mitchell, recruited as a cornerback, at receiver.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, has won two straight and, at 1–0 in Big East play, is setting its sights on a third straight conference title. UC worked all week trying to figure out a ball security problem. It defeated Louisville despite turning the ball over three times. But USF may have a bigger problem to solve. The one area in which the Bearcats are vulnerable is against the pass. They are ranked eighth in the Big East in pass defense. The Bulls, however, are ranked last in pass offense. USF quarterback B.J. Daniels has thrown for 803 yards and four touchdowns, but has tossed a whopping 10 interceptions.
Rutgers at Pittsburgh, Saturday, noon EST
This is expected to be an emotional game for 4–2 Rutgers after Scarlet Knight Eric LeGrand was paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a spinal injury while making a tackle against Army last weekend.
RU true freshman Chas Dodd will again get the call at quarterback, even though season starter Tom Savage is healthy and ready to go. Dodd has led the Knights to two straight wins, including last week’s 23–20 overtime affair against Army. He has a 138.4 passing efficiency rating, while throwing for 755 yards with five TDs and just three interceptions.
Pittsburgh and quarterback Tino Sunseri came alive last week after a disappointing start to the season. The 3–3 Panthers return home to Heinz Field after waxing Syracuse 45–14 in the Carrier Dome. The test here is to see if Sunseri, who had four touchdown passes against SU, can have similar success against the Big East’s No. 2 team in total defense. The Knights have held opponents to an average of 15.3 points and 292.5 yards. RU likes to blitz — it has 23 QB hurries and 33 tackles for a loss — but, oddly, has just five sacks in six games.
On the flip side, Pitt has the league’s No. 2 rush defense. That will make things even more difficult for a struggling Knights offense, which is seventh in the Big East in total offense and eighth in scoring offense.
Syracuse at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST
Pittsburgh was the overwhelming preseason pick to win the Big East, but when the Panthers stumbled out of the gate, West Virginia surged to the top of the league. Now the question is, can the Mountaineers top what Pitt did to Syracuse last week?
The Orange was the league’s biggest surprise, but fell hard to the Panthers by 45–14 at home. The 5–1 Mountaineers have 4–2 SU at home this week and come in boasting the Big East’s top-rated defense across the board.
Much will depend on Orange QB Ryan Nassib, who has fared well for most of the season. He is fourth in total offense in the Big East, averaging 214.2 yards per game. Also, running back Delone Carter, whose NFL draft stock is rising, is averaging 93.7 yards rushing.
WVU sophomore QB Geno Smith, meanwhile, continues to impress. He’s third in the Big East in total offense (232.2 ypg), second in passing (226.3 ypg) and has a 156.7 pass efficiency rating.
About the only question in this one surrounds the health of WVU back Noel Devine and the Mountaineer rushing attack, ranked seventh in the Big East. SU has the league’s fifth-best rush defense.
Connecticut at Louisville, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
These two teams are so similar it’s almost scary. Both enter this Big East matchup 3–3. Both are 0–1 in league play. Both are coming off close conference losses. Connecticut enters with the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense, while Louisville’s is No. 2. The Cardinals’ scoring defense is No. 7 in the league, while UConn’s is No. 8. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why the Huskies are just 2-point favorites.
Charlie Strong, the coach of the host Cardinals, said this week he was trying to adjust his team’s attitude after it seemed content to simply be in the game at halftime of last week’s loss to Cincinnati. In this one, slowing UConn’s Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 3 rusher, would help with that attitude. Todman is averaging 152.2 yards per game. Connecticut’s passing offense is ranked seventh among the Big East’s eight teams.
The Huskies, meanwhile, have their own rushing attack to worry about. Louisville enters with the league’s No. 1 rush offense, led by the nation’s No. 4 rusher in Bilal Powell. He ran for 209 yards against Cincinnati and has 898 on the season with nine touchdowns on 115 carries.