Louisville hosts USF, Pitt visits UConn and more in the Big East.
Pittsburgh at Connecticut, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. EST
Connecticut’s football team showed a little life in its last outing, a 16–13 overtime win against West Virginia. However, if the Huskies don’t defeat Pittsburgh on Saturday, it will be the death of UConn’s longshot Big East title hopes.
After three games, Pitt is the only undefeated team in the league. Connecticut, a preseason dark horse favorite, was anchored in the conference’s cellar until upsetting the Mountaineers and moving to 1–2 in league play. With a win over the Panthers, the Huskies would sit just one game back.
Positive thoughts for UConn fans: The series between the teams is tied at three; the Huskies are 4–0 at home this season; the game is at Rentschler Field.
“Games with Connecticut have been very challenging for us,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt.
Negative thoughts for UConn fans: Pitt boasts the Big East’s No. 1 scoring offense; Connecticut has the league’s No. 7 scoring defense.
Panthers quarterback Tino Sunseri has experienced a rebirth of sorts this season after a shaky start. He’s now completed 65.9 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,672 yards and 12 touchdowns with four picks. On defense, Pitt may experience a rebirth if defensive end Greg Romeus — last season’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year — returns from a back injury. Wannstedt said it would be a game-time decision.
Connecticut will rely on Jordan Todman, the nation’s No. 4 leading rusher, but the key will be the play of quarterback Zach Frazer.
Both teams were idle last week.
Cincinnati at West Virginia, Saturday, noon EST
There are many storylines to this game. Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, for instance, was a wide receivers coach in Morgantown for Rich Rodriguez. Three former Mountaineer players — Jahmile Addae, Brandon Myles and Milo Austin — now help Jones. UC fans are upset that their back-to-back Big East champions are now 3–5 overall and 1–2 in Big East play. WVU fans are ready to run coach Bill Stewart out of the Mountain State because his team is tied for last place in the embattled league.
Perhaps the one area to watch, however, is Cincinnati’s quarterback position. Expected back is Zach Collaros, who missed the Syracuse game with a knee injury. Collaros is leading the Big East in passing and total offense and has thrown 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. If he’s on the field and in mid-season form, UC can give the Mountaineers, ranked No. 1 in the Big East in pass, scoring and total defense, a battle. Cincy leads the league in total offense (425.2 yards average) and ranks second in scoring offense (27.4 point average).
On the flip side, West Virginia’s offense, which has struggled, could get well against Cincinnati’s defense, ranked eighth in the Big East in scoring. The Mountaineers returned a veteran offensive line this season, as well as back Noel Devine, but are ranked No. 7 in scoring offense within the league.
Both teams are on two-game losing streaks.
South Florida at Louisville, Saturday, noon EST
This game should be played at Akron’s old Rubber Bowl, because of the way both teams have bounced back. Louisville, under first-year coach Charlie Strong, is one win away from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007. The Cardinals snapped an 11-game league road losing streak by defeating Syracuse last week. South Florida, under first-year coach Skip Holtz, has won back-to-back league games after an 0–2 start and is tied for third place with, you guessed it, the Cardinals. The Bulls are also a win away from being bowl-eligible.
USF had some minor injuries in its victory over Rutgers, but all dinged players — quarterback B.J. Daniels, backs Demetris Murray and Mo Plancher, lineman Jamar Bass and safety Jerrell Young — are expected to play.
Statistically, Louisville, 5–4, enters the game with the edge. The Cardinals are ranked third in the Big East both in scoring offense and defense, while the Bulls enter fifth in both categories.
Pay close attention, however, to whether Louisville star running back Bilal Powell, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher, and quarterback Adam Froman start. Both missed the Syracuse game because of injury.
Also, as always, check out which Daniels shows up for 5–3 USF. He’s thrown for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns this season. But he’s also thrown 11 interceptions.
Syracuse at Rutgers, Saturday, 3:30 EST
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is the man in his college town. The Orange, a former Big East doormat, need one win in their last three games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004. They have won four road games for the first time since 1996. SU sits in second place within its conference.
Then there’s Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. His program has fallen flat. The Scarlet Knights are coming off back-to-back road losses. They are 1–2 in Big East play and in a four-way tie for last place. In other words, Schiano could sure use a win here.
Rutgers has again listed Chas Dodd as its starting quarterback, but Schiano hasn’t ruled out a return of Tom Savage, the previous face of the program. Dodd has started the last four games after Savage started the first four.
The key, it seems, in this one is for RU to contain Syracuse back Delone Carter, who ranks fourth in the Big East in rushing, averaging 94.8 yards per game. Rutgers, meanwhile, is seventh in the league in rush defense and has allowed five opposing backs to top 100 yards in the past four games.
The Orange boast the Big East’s No. 2 total and scoring defense. Linebacker Derrell Smith is fifth in the conference in tackles with 75.