Syracuse and Pitt have separated themselves in the Big East.
Big East officials annually try to size up the league’s best football teams and match them in late November. This season, for instance, Pittsburgh, the preseason favorite, is scheduled to take on West Virginia and defending champ Cincinnati late in the season. It’s supposed to serve as de facto title games since the conference has no championship.
This season, however, the two best teams might have played back on Oct. 16. Pittsburgh and surprising Syracuse have started to separate themselves from a crowded pack in the race for the BCS berth. The Panthers are now 3–0 in league play, while the Orange are 3–1. No other Big East team has more than one league victory. Pitt, though, has an extra edge because of its 45–14 decision in head-to-head play.
No one, however, around the SU program is complaining. The Orange took its fourth road win of the season last weekend via a 31–7 decision at Cincinnati. After a scoreless first quarter, Syracuse scored 17 points within a 5:03 span of the second period and pulled away in the second half. SU is now 6–2 overall — to the surprise of many. “I can’t even explain it,” said SU safety Max Suter. “It’s just an awesome feeling.”
SU got 109 rushing yards from Delone Carter and a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Ryan Nassib. Much of the story, however, centered on the Orange defense. The Bearcats, now 3–5 overall and 1–2 in league play, entered the game averaging 30.3 points and 446.4 yards, but were held to just seven points and 277 yards.
Pittsburgh, 5–3 overall, also leaned on its defense in a 20–3 win over Louisville at Heinz Field. The Panthers held Louisville to 185 yards total and 5-for-12 on third down conversions. “I think our defense is really clicking right now,” said Pitt safety Dom DeCicco.
Defensive end Jabaal Sheard had a pair of sacks and two forced fumbles.
Meanwhile, in East Hartford, Connecticut coach Randy Edsall got some relief from the heat and West Virginia coach Bill Stewart received another blast of it. The Huskies picked up their first league win of the season Friday by rallying for a 16–13 overtime win against the Mountaineers at Rentschler Field. The game followed UConn’s season-long theme. It is unbeaten in four games at home this season and winless on the road in four opportunities. As with Syracuse and Pitt, defense proved key. The Huskies kept the Mountaineers out of the end zone for the final three quarters and in overtime. Kicker Dave Teggart won the game with his third field goal of the game — a 27-yard kick in overtime — after WVU’s Ryan Clarke fumbled the ball away on the Mountaineers’ possession.
Huskies’ back Jordan Todman had 113 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 33 carries, while previous third-string quarterback Zach Frazer threw for 166 yards.
West Virginia had 414 yards of offense, but fell to 5–3 overall and into last place in league play at 1–2.
Connecticut 16, West Virginia 13 (ot)
Pittsburgh 20, Louisville 3
Syracuse 31, Cincinnati 7
Powell hurts knee
Louisville running back Bilal Powell, the nation’s No. 5 rusher, left the Pitt game with an apparent knee injury and did not return. Nothing appeared to be seriously wrong with the back. That wasn’t the case, however, in regard to the U of L offense, which was held to its lowest scoring and yardage totals of the season.
Huskies on the spot
Connecticut recovered four West Virginia fumbles, none bigger than Lawrence Wilson’s pickup in overtime, when the Mountaineers had first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. WVU fumbled seven times.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said he’s pretty much decided which of his quarterbacks — Chas Dodd or Tom Savage — will start this week against South Florida, but was keeping the decision under wraps for a while. Savage is healthy after healing from injuries to his ribs and throwing hand.
South Florida is expected to be without defensive end Craig Marshall, who has a foot injury, when the Bulls meet Rutgers on Wednesday. Marshall leads USF with four sacks. Junior Patrick Hampton will get the start.
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones had some interesting things to say after his team’s home loss to Syracuse. “There’s a lot of things that people don’t see that go on behind closed doors,” Jones said. “Our big supporters do. They understand where we’re at, but the average Joe Public has no idea.” Cincy played against SU without starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who missed the game with a knee injury. Chazz Anderson threw for 148 yards.
Half of the Big East is off this week. On Wednesday, Rutgers visits South Florida for an ESPN2 game. The only conference game on Saturday has Louisville at Syracuse.