National recognition for the Big East is starting to make a comeback -- if incrementally and only for the top three teams in the league.
The Big East nearly placed three teams in the Associated Press top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2009 season, but Cincinnati remained on the outside looking in despite Saturday’s victory over Virginia Tech. The Bearcats were the first team listed among teams also receiving votes, 50 points behind No. 25 UCLA. Louisville was ranked 19th, and Rutgers was ranked 22nd.
At least there’s intrigue at the top. Teams like Syracuse, Temple, Connecticut and USF will hope the start of Big East play this week will reboot their seasons.
Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville --May as well disregard Saturday’s game at Southern Miss due to the awful conditions. With a waterlogged turf in Hattiesburg, both teams all but abandoned the pass. Bridgewater finished 9 of 13 for 85 yards with a touchdown and an interception as running back Senorise Perry became the Cardinals’ Offensive MVP of the day.
2. Gary Nova, Rutgers --Nova had an 11-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season. This season, Nova has nine touchdowns and two interceptions. In facing Connecticut on Saturday, Rutgers will face the only team that beat the Scarlet Knights in the final five games.
3. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers -- The Scarlet Knights tailback leads the Big East in rushing (122.8 yards per game), but he’ll face the nation’s No. 6 run defense in Connecticut this week.
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut -- The Big East’s leading tackler had 11 stops against Buffalo, including a stop on Bulls quarterback Alex Zordich two yards short of a first down on Buffalo’s final offensive play of the game.
2. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers -- Only Smallwood has better than Greene’s 10.3 tackles per game. He’s one of three in the Big East to average double-figure tackles per game.
3. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati -- The senior defensive end had six tackles, a sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss against Virginia Tech, giving him three sacks and five tackles for a loss in three games this season.
Coach of the Year Standings
1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati -- The Bearcats showed resilience in the 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies twice took a lead in the fourth quarter only to have the Bearcats answer back with the final response a 39-yard touchdown pass from Munchie Legaux in the final 13 seconds. Projected to be in the Big East’s second tier, Cincinnati is a clear title contender.
2. Kyle Flood, Rutgers -- Remember that top 25 recruiting class Flood signed back in February? He plans to redshirt all but three freshmen from the class.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville -- This has been a strange two-game road swing for the Cardinals with one more away game (Pittsburgh on Oct. 13) to finish this stretch. Against FIU, both coaching staffs were forced to coach from the field only rather than the press box. And against Southern Miss, a puddle-filled turf complicated a 21-17 win. At least the Cardinals bounced back to salvage a win. Louisville trailed 17-6 in the first half and didn’t take a lead until the final 5:35 of the game.
Big East Post-Week 5 Power Rankings
1. Louisville (5-0, 0-0)
Last week’s rank: 1
Week 5 result: Beat Southern Miss 21-17
What appeared to be an easy road trip against a winless Southern Miss team turned out to be a sloppy mess of a game through standing water. Regardless of the conditions, Louisville looked nothing like a team prepared to dominate an overmatched opponent. At least Senorise Perry saved the day with 118 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Jeremy Wright added 84 yards. This might be a good time of an off week after the Cardinals spent the last 10 quarters struggling against North Carolina, FIU and Southern Miss.
This week: Off
2. Rutgers (4-0, 1-0)
Last week’s rank: 2
Week 5 result: Off
Rutgers was one of four Big East teams with an open date last week. The Scarlet Knights open Week 6 as the national leader in rush defense, allowing only 62.5 yards on the ground per game. Rutgers is one of six teams that has allowed one or fewer rushing touchdowns (Notre Dame has allowed none). Unless Lyle McCombs and the UConn offensive turn things around in a hurry, Rutgers hold its fifth opponent of the season to fewer than 100 yards on the ground.
This week: Connecticut
3. Cincinnati (3-0, 1-0)
Last week’s rank: 3
Week 5 result: Beat Virginia Tech 27-24
Though Cincinnati won’t play another conference game until Oct. 26, it could be one of the key games for the Big East title. The Bearcats face Miami (Ohio), Fordham and Toledo before visiting Louisville in the final week of October. That’s probably not bad news because Cincinnati has areas to refine despite the 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. Quarterback Munchie Legaux can be explosive at times, and he does a good job of finding players in space. But he was only 19 of 42 through the air including an interception. Legaux has seven interceptions in his seven games as Cincinnati’s primary quarterback, dating to the West Virginia loss late last season. If Legaux improves his consistency, he could contend for Big East Offensive Player of the Year.
This week: Miami (Ohio)
4. Pittsburgh (2-2, 0-1)
Last week’s rank: 5
Week 5 result: Off
Where to start with Pitt’s turnaround: After allowing Youngstown State to rush for a combined 463 yards, the Panthers held Virginia Tech and Gardner-Webb to 91 total. On offense, quarterback Tino Sunseri enjoyed his finest two game stretch since midway through the 2010 season. The Panthers run game also produced its first back-to-back 200-yard rushing games since the final two games of the 2010 season.
This week: at Syracuse (Friday)
5. USF (2-3, 0-1)
Last week’s rank: 4
Week 5 result: Lost to Florida State 30-17
After USF’s back-to-back losses to Rutgers and Ball State plus Florida State’s dominance, this in-state meeting had the look of a lopsided effort against USF. The Bulls, though, kept the game competitive until the third quarter when the USF offense went cold. In years past, the Bulls have been more likely to start a season hot before fading in the conference season, but USF finished September with a losing record for the first time since 1997.
This week: at Temple
6. Connecticut (3-2, 0-0)
Last week’s rank: 6
Week 5 result: Beat Buffalo 24-17
After losing to Western Michigan a week ago, Connecticut’s probably not in a position to take anything for granted, but the Huskies did so against Buffalo. UConn took a 24-7 lead in the third quarter but allowed Buffalo to narrow the deficit to within a touchdown. The Bulls go the ball back with 1:27 before they were turned away by the UConn defense. UConn is finally starting to get competent quarterback play thanks to Chandler Whitmer, but the run game is the worst in the Big East.
This week: at Rutgers
7. Syracuse (1-3, 0-0)
Last week’s rank: 7
Week 5 result: Off
Since Syracuse upset West Virginia 49-23 on Oct. 21 last season, the Orange are 1-8 with the win coming against Stony Brook earlier this season. After challenging itself with a nonconference schedule including still-undefeated Northwestern, USC in East Rutherford, N.J., and Minnesota on the road, Syracuse will try to recover as conference play begins this week -- before another tough non-conference game at Missouri on Nov. 17.
This week: Pittsburgh (Friday)
8. Temple (1-2, 0-0)
Last week’s rank: 8
Week 5 result: Off
Temple will play its first game as a Big East member since the finale of the 2004 season. The Owls program is in better shape than the one that went 3-20 overall and 1-12 in the conference in its final two years in the Big East, but it remains to be see how well Temple will be able to compete in its first year back. Temple is last in the league in total offense and total defense.
This week: USF
By David Fox
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