The Big East continues to battle uncertain times, but at least the league as a bona fide race for the title among three ranked teams. No. 16 Louisville, No. 19 Rutgers and No. 25 Cincinnati are all in the AP poll, giving the Big East three ranked teams for the first time since the end of the 2009 season.
There’s still a way to go before the Big East approaches the notoriety of past seasons -- the final 2009 poll included two Big East teams in the top 15, where this week’s poll includes none -- but three undefeated teams is a start.
None of the three teams will face each other until late October, so there’s room for all three to build up their records and national reputations before a critical final month of conference play.
Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville --It’s going to be difficult to knock Bridgewater off his perch, but others are gaining. The Cardinals quarterback will try to overcome his last two shaky starts on the road against Pittsburgh this week.
2. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers --Jamison’s sixth consecutive 100-yard game wasn’t the most flashy, but it may have been among the most impressive. Jamison rushed for 110 yards against a top-10 run defense and a Big East Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Yawin Smallwood.
3. Gary Nova, Rutgers -- After two standout games against USF and Arkansas, Nova had a workman-like effort against Connecticut. Nova was 18 of 27 for 157 yards with a touchdown. Nova threw two interceptions against Tulane and Howard but none since.
Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Khaseem Greene, Rutgers -- The defending Co-Defensive Player of the Year jumps into the top spot after eight tackles, three quarterback hurries and an interception returned for 33 yards against Connecticut. Rutgers held UConn to 53 rushing yards.
2. Camerron Cheatham, Cincinnati -- Cheatham’s 68-yard interception returned for a touchdown swung the momentum into Cincinnati’s favor in the rout against Miami (Ohio). It was his second interception in two weeks.
3. Walter Stewart, Cincinnati -- Stewart had one tackle for a loss against Miami (Ohio), but the Bearcats defensive end remains among the league leaders in sacks (three) and tackles for a loss (six).
Coach of the Year Standings
1. Butch Jones, Cincinnati -- Big East play for Cincinnati won’t resume until Oct. 26 against Louisville, but Jones has his team ready. The Bearcats are in the top three in the Big East in total offense, scoring offense and scoring defense.
2. Kyle Flood, Rutgers -- The Scarlet Knights’ defense is doing just fine without Greg Schiano calling the shots, a credit to new defensive coordinator Robb Smith. The offense is also enjoying a stability it hasn’t seen in several seasons. Credit quarterback Gary Nova limiting mistakes and improved play from the offensive line.
3. Charlie Strong, Louisville -- The Cardinals fought through some adversity in the last three games to get to 3-0, but the big tests begin in October when Louisville faces Cincinnati.
Big East Post-Week 6 Power Rankings
1. Louisville (5-0, 0-0)
Last week’s rank: 1
Week 6 result: Off
After an off week, Louisville will look to regroup after three consecutive close calls against North Carolina, FIU and Southern Miss. This week’s trip to Pittsburgh will be the Cards’ third road game in a row, but who knows what team Louisville will encounter at Heinz Field. Pitt has been good enough to rout Virginia Tech, but the Panthers are 0-2 in the Big East. Moreover, coach Charlie Strong is battling the requisite coaching carousel questions that plague every successful Big East coach.
This week: at Pittsburgh
2. Rutgers (5-0, 2-0)
Last week’s rank: 2
Week 6 result: Beat Connecticut 19-3
Off to its best start since 2006, Rutgers’ schedule may set up for another banner year with late-season intrigue. The Scarlet Knights’ next two games are against a pair of teams -- Syracuse and Temple -- that just won their Big East openers, but the season-defining games for Rutgers may come on Nov. 17 (at Cincinnati) and Nov. 29 (Louisville). Against Connecticut on Saturday, the Rutgers offense did enough to win while the defense bewildered the Huskies in the passing game and run game. Rutgers limited UConn to 1.9 yards per carry and intercepted Chandler Whitmer four times -- two stats that are setting the tone for Rutgers this season. Rutgers is second in the nation in rush defense at 60.6 yards allowed and is tied for second with 10 picks this season.
This week: Syracuse
3. Cincinnati (4-0, 1-0)
Last week’s rank: 3
Week 6 result: Beat Miami (Ohio) 52-14
The Big East takes its lumps, but any team from a non-automatic qualifying conference would jump at the chance to join. Case in point: Cincinnati’s dominance of the rivalry with Miami (Ohio). The Bearcats have won seven in a row over its MAC rival since their second season in the Big East, winning by an average of 29.6 points per game. It’s the longest winning streak by either team in the series, in which Miami had a 58-44-7 edge before Cincinnati joined the Big East. The Bearcats enjoyed their highest scoring game of the season thanks to an interception return for a touchdown from Camerron Cheatham and 189 combined yards on returns (114 on three interceptions, 75 on two kickoffs).
This week: Fordham
4. Syracuse (2-3, 1-0)
Last week’s rank: 7
Week 6 result: Beat Pittsburgh 14-13
Syracuse ended its eight-game losing streak to FBS opponents with an unexpected victory over a hot Pittsburgh team. With a road trip to Rutgers upcoming, the Orange will find out in short order whether it has turned a corner or if this win was a fluke similar to its last FBS win, a 49-23 victory over West Virginia on Oct. 21. After hard-fought losses to Northwestern and USC and a turnover-filled defeat to Minnesota, Syracuse finally caught a break with Dyshawn Davis’ 52-yard fumble returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, which turned out to be the game-winning score. Defensive end Brandon Sharpe (four sacks) led a dominant effort up front that sacked Tino Sunseri five times and held Pitt to 27 rushing yards.
This week: at Rutgers
5. Pittsburgh (2-3, 0-2)
Last week’s rank: 4
Week 6 result: Lost to Syracuse 14-13
Forget that defeating Virginia Tech might not be something to brag about this season, but what happened to the Pitt team that overwhelmed the Hokies two weeks ago? Pitt’s defense regrouped after allowing a scoring drive early in the first quarter, but the offense regressed, squandering scoring chances late in the game. The Panthers drove deep into Syracuse territory twice in the fourth quarter only to have penalties and sacks push the Panthers out of field goal range. Tino Sunseri was sacked five times and the running back duo of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell combined for only 59 yards and 2.4 yards per carry.
This week: Louisville
6. Connecticut (3-3, 0-1)
Last week’s rank: 6
Week 6 result: Lost to Rutgers 19-3
The Huskies’ defense did enough to win through the first half against Rutgers, limiting the Scarlet Knights to two field goals by halftime, but the D couldn’t overcome another rough day by the Huskies’ offense. Rutgers’ two field goals were all the Scarlet Knights needed to win. Chandler Whitmer’s four interceptions (10 for the season) are ugly, but the last two occurred on desperation attempts late in the fourth quarter. Just as alarming is UConn’s Big East-worst run game. Not helping matters was Lyle McCombs missing the first quarter as punishment for an arrest stemming from an altercation with his girlfriend. UConn has failed to win consecutive games in a year and a half under Paul Pasqualoni.
This week: Temple
7. Temple (2-2, 0-1)
Last week’s rank: 8
Week 6 result: Beat USF 37-28
Temple’s return to the Big East is already going better than its departure as the Owls won their first conference game as a Big East member since 2004. Temple got its most complete game of the season out of its backfield despite the game-ending ankle injury to Matt Brown (he’s expected to return against UConn). Montel Harris rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and Chris Coyer completed 16 of 20 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown. But the key was defense and special teams late. USF advanced to the Temple 23 before the Owls’ defense pushed Demetris Murray back five yards. The ensuing 45-yard field goal attempt, which would have put USF up by 1, was blocked and returned for a touchdown.
This week: at Connecticut
8. USF (2-4, 0-2)
Last week’s rank: 5
Week 6 result: Lost to Temple 37-28
What has gone wrong at USF? USF is 1-8 in the Big East since the start of 2011 thanks to fourth quarter woes that have continued into their second year. On Saturday, USF narrowed Temple’s lead to 2 points in the final 5:19 before a blocked field goal and a touchdown on the Bulls’ next possession ended USF’s comeback bid for good. Despite ample talent on that side of the ball, USF is seventh or eighth in the Big East in the major defensive categories. The Bulls are also the only team in the country without an interception. Good news: USF will have an off week to recover from four consecutive losses. Bad news: USF’s next game is at Louisville.
This week: Off
By David Fox
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