The Big East’s first Thursday night primetime game was a dud. Or, rather, a dud for everyone but Cincinnati. This week could present more compelling television with two of the league’s top contenders facing each other in Tampa.
Rutgers has won five of seven meetings since both have been in the Big East, but USF arguably has been the more impressive team this season. The Bulls defeated Mountain West contender Nevada in Reno last week while Rutgers has limped at times against Tulane and Howard. In any event, the winner will have a leg up in challenging Louisville (and perhaps Cincinnati?) for the Big East title.
Big East’s Top Storylines to Watch in Week 3
What does the win at Nevada mean for USF’s fourth-quarter woes?
In USF’s last five Big East losses quarter, the Bulls led in the fourth quarter -- a streak that doesn’t include being tied 3-3 in the fourth quarter in a loss to Miami. Could USF’s fourth-quarter heroics be the turning point USF needed to contend in for a Big East title? Plenty had to go right for USF on Saturday. First, the Bulls needed to overcome a 21-6 first-quarter deficit, then the injuries to cornerback Kayvon Webster (who’s hopeful to return this week) and wide receiver Sterling Griffin (who’s out for the season). USF forced a fumble for a turnover and later held Nevada to a field goal despite the Wolf Pack advancing to the 9. Then, the Bulls used two 50-yard touchdown passes in the final three minutes to win. USF will find out soon enough if the late win was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
When will we see the best out of Gary Nova?
Nova’s performance against USF last season (11 of 24, 110 yards) and the seven interceptions in the preceding three games briefly ended his tenure as Rutgers’ starting quarterback. The Scarlet Knights have not shown any indication Nova will be pulled after he won a close competition with Chas Dodd during the offseason, but the Scarlet Knights have to wonder if he’ll break out. Nova is 26 of 47 this season for 288 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions against Tulane and Howard. The receiving corps is still finding its way without Mohamed Sanu, but improved consistency will help.
How will USF’s Andre Davis take on the Rutgers’ secondary and cornerback Logan Ryan?
With Sterling Griffin shut down for the remainder of the season, USF is looking for a new No. 1 target. Quarterback B.J. Daniels had little trouble finding him against Nevada as Andre Davis caught 12 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. No other USF receiver caught more than two passes in Reno. Davis scored the game-winning 56-yard touchdown through pass interference on a deep pass play. And earlier, Davis broke a tackle on a short pass to score at 51-yard touchdown. This week, he’ll take on the best secondary in the Big East. Logan Ryan anchored a defensive backfield that finished fifth nationally in pass efficiency defense last season. Meanwhile, fellow cornerback Brandon Jones has emerged early this season, providing a pick six against Tulane in the opener. Davis, a virtual unknown this time a week ago, has a major challenge ahead of him.
How is Ray Graham’s knee holding up?
Pittsburgh has a handful off issues on both sides of the ball as evidenced by losing to Youngstown State and Pittsburgh by a combined score of 65-27. One key question is the health of Graham’s knee. He rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries and caught four passes for 51 yards against Cincinnati. Moreover, he appeared to grow more confident on his rebuilt knee as the game went on. He may need time to return to the All-America-type running back he was through the first half of 2011, but Pittsburgh will take any sign of optimism. Virginia Tech is allowing opponents to rush for 3.7 yards per carry.
How will Pitt’s defenseget pressure on Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offensive line?
The Panthers have only one sack (on 52 pass attempts) and seven tackles for a loss this season, both ranking Pitt among the bottom 15 in the country. For a team that has been in the top three of the Big East in sacks in each of the last four seasons -- and has a premier defensive lineman in Aaron Donald -- the paltry numbers have been a surprise.
How will the Louisville defense handle a faster and more talented no-huddle offense?
North Carolina wants to run its offense at a high pace, as Southern Miss did under Larry Fedora. The Tar Heels aren’t quite there, but they ran 74 plays against Elon and 82 last week against Wake Forest. The Cardinals’ first two opponents ran 70 plays (Kentucky) and 52 (Southeast Missouri State). Beyond the no-huddle approach, North Carolina will have the best personnel on offense Louisville has faced this season, especially if quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard are at their best.
Will Connecticut find a combination that works on the offensive line?
The Huskies’ offense can’t get out of its own way, literally, at times. Twice against NC State, an offensive lineman stepped on the foot of quarterback Chandler Whitmer, coach Paul Pasqualoni said. Add to that two false starts on first down and 1.1 yards per carry, and the offensive miscues quickly overshadow the standout play of the UConn defense. The Huskies have tried different combinations on the line and may continue to do so against Maryland.
How is morale at Syracuse?
The Orange battled back from a three-touchdown deficit against Northwestern only to lose in the final minute. A week later, Syracuse remained competitive with USC for the first three quarters. In other words, it’s been a hard fought 0-2 start. Syracuse faces an FCS program Saturday, though it’s 2-0 Stony Brook. This season in particular has shown FBS vs. FCS aren’t automatic wins, but Syracuse should win unless something goes terribly wrong. Only a year ago, Syracuse responded to back-to-back overtime games (a win over Toledo and a loss to Rutgers) with a subpar effort at Tulane. Time to see if Syracuse has the mental fortitude to take care of business against an overmatched opponent.
Have we seen only the beginning from and Munchie Legaux and Ralph David Abernathy IV?
Pittsburgh’s defense is struggling now, but Cincinnati easily pounced on the vulnerable Panthers. The question is if Legaux and Abernathy will continue their breakout performances across the Big East season. Legaux was 14 of 28 for 205 yards with two touchdowns against Pitt in addition to rushing for 117 yards on six carries. After serving as a kick returner, Abernathy has the look of a multi-faceted offensive threat. A warmup against Delaware State could give them both more chances to shine before facing Virginia Tech on Sept. 29.
Rutgers (-7.5) at USF
Va. Tech (+10) at Pitt
Va. Tech 42-21
Va. Tech 42-21
Va. Tech 42-21
Va. Tech 27-14
Connecticut (+3) at Maryland
N. Carolina (-3) at Louisville
Stony Brook (off) at Syracuse
Delaware St. (off) at Cincinnati
Year To Date
By David Fox
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