Oddly enough, Big East play begins in earnest Friday when the two outgoing teams, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, face off in the Carrier Dome.
Thanks to some key non-conference games and the two Big East games in the month of September, the league has a pretty good idea of its top contenders (Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers), but conference play gives other teams a chance to reboot their seasons, perhaps as soon as this week.
Other Week 6 Previews and Predictions
Big East’s top Storylines to Watch in Week 6:
What does the return of Justin Pugh mean to Syracuse?
Syracuse is 1-3 in part because of a tough schedule featuring Northwestern, USC and Minnesota, with only the game against the Wildcats occurring in the Carrier Dome. But the Orange hasn’t helped its cause in a few areas. In the Big East, only USF has more turnovers (12) than Syracuse (10). Only Rutgers has committed more penalties per game than the Orange (8.8). The return of All-Big East left tackle Justin Pugh, who hasn’t seen the field since a shoulder injury in the spring, could stabilize the offensive line. Even without Pugh, Syracuse allowed only six sacks in four games. But the line will be tweaked anyway with Sean Hickey moving back to right tackle after holding down Pugh’s spot on the left side. Syracuse also may make a change at right guard with Rob Trudo taking over on the first team.
Will Pittsburgh’s success defending on third down continue against Ryan Nassib?
Pitt has improved each game defending third down, from allowing 11 of 16 third down conversions against Youngstown State to 4 of 13 against Gardner-Webb. Pitt may have been at its best in the upset over Virginia Tech. The Hokies converted only 5 of 13 third downs as the Panthers defense produced two sacks and an interception on third down. Here comes Syracuse, which is second in the league in converting third downs, though the Orange were a mere 4 of 13 last week against Minnesota. With Ryan Nassib and Marcus Sales, Syracuse will present a tough test in the passing game for the Pittsburgh defense.
How does Jawan Jamison match up with Connecticut’s run defense?
Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison has topped 100 rushing yards in each game this season, but this week’s opponent Connecticut will be the top defense Jamison has seen this season. Jamison has faced Tulane (118th in rush defense), USF (71st) and Arkansas (67th) in addition to Howard (48th in rush defense in the FCS). Connecticut’s run defense is among the best in the Big East, second only to Rutgers. Two weeks removed from 74 carries in two games, Jamison will be matched up against a linebacker corps led by conference defensive player of the year contender Yawin Smallwood. A year ago, Smallwood and the Huskies dominated the Rutgers run game. The Scarlet Knights rushed for minus-9 yards, and Jamison had only 19 yards in UConn’s 40-22 win in 2011.
Will Connecticut continue to reap the rewards of improved offensive line play?
UConn is last in the Big East in rushing and sacks allowed, but the Huskies enjoyed improved offensive line play last week against Buffalo. Whether that was the product of playing Buffalo or true improvement, UConn will find out this week. UConn will have the benefit of facing a wounded Rutgers defensive line with starting nose tackle Ike Holmes out for the season with a wrist injury.
Can Munchie Legaux improve consistency to become a Big East star?
Legaux appears to have a bright future as a playmaker in the Big East. He passed for 376 yards and led a game-winning drive last week against Virginia Tech, and he broke off a 77-yard run in the opener against Pittsburgh. But there remain some clear areas to refine. Take out the win over Delaware State, and Legaux is completing fewer than half of his passes this season (33 of 70). He’s also thrown three interceptions in three games this season. This week’s rivalry game against Miami (Ohio) should give him a chance to build on his early successes this season.
Where has Andre Davis gone?
USF receiver Andre Davis appeared to be one of the Big East’s breakout players after catching 12 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns in the comeback win over Nevada and then eight catches for 84 yards despite a loss to Rutgers. Since then, he’s all but disappeared. Davis had one catch for three yards against Florida State, though the Seminoles’ defense is better than anything the Bulls will see for the rest of the season. USF needs players like Davis to contribute more consistently if it’s going to end a 1-9 slide against major conference teams dating back to the win over Notre Dame to open 2011.
Temple’s back in the Big East. Has anything changed?
Temple’s first Big East game since 2004 is against a team (USF) that wasn’t even in the league during the Owls’ last run-through. That’s fitting, since Temple’s last three Big East games in ’04 were against teams that have left (Boston College and West Virginia) or will leave (Syracuse). The Owls went 10-37 in the Big East in their final seven seasons in the league before rebuilding under Al Golden in the MAC. Temple will find out quickly if its standing in the league has improved among the new membership. The Owls open their Big East schedule against two of the league’s weaker teams -- USF and Connecticut.
Week 6 Big East Predictions:
Week 6 Big East Games
Pittsburgh (-2) at Syracuse
Connecticut at Rutgers (-7.5)
USF (-5) at Temple
Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati (-20.5)
by David Fox
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