Here’s the good news for the Big East for the second half of the season: The league has three nationally ranked, undefeated teams in Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati who will all face each other in the final month. For a conference struggling for national relevance, this round robin will be a breath of fresh air.
Here’s the bad news: With apologies to Temple, those three are about all there is in this top-heavy league. Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and USF all have losing records and are facing must-win situations in the coming weeks if any are going to reach the postseason.
Other Week 8 Previews and Predictions
Big East’s top Storylines to Watch in Week 8:
How will Cincinnati’s defense handle the Toledo passing game?
Butch Jones wasn’t completely pleased with his defense after the 49-17 win over Fordham. That’s probably because he knew of the test coming up against Toledo, which may have the best passing game Cincinnati has seen so far this season. Since a season-opening loss at Arizona, the Rockets have completed at least 60 percent of their passes in each game while totaling 1,802 yards in the last six games. Cincinnati gets veteran safety Drew Frey back from injury, so that should boost a unit looking to gain momentum before a critical matchup against Louisville and Teddy Bridgewater in two weeks.
Will Charlie Strong’s fire-and-brimstone pep talk last into another week?
The Louisville coach lit into his team at halftime last week against Pittsburgh, leading to a 21-0 explosion in the third quarter. The Cardinals still allowed Pittsburgh to tack on two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 45-35 final score, but Strong knew his team needed a kick in the pants. Louisville hasn’t had a beginning-to-end consistent effort since a win over Missouri State in the second week of the season. With Rutgers and Cincinnati challenging for the Big East title, that needs to change in a hurry. Will the intensity level carry over against struggling USF?
Will Temple be the first team to crack the Rutgers run defense?
Rutgers is second only to Alabama in run defense, allowing 60.8 yards per game on the ground. Temple is as good a candidate as any to test the Scarlet Knights’ front seven. The Owls have rushed for 418 yards and five touchdowns in their 2-0 start in the Big East. Montel Harris ran for 142 yards and a touchdown against Connecticut, the league’s No. 2 run defense. Adding to the test for Rutgers’ defense could be the return of Temple’s 1B running back Matt Brown, who is day-to-day with an ankle injury.
Is it time to start considering Khaseem Greene for national awards?
Any Big East player is going to fight an uphill battle to pry national defensive awards away from Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o or a handful of players from the SEC, but Greene is making a case to be a finalist for the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi awards. A week ago, Greene had a singular defensive performance last week with 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception against Syracuse. He’ll have another chance to shine against the Temple run game.
Who comes up with a victory in a must-win game in the Pasqualoni Bowl?
Paul Pasqualoni will coach his first game in the Carrier Dome since he was ushered out of the Syracuse job in 2004. Those were better days for both Syracuse and Pasqauloni, who won 107 games with the Orange from 1991-2004. Any nostalgia will need to be pushed aside of either Syracuse (2-4) or Connecticut (3-4) are going to save their seasons. The two teams have opposite problems -- Syracuse with its Big East-leading pass game but struggling run game and defense and UConn with its stifling run defense and and offense that’s as bad as it’s been since the Huskies moved up to FBS. Of the league’s bottom four teams, Pittsburgh’s second-half schedule is the most friendly to a bowl trip. If the Panthers defeat Buffalo this week, then Temple, Connecticut and USF, they’ll be at six wins without needing an upset over Notre Dame or Rutgers.
How will Paul Chryst juggle his running backs?
With a backfield of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, it seems a crime for Pittsburgh to be 85th in the nation in rushing. But Pitt is finally getting the two of them healthy at the same time. Buffalo this week could give Pitt a chance to give both plenty of work. Chryst has worked with productive running back tandems over his time at Wisconsin, but it remains interesting how he’s going to rotate the veteran Graham with the freshman Shell over the second half of the season.
Does USF have anything in the tank for Louisville?
Things are looking bleak for USF after a four-game losing streak, which has included losses to Ball State and Temple. The Bulls rank no better than third in the Big East in any major category and rank last in scoring defense and rush defense. The struggles on both sides of the ball prompted Skip Holtz to shuffle his depth chart during the off week, but it remains to be seen if it will have ay major impact one the road against Louisville. After this week, USF has home games against Syracuse and Connecticut. Holtz may need to start picking up wins or see the coaching staff shuffled.
Week 8 Big East Predictions:
Week 8 Big East Games
Connecticut at Syracuse (-4.5)
Rutgers (-5.5) at Temple
USF at Louisville (-6.5)
Pittsburgh (-11) at Buffalo
Cincinnati (-6.5) at Toledo
by David Fox
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