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Big East Weekend Preview

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West Virginia at Marshall

Friday, 7 p.m. EST

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart is somewhat on the hot seat in Morgantown. Marshall’s new coach, Doc Holliday, was Stewart’s highest-paid assistant and recruiting coordinator last year. Now, he’s the Golden Boy in southeast West Virginia. Ticket sales at MU have gone up. Ticket sales at WVU have gone down.

The crowd in Huntington will be sky-high for a rare visit from the Mountaineers. The problem for Holliday and that crowd is that Stewart still has the MU coach’s former recruits and a Top 25 team. MU is still trying to climb the Conference USA ladder and is coming off a 45–7 shellacking at the hands of Ohio State.

The Thundering Herd, which has yet to defeat West Virginia in nine tries, does have talent. Mario Harvey is one of the nation’s fastest weak-side linebackers. Tight end Lee Smith, 6-6, is a load. Also, quarterback Brian Anderson has a nice stable of receivers.

However, WVU, fresh off a 31–0 win over Coastal Carolina, has more talent on paper. The Mountaineer offensive line has been more successful than its counterpart. Quarterback Geno Smith and tailback Noel Devine lead a potent offensive attack. And the West Virginia defense looked very sharp in hanging a donut on Coastal.

Indiana State at Cincinnati

Saturday, noon EST

Indiana State may be exactly the cure for what suddenly ails Cincinnati. With new coach Butch Jones in control, the Bearcats allowed their 18-game regular season winning streak to end at Fresno State.

UC not only lost the game, but also promising wideout Vidal Hazelton, a USC transfer who tore his ACL on a kickoff return. He’s lost for the season. Jones, though, has the luxury of moving Marcus Barnett, a 2007 second-team all-Big East selection, into Hazelton’s outside spot.

Cincy has much to work on, including protection for QB Zach Collaros, who was sacked a stunning eight times against Fresno. But Indiana State shouldn’t provide much of a threat. True, the Sycamores drubbed Saint Joseph’s, Ind., 57–7, in their first game. But St. Joseph’s is a Division II team. And Indiana State lost 33 straight games until an Oct. 24, 2009, victory against Western Illinois.

Texas Southern at Connecticut

Saturday, noon EST

The tone couldn’t be more different between Connecticut’s opening 30–10 loss at Michigan and this home game against Texas Southern.

In Ann Arbor, the Huskies faced a hungry Big Ten team in front of 113,090 fans, the largest gathering in the history of college football. This Saturday, they will face a Southwestern Athletic Conference team at home in 40,000-seat Rentschler Stadium.

The biggest question heading into the game is the health of standout Connecticut linebacker Scott Lutrus. Huskies coach Randy Edsall said he would wait until Thursday to reveal the situation.

Texas Southern opened the season with a 16–14 loss to Prairie View A&M in the State Farm Labor Day Classic in front of 22,062 at Reliant Stadium in Houston. QB Arvell Nelson completed but 21-of-40 passes in the loss.

South Florida at Florida

Saturday, 12:20 p.m. EST

South Florida coach Skip Holtz summed up how big Saturday’s game at Florida is in two short sentences this week: “Well, it’s here.” And ... “It’s huge for us.”

USF took care of business last week after a slow start by downing Stony Brook 59–14 in Tampa. But the Bulls’ thoughts had to drift to this game at The Swamp. “It’s been talked about since I got here,” Holtz said. “As a young program, we haven’t been there yet. We won at Florida State last year, but Florida has been the program in the state that’s been most dominant of late. I’m sure the emails and text messages have been flying this week.”

Now the task is for USF QB B.J. Daniels to duplicate his performance of last season in Tallahassee. Last week, he threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns. But this is a totally different scenario. Florida is an SEC Top 10 team at home. And one that crushed Big East champ Cincinnati by 51–24 in the Sugar Bowl.

The question is, are the Bulls catching the Gators at a good time? Florida struggled with themselves and Miami (Ohio) last week before prevailing 34–12. Quarterback John Brantley and center Mike Pouncey spent much of this week working on errant snaps after a shaky performance. Coach Urban Meyer said ball security was a primary focus.

The Gator defense was strong, but the offense managed an uncharacteristically low 212 yards and fumbled eight times.

New Hampshire at Pittsburgh

Saturday, 1 p.m. EST

So much for preseason hype. Pittsburgh found itself ranked No. 15 in both major polls heading into the season. It enters this home game outside the Top 25 after one loss, a 27–24 overtime loss at Utah.

This week, Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt said most of the mistakes made against the Utes were correctable, citing miscommunication and inexperience. First-time starting quarterback Tino Sunseri was 16-of-28 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Pitt should win Saturday. In regard to FCS teams, however, New Hampshire is no chip-shot. The Wildcats are ranked No. 5 in the subdivision’s coaches poll after a 33–3 win against Central Connecticut State. They have had four 10-win seasons in the last six years, including back-to-back 10–3 seasons in 2008 and 2009.

Eastern Kentucky at Louisville

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST

Saturday’s game between these teams marks the 26th meeting in a series that dates back to 1927, but the first since 1991. It couldn’t come at a better time for new Louisville coach Charlie Strong.

The rebuilding Cardinals gave intrastate rival Kentucky a battle in Strong’s first U of L game, but fell 23–16 in front of a record crowd of 55,327 at the newly expanded Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. There were five dropped passes, though, and promising wide receiver Josh Bellamy, a junior college transfer, suffered a concussion. Backup Troy Pascley suffered a knee injury.

Eastern Kentucky, however, had a rougher time, losing 31–9 to Missouri State. And the misery lasted two days for the Colonels because the game was delayed, then finished a day later because of lightning. Last season, EKU was 5–6.

Syracuse at Washington

Saturday, 4 p.m. PT

In what turned out to be a week of missed opportunities for Big East teams, Syracuse’s solid 29–3 road win over Akron proved the best victory the league had to offer. Can the Orange turn the trick again?

It won’t be easy. SU was picked in the Big East’s preseason poll to finish near the bottom of the league. Washington was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10. And while the Orange has shown improvement, so too have the Huskies, who went from 0–12 in 2008 to 5–7 in 2009.

Also, as Syracuse coach Doug Marrone noted, the game is in Seattle. “It’s a greater challenge,” Marrone said. “(Washington is) coming off a tough loss to BYU, but it’s their opening home game. And we’re 1–11–1 going West since 1964. We haven’t fared well out there.”

SU quarterback Ryan Nasib was named the Big East offensive player of the week after completing 17-of-27 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns against the Zips. He also ran for 58 yards on nine carries.

Washington, though, boasts Heisman Trophy candidate Jake Locker at QB. He was 20-for-37 for 266 yards and a score in the 23–17 loss to BYU. Running back Chris Polk ran for 92 yards on 16 carries.

Rutgers at Florida International

Saturday, 8 p.m. EST

Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano once hired Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal as a Scarlet Knights assistant from 2001-03. Schiano said this week he considers Cristobal “a good friend and excellent football coach.” One, however, he hopes to defeat in a more comfortable manner than his team’s 31–0 victory over Norfolk State.

Against Norfolk, RU held but a 6–0 lead at the half. QB Tom Savage hit just 10-of-19 passes for 148 yards. He’ll hit Miami, Fla., and FIU Stadium for what is being billed as the biggest home game in the Panther program’s brief history.

Still, RU, behind back Joe Martinek, should win. The Golden Panthers were 3–9 last season. They’ve won nine games in the last three years after going 0–12 in 2006.