Are the Cardinals still the best team in the Big East?
Through the first four weeks of the season, it seems clear Louisville and Rutgers are the top two teams in the Big East. The Cardinals were picked by many to win the league in the preseason, but have opinions changed after watching Rutgers this year?
Louisville or Rutgers: Which team is the best in the Big East?
Coach Dick MacPherson, former head coach of the Syracuse Orange, and current voting member of the Legends Poll:
Rutgers is a big surprise. They had their coach leave for the NFL and brought in a new coaching staff there this year. They are playing really well and had a big win at Arkansas this past weekend. This is the best looking Rutgers team in a long time. That being said, I would still pick Louisville to be the team to win the Big East. I have the Cardinals ranked No. 16 in our Legends Poll. I really like Coach Strong and the staff he has put together. They have a young kid at quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, who is playing outstanding football for them. They are the most complete football team in the Big East.
Mark Ennis, Manager of Big East Coast Bias (@Mengus22)
It's funny that this has even become a question after a month of the season, but it has, and for good reason. Louisville looked sharp in blowing out rival Kentucky, Missouri State, and in the first half against North Carolina. After that, six quarters of pretty unenthusiastic football (though they keep winning). Rutgers looked thoroughly bored in its opener at Tulane and home against Howard before going on the road to beat South Florida and Arkansas. At this point I still think Louisville is the better team because it has had its fair share of at least halves of football where it looked absolutely dominant. Louisville owned Kentucky from the opening kickoff and the 32-14 score could've been much worse had they not taken Teddy Bridgewater out midway through the third quarter. And yes, the team that nearly blew a 36-7 second half lead is still the team that also ran up a 36-7 halftime lead as well. Rutgers, is closing the gap, but, like some of Louisville's early wins, we still don't know how meaningful Rutgers' wins over USF and Arkansas are considering Arkansas already lost to Louisiana-Monroe and South Florida followed its loss to Rutgers up by losing at Ball State. Rutgers is improving weekly, Louisville is inconsistent, but has shown more of its upside through four games and for that reason is still the best team in the Big East.
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
Rutgers had two major questions coming into the season, at least for its on-the-field personnel: quarterback play and its offensive line. After four games, the Scarlet Knights have proven those two positions are no longer glaring weakness. Gary Nova has been a third-down whiz and he’s proven he can win on the road. Sophomore Kaleb Johnson has locked down the left tackle spot, and sophomore Betim Bujari has secured the problematic center spot. That’s led to four 100-yard games for Jawan Jamison and only two sacks allowed in four games. Even without Greg Schiano, the defense remains solid. I’m a little suspicious of Louisville as well. Teddy Bridgewater is the best offensive player in the league, but I’m concerned about the Cardinals’ defense. It’s been un-Charlie Strong like in the last two games. Ranking 91st in pass efficiency defense? Four sacks all season? That’s might be tough to overcome for a Big East title.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall):
I have been talking up the Scarlet Knights all summer long as the top Big East contender to Louisville. Rutgers had the best defense in the league last year and has shown vast improvement at quarterback and on offense as a whole. A balanced offense offense, stellar group of talented freshman (possibly the best in school history) and an easy early schedule makes the Knights a dangerous team. This squad could easily begin the season 9-0 before a nasty final three games will determine the Big East's BCS bowl bid: at Cincinnati, at Pitt and Louisville at home. It appears the league will crown a champ when the Cardinals visit Piscataway on the final Thursday night of the season. It this is how the league plays out, I will take the Knights to win on November 29 and clinch the program's first BCS bowl appearance.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven):
The biggest question mark surrounding Rutgers going into this year was how well it would handle the coaching transition from Greg Schiano to Kyle Flood. So far, the results have been positive, as the Scarlet Knights are 4-0 and have solid road victories against South Florida and Arkansas. Considering the upcoming schedule, it’s not crazy to think Rutgers could be 9-0 going into a Nov. 17 road date at Cincinnati. Despite how well the Scarlet Knights have performed, I have to stick with my preseason favorite: Louisville. The Cardinals had a sluggish performance against FIU in Week 4 but have the Big East’s best quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), and the defense is capable of playing much better than it has performed so far this year. Louisville’s schedule is just as favorable as Rutgers, so it’s not crazy to think both teams could be unbeaten for their Nov. 29 meeting.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch):
Tough call. Right now, I’d still give the slight edge to Louisville. Rutgers, the only team in the nation with three road wins, is more battle-tested, but that doesn’t mean the Scarlet Knights are the better team. Through the first two-plus games of the season, Louisville looked like a top-10 team. The Cards, at that time, had convincing wins over Kentucky and Missouri State and led North Carolina 36–7 at the half. Since, however, the Cards haven’t been the same team. They almost blew that 29-point halftime lead vs. UNC and struggled to beat a disappointing FIU team this past Saturday night. Teddy Bridgewater, who was nearly flawless through three games, was not as sharp vs. FIU, completing 19-of-36 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Cards need him to be the best quarterback in the Big East. Rutgers was surprisingly offensive in its big win at Arkansas last weekend, with Gary Nova leading the way with nearly 400 yards passing and five touchdowns. If Nova continues to play well, Rutgers will remain in the Big East race all season long. And the Big East race might not be decided until Nov. 29, when Louisville visits Rutgers in the season-finale. We might need to wait until that Thursday night to answer this question.
For now, I'll take Louisville mainly because of the emergence of Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The sophomore signal caller has to be considered the early frontrunner for Big East Offensive Player of the Year as he's entered himself into the Heisman Trophy discussion in some circles. Bridgewater has been efficient (23rd in the nation in passing efficiency) and productive (43rd in total offense) in leading the Cardinals to a 4-0 start and Top 20 national ranking. Both teams have been impressive on defense so far, but I give Louisville the edge over Rutgers on offense because of Bridgewater. The good news is, the Cardinals and Scarlet Knights will get the chance to size one another up on the field. The bad news is that everyone has to wait until the final game of the regular season as that's when Louisville makes the trip to Piscataway, N.J., for a game that could likely decide both the Big East conference race and a BCS bid.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman):
I’ll stick with preseason favorite Louisville for now, although Rutgers has the more impressive September resume with wins at USF and Arkansas. We knew that Khaseem Greene and the Scarlet Knights would play solid defense, but new coach Kyle Flood has also found an answer at quarterback in Gary Nova. The sophomore signal caller had a stellar 397-yard, five-touchdown performance versus the Razorbacks last week, and his play combined with runner Jawan Jamison (four 100-yard games) has Rutgers fans thinking about a league title. Meanwhile, Louisville is also undefeated but has looked sluggish in doing it. I’ll give the Cards a pass on almost blowing a 36-7 halftime lead against North Carolina, but the close decision at FIU last week was too close for Cardinal comfort. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a solid backfield tandem should give the UL offense enough punch, but Charlie Strong and staff must repair a talented but inconsistent defense to win the conference. The Cardinals have too much talent on the defensive unit to be giving up so many yards and third-down conversions. I see Louisville getting by Southern Miss this week, and then getting the defense repaired during the bye before league play begins. The good news for the Big East is that it has two ranked schools that could both win double-digit games this season.
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