By Steven Lassan and Mitch Light
Week 1 Big East Previews and Predictions
Murray State at Louisville – Thursday, Sept. 1
Louisville was one of the Big East’s biggest surprises last year, finishing 7-6 and posting a bowl victory over Southern Miss. Although Charlie Strong is poised to turn the Cardinals into an annual contender in the Big East, Louisville will have a roster with with youth and inexperience in 2011. Only nine starters from last year's team are back, but Strong’s recruiting should begin to show. The Cardinals are anxious to get a look at freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, while sophomore running back Jeremy Wright looks like is a future star. The Racers had one of the FCS’ top passing attacks last season, averaging 313.6 yards per game. Cornerback is a concern for Louisville, but expect Wright and backfield mate Victor Anderson to chew up the clock and ground Murray State’s passing attack.
Louisville 38, Murray State 10
N.C. Central at Rutgers - Thursday, Sept. 1
The Scarlet Knights enter the season opener on a six-game losing streak, with their last victory coming on Oct. 16 against Army last season. Although it’s hard to learn much from one-sided matchups, this is a good opportunity for Rutgers to build some confidence with a trip to North Carolina next week. True freshman running back Savon Huggins had a strong showing in fall camp and may take the opening carry for the Scarlet Knights. Although Huggins is an elite talent, he will need help from a reconfigured line and sophomore quarterback Chas Dodd, if the Scarlet Knights want to make a push for a finish in the top half of the Big East. This one should be over by halftime.
Rutgers 44, N.C. Central 3
Wake Forest at Syracuse – Thursday, Sept. 1
Surprisingly, there’s a lot riding on this opener for both teams. The Demon Deacons limped to a 3-9 finish last year, but a lot of underclassmen saw significant playing time. Syracuse is a contender for the Big East title and needs to find the winning recipe at home, after posting only two victories in the Carrier Dome last season. The Orange suffered through a rash of injuries in fall camp, but should have their core intact. Wake Forest’s defense needs to find a way to slow down Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib and running back Antwon Bailey or it could be a long night. The Demon Deacons will counter on offense with rising star Josh Harris, who rushed for 720 yards last season. The Orange defense will be breaking in two new starters on the interior, so Harris could be in for a big game.
Syracuse 31, Wake Forest 20
South Florida at Notre Dame - Saturday, Sept. 3
It’s the Holtz Bowl, as Skip Holtz takes his South Florida Bulls to face his alma mater — and the school that his father led to the 1988 national title. South Florida expects to be much improved on offense after averaging only 309.4 yards per game last season (105th in the nation). Dynamic quarterback B.J. Daniels will test a Notre Dame defense that allowed an average of just 233.3 yards in its final three regular-season games — wins over Utah, Army and USC. Linebacker Manti Te’o anchors the Irish defense, but he has plenty of help on that side of the ball. All Irish fans will be watching quarterback Dayne Crist, who was recently named the starting quarterback after a heated battle with Tommy Rees, who lost the race despite going 4–0 as the starter last fall.
Notre Dame 27, South Florida 17
Fordham at Connecticut - Saturday, Sept. 3
This matchup was scheduled for Thursday night, but was postponed until Saturday, due to Rentschler Field being used as a supply distribution center for those affected by Hurricane Irene. Despite being defending Big East champs, the Huskies enter this season with low expectations and a lot of uncertainty. Fall camp ended with no quarterback stepping up into the No. 1 role. Although the Huskies should have no trouble winning this game, generating offense could be an issue all year for Connecticut.
Connecticut 41, Fordham 6
Buffalo at Pittsburgh – Saturday, Sept. 3
Todd Graham’s brand of high-octane football makes its debut on Saturday. There will be a lot of interest in Pittsburgh’s new up-tempo offensive attack, especially with quarterback Tino Sunseri at the helm. The junior turned in a so-so campaign last year, but is expected to post big numbers in the new offense. Running back Ray Graham will be featured prominently, after backing up Dion Lewis last season. Graham is expected to be one of the Big East's leaders in rushing yardage in 2011. This will be the second year under Jeff Quinn in Buffalo. The Bulls were one of the worst offensive teams in college football last year, but they hope Cincinnati transfer Chazz Anderson can be the answer at quarterback.
Pittsburgh 45, Buffalo 13
Austin Peay at Cincinnati – Saturday, Sept. 3
After a disappointing 4-8 record last season, Cincinnati is anxious to get the 2011 season kicked off. Improving the turnover margin and getting better play on defense are two keys to Bearcats' season. The offense should have no trouble putting points on the board, especially quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead back for their senior year. The Governors went 2-9 last year, which included a 70-3 demolishing by Wisconsin. Barring a complete no-show by Cincinnati, this one should be over by halftime.
Cincinnati 55, Austin Peay 7
Marshall at West Virginia – Sunday, Sept. 4
This matchup is dubbed the “Friends of the Coal Bowl.” However, there’s no friendship between these two teams. West Virginia squeezed out a close 24-21 victory over Marshall last year, but this one should have a much different outcome on Sunday. This will be the first game on the Mountaineer sidelines for head coach Dana Holgorsen. Under his direction, Oklahoma State and Houston ranked among the top statistical offenses in college football. After West Virginia’s struggles on offense last year, Holgorsen’s arrival is a welcomed sight in Morgantown. The Thundering Herd will need a perfect effort to stick around in this game, especially with true freshman Rakeem Cato getting the call at quarterback.
West Virginia 41, Marshall 13