The Big East Opens Up Its Season

We've finally embarked on Conference play. With one game down, several more are on tap this coming Saturday. Who's in, who's out, and what are they saying?



Boston College coach Tom O'Brien hadn't warned his team about the dangers of its impending matchup with I-AA opponent Massachusetts as of Monday morning, but planned to do so in the near future.
The Eagles (3-1) will host the Minutemen (2-2) on Saturday for the first time since 1982.
Several I-A teams have dropped games to their I-AA counterparts this season, including Rutgers and Mississippi State.  Pittsburgh avoided being upset by Furman this past weekend, needing a furious 4th quarter comeback to send their game into overtime, where the Panthers prevailed.  O'Brien and his staff will spare no instance in helping to guard against a similar letdown this week.
"You call their attention to it so they're aware," O'Brien said. "We'd be very stupid if we thought we could look past Massachusetts. Our open week is next week, not this week."
Boston College's backfield depth has proven impressive in recent weeks. When starter L.V. Whitworth went down with a knee injury in early September, redshirt freshman Andre Callender stepped into the role. Callender is averaging 97.0 rushing yards per game and has scored one touchdown.  However, Callender is doubtful for the contest against UMASS.
O'Brien used true freshman A.J. Brooks in the fourth quarter of Saturday's 17-14 loss at Wake Forest.  Brooks rushed for a career-high 95 yards and scored his first touchdown. Whitworth, by the way, may be available against Massachusetts.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Boston College's offensive production is middle of the pack so far, at 363.25 yards per game. Senior QB Paul Peterson suffered his first loss as a starter last weekend at Wake Forest, but continues to improve.  Peterson completed 21 of 38 pass attempts for 269 yards and one touchdown in the loss.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Boston College ranks third in the Big East in total defense (299.5 ypg) and has surrendered just four touchdowns. CB Will Blackmon and FS T.J. Stancil are tied for the team lead in tackles (23).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This game came about because we were looking to buy a home game without returning it. ... We played Northeastern a couple of years ago and it helped showcase eastern football. We can help these guys too. They get a pretty good payday for coming in here." -- Boston College coach Tom O'Brien on the origins of Saturday's game against I-AA Massachusetts.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Massachusetts at Boston College, Oct. 2 -- Boston College and Massachusetts are meeting for the first time since 1982. The Eagles will try to use their powerful running attack and superior trench play to overpower the I-AA Minutemen.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: CB/KR Will Blackmon -- The 6-0, 198-pound junior ranks first in the Big East and fourth nationally in kickoff return average (35.8 ypg). Blackmon has also recorded 23 tackles and two interceptions.
RB A.J. Brooks -- Boston College's deep backfield produced another emerging star in Brooks, a 6-0, 190-pound true freshman. He rushed for 95 yards and one touchdown in Saturday's loss at Wake Forest. Brooks did most of his damage in the fourth quarter. ROSTER REPORT: RB L.V. Whitworth (knee) has been doing more in practice and may be available for Massachusetts.


Thursday Night Game: The Huskies will get a second chance to enter the win column in the Big East. Connecticut received a harsh welcome to the conference on Sept. 17, when it fell at Boston College.
The Huskies (3-1) host Pittsburgh (2-1) on Thursday night in a battle of teams that have never faced one another.
"You can start to see (Tyler) Palko settling in and getting more comfortable at the quarterback position," said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, a former Syracuse quarterback. "It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us on Thursday night."
Pittsburgh's Palko will attempt to out-duel Connecticut quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who earned Big East Offensive Player of the Week honors after his performance in a 40-3 drubbing of Army on Saturday.
Orlovsky, a senior, completed 25 of 34 attempts for 288 yards and four touchdowns. According to Edsall, Orlovsky hasn't hit his stride yet.
When Orlovsky hasn't been willing the Huskies' offense downfield, sophomore running back Cornell Brockington has been darting in and out of the trenches. Brockington rushed for 111 yards and one touchdown against Army. The performance marked his second straight 100-yard effort.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Led by QB Dan Orlovsky, the Huskies' passing offense is the most productive in the Big East. Connecticut has scored nine touchdowns through the air, four in a 40-3 win over Army last Saturday. Cornell Brockington ranks fourth among Big East running backs with a 78.8-yard rushing average.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Linebackers Alfred Fincher and Maurice Lloyd are among the best in the conference. Fincher leads Connecticut with 39 tackles, while Lloyd is just off the pace at 35. The Huskies own the Big East's most effective defense (249.0 ypg.).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wasn't good enough. I wasn't of their character." -- Connecticut coach Randy Edsall on not being recruited by Pittsburgh. Edsall, a native of Glen Rock, Penn., played at Syracuse.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Pittsburgh at Connecticut, Sept. 30 -- Pittsburgh defeated I-AA Furman 41-38 in overtime on Saturday. Junior QB Tyler Palko completed his first 11 pass attempts and finished 30 of 36 for 380 yards. That won't scare UConn, which will try to ride the right arm of Dan Orlovsky to its first Big East victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Dan Orlovsky -- After failing to throw for a touchdown in consecutive games, the 6-5, 236-pound senior connected on 25 of 34 pass attempts for 288 yards and four touchdowns in last weekend's win over Army. Orlovsky, the Big East Offensive Player of the Week, is quickly establishing himself as the conference's most talented signal caller.
WR Keron Henry -- The 6-2, 220-pound senior burned Army for seven receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Henry leads the conference with 325 receiving yards and has caught six touchdowns on the season.
ROSTER REPORT: No significant injuries.

Decision - Connecticut won this contest in a Thursday Night match-up on national television by a score of 29-17.  Offensively, the Huskies were paced by their team leader, QB Dan Orlovsky who was 23-of-43 for 237 yards and one touchdown. Cornell Brockington led the ground attack with 185 yards and a TD on 31 carries.  Al Fincher (Norwood HS, MA), the Senior LB, had a breakout game as he led the defense with 17 tackles and a forced fumble.


Thursday Night Game: For the Pittsburgh football team, East Hartford, Conn., is uncharted territory. The Panthers will face Big East rookie Connecticut for the first time at Rentschler Field on Thursday night.
"I'm going into the unknown," Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris said. "From reading in the paper I know Duke had trouble with the noise there. But that's the exciting part of college football."
The young Panthers (2-1) will try to build on Saturday's 41-38 victory over I-AA Furman, a game in which the Panthers salvaged by means of a furious 4th quarter comeback.  Junior Josh Cummings drilled a 37-yard field goal in the first overtime to lock up the win.
Pittsburgh's ground game still leaves much to be desired (99.0 ypg., last in the Big East), but junior quarterback Tyler Palko is getting more comfortable in his role. Palko is averaging 219.0 passing yards per game and has thrown for five touchdowns against four interceptions.
The Panthers will also have to deal with a short week in terms of preparation. Pittsburgh will get less than four days to practice for talented Connecticut quarterback Dan Orlovsky, a bona-fide next level prospect.
The Huskies feature the league's top passing offense (293.2 ypg.), while the Panthers will field the Big East's fifth-best passing defense (208.7 ypg.).

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Junior QB Tyler Palko has completed 43 of 63 passes for 538 yards and four touchdowns over the past six quarters. Palko operates the Big East's third-best scoring offense (27.3 ppg.) and sixth-best total offense (384.0 ypg.).  Since a horrendous opening couple of quarters against Nebraska, Palko has begun to show glimpses of the talent that Pitt knew it landed when Palko first donned a Pitt Jersey. 
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Sophomore LB H.B. Blades leads the team with 22 tackles. Junior LB J.J. Horne has managed 2.5 sacks. The Panthers have allowed 27.3 points and 326.0 yards game -- middle-of-the-pack numbers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "For sure it's a no-win situation. It's all about, 'Well, you didn't beat them by enough.' If you lose, like a couple of I-A teams have this year, you're shamed to death." -- Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris on the benefit of scheduling I-AA opponents. The Panthers defeated I-AA Furman, 41-38, in overtime on Saturday.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Pittsburgh at Connecticut, Sept. 30 -- The Huskies have a great passing game thanks to the strong arm of Dan Orlovsky, but Pittsburgh will try to get the advantage by jumping out early and hoping the Huskies press and make mistakes in an effort to get their first Big East victory ever.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Raymond Kirkley -- The 5-10, 225-pound senior is averaging 77.0 rushing yards and has scored one touchdown. Kirkley rushed for 108 yards in the win over Furman. It marked the second time he crossed the 100-yard barrier this season.
WR Joe DelSardo -- The former walk-on reeled in seven receptions for 89 yards on Saturday and had the first touchdown catch of his career. DelSardo is a far cry from 2003 Heisman candidate Larry Fitzgerald, but he is Pittsburgh's best wideout option this season.
ROSTER REPORT: LB Azzie Beagnyam (ankle), OL John Simonitis (knee), DB Sam Bryant (leg), FB Tim Murphy (ankle) and C Rob Frederick (foot) are questionable for Connecticut.

Decision - Instead of jumping on top early, Pitt fell behind quickly as Tyler Palko's pass was intercepted by Justin Perkins and returned 9 yards for a touchdown.  The Panthers played catch-up the rest of the half and appeared to have at least a chance to take the lead going into the half when Walt Harris decided to position his team for a game-tying FG, with less than 20 seconds remaining, rather than taking a shot at the endzone.  For the game, Palko led Pitt in the air (267 yards on 11-31, 1TD, 1INT) and on the ground (78 yards on 11 carries).  


The bye week arrived at the perfect time for struggling Rutgers.  When is the last time the Scarlet Knights were at 2 and 1 and deemed struggling - 'tis true, with high expectations having been met after the opener, the air has been seemingly let out of the feeding tube.  A game, however, does not a season make, and Rutgers has a chance to continue to redeem itself by taking their show northward, to the University of Syracuse.  Though the Scarlet Knights aren't riddled with ailments, certain key players have been nursing injuries.  More importantly, the week off may have helped the Scarlet Knights regroup and refocus on a season initially filled with lofty expectations and mentions of Bowl Games, and one that now hangs in the balance.  Though no single game will prove to be a season-maker or a backbreaker, the Knights' upcoming battle against the Orange is a key litmus test Greg Schiano's squad needs to pass to show the strides the program has made during the last couple of years.
Among those questionable for Saturday's game at Syracuse are fullback Brian Leonard (thigh), receiver Shawn Tucker (groin), center Ray Pilch (hip) and linebacker Quintero Frierson (ankle).  Leonard's status will be determined by team doctors.  Even if Rutgers' do-everything back Brian Leonard does see game action, Coach Schiano has indicated his time may be in a somewhat limited role.
Rutgers addressed its secondary problems (ranked 114th in pass defense), run blocking issues and emphasized fundamentals during practice early last week, but the focus turned to the Orange by Thursday.
Rutgers (2-1) and Syracuse (2-2) open their conference schedules at the Carrier Dome this week. The Scarlet Knights managed their most significant win (24-7) last season over Syracuse at Rutgers Stadium.
Rutgers, however, hasn't won at Syracuse since 1986.
"I think Syracuse is a solid football team that's getting better every week," Scarlet Knights coach Greg Schiano said. "I think they played extremely well against Virginia (a 31-10 loss) and had opportunities to win that game."
Rutgers is coming off a 29-21 victory over Kent State at home on Sept. 18. This will mark the Scarlet Knights' first road trip of the season.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: RB Brian Leonard (90.7 ypg.) is behind West Virginia's Kay-Jay Harris and Boston College's Andre Callender on the rushing list. Leonard also leads the league in receptions per game and is second in all-purpose yardage.  Missing Brian Leonard will weaken an important part of Rutgers' offense.  However, this may serve as an opportunity to feature true sophomore running back Justice Hairston, who is still looking for his first breakout game of the season.  
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Problems continue in the secondary. Sophomore cornerbacks Joe Porter and Derrick Roberson are now starting, but that doesn't excuse Rutgers' pass defense, which ranks 114 out of 117 Division I-A teams. Opponents are averaging 322.0 yards through the air against the Scarlet Knights.  There have been some key changes in the two-deep in the RU secondary, including the appearance of highly touted prospect Charles "Tre" Timbers, now serving in the back-up corner role behind Sophomore corner Joe Porter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Syracuse has a great program and Paul (Pasqualoni) does an awesome job with the kids. So, anytime you have a chance to beat a team like that it feels good." -- Rutgers coach Greg Schiano on the Scarlet Knights' 24-7 victory over Syracuse last season.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at Syracuse, Oct. 2 -- Rutgers' biggest win last season came against Syracuse. The Scarlet Knights closed the 2003 campaign with a convincing 24-7 victory over the Orange at Rutgers Stadium. The Orange are looking for revenge and will be trying to establish physical dominance.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: TE Clark Harris -- The 6-6, 245-pound junior ranks first in the nation among tight ends with 75.0 receiving yards per game. Harris, a John Mackey Award candidate, caught his first career touchdown pass in the Kent State game.
QB Ryan Hart -- The 6-2, 197-pound junior broke three school records last season (completions, attempts and single-season yardage) and has already moved into fourth place on Rutgers' all-time passing yardage list. He is averaging 262.0 passing yards per game, second in the Big East. Hart has yet to achieve the type of play most were expecting of him at this point in time. 
ROSTER REPORT: FB Brian Leonard (thigh), and C Ray Pilch (hip) are questionable for Syracuse. WR Shawn Tucker (groin) and LB Quintero Frierson (ankle) are out.


Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni still isn't sold on quarterback Perry Patterson, but the 6-4, 250-pound sophomore appears to be the best choice four games into the season.
Patterson, who is competing with true freshman Joe Fields for snaps, completed 15 of 23 pass attempts for 141 yards at Virginia on Saturday, but didn't throw for a touchdown in Syracuse's 31-10 loss.
"Patterson, in his first career start, managed the game well," Pasqualoni said. "We were able to put together impressive drives, but we're not able to put the ball in the end zone."
The Orange (2-2) have converted 6 of 11 opportunities inside the opponent's 20-yard line, last in the Big East. They will have to improve on that statistic on Saturday when Rutgers visits the Carrier Dome.
Patterson will start, but Fields might play at a moment's notice.
The Scarlet Knights (2-1) handed the Orange a 24-7 loss last season. Senior running back Walter Reyes (73.0 ypg.) and backup Damien Rhodes (51.5 ypg.) give Syracuse a credible ground attack, but the passing game must improve.
The Orange, who have already faced ranked teams Purdue and Virginia, host No. 9 Florida State on Oct. 9.  Having Rutgers sand-whiched as the middle of the trio (UVA, RU, and FSU) may prove too much for the Orange, who will have to face Top 10 FSU in a week, and may have their focus not entirely on the Scarlet Knights.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Syracuse's offense is ranked last in the Big East, averaging just 16.5 points and 269.8 yards per game. The Orange have converted only 16 of 56 third-down opportunities this season.  The Orange's bread and butter, their rushing attack, will be up against the #5 ranked rushing defense in the nation.  The key to this contest will be whether SU will be able to spread RU's defense just enough to give Walter Reyes an opportunity to do some damage against something less than an 8- or 9-man front.  If Syracuse is to rely entirely on Reyes, it could be another long afternoon for the Orange.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Orangemen are ranked sixth out of seven Big East teams in scoring defense (26.5 ppg.) and fifth in total defense (380.5 ypg.).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're getting better. When the Big East was reorganizing, we had to make a decision about who we were going to schedule. We chose to schedule the Purdues, Virginias and Florida States. We did that in hopes it would make us a better football team." -- Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni on his team's challenging non-conference slate.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at Syracuse, Oct. 2 -- Syracuse is looking for revenge after Rutgers won this contest 24-7 last year and cost the Orange a shot at bowl eligibility.  One week later, however, the Orange demolished Notre Dame in front of a live ABC audience.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DB/KR Diamond Ferri -- The 5-10, 218-pound senior ranks ninth nationally in kickoff return yardage (32.0). Ferri is also third on the team with 23 tackles and has managed one interception.
RB Walter Reyes -- The 5-10, 209-pound senior rushed for 83 yards on 24 carries in Saturday's loss to Virginia. Reyes needs just 21 yards to pass Larry Csonka for second place on the school's all-time rushing list.
ROSTER REPORT: CB Tanard Jackson is recovering from a stab wound suffered Saturday night and shouldn't be available for Rutgers. FB Stephen McDonald (knee) is out indefinitely.


Is quarterback Walter Washington starting to struggle with the offensive burden that was placed on his shoulders last season? Temple coach Bobby Wallace believes so.
Since he took the reins from Mike McGann last season, Washington has been asked to do just about everything for the Owls' offense, including fuel the ground game. He leads the Big East in scoring (12.5 ppg.) and ranks second in total offense (261.2 ypg.), but he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass this season.
"I don't know if Walter Washington is feeling the pressure, but he's never thrown high before," Wallace said. "Now he's done it in two games this year."
Washington is a threat to run or pass, but lately, he has done more of the former. He rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday's 45-17 loss to Toledo.
But Washington completed just 15 of 36 passes for 205 yards. He also threw his first interception this season after 111 attempts and fumbled twice.
For Temple to win more than one game -- it knocked off I-AA Florida A&M on Sept. 18 -- Washington must play beyond his considerable talents. The Owls (1-3) will face Mid-American Conference opponent Bowling Green (1-2) at home on Saturday and open their Big East schedule against Pittsburgh seven days later.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Walter Washington continues to be Temple's catalyst. The junior trails only Connecticut QB Dan Orlovsky in total offense (261.2 yards per game) and leads the Big East in scoring (8 TDs). The Owls have been successful on 14 of 15 trips into the red zone but have struggled on third-down conversions (33.9 percent, sixth in the league).
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Temple has secured three of the top four positions on the conference tackle list. LB Troy Bennett (44), DB Durrel Davis (40) and LB Rian Wallace (38) have made a collective impact this season. Despite their numbers, Temple owns the worst defense in the Big East (35.2 points, 431.8 yards per game).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought we didn't play very smart. We're the least penalized team in the Big East, but were whistled for five personal fouls." -- Temple coach Bobby Wallace on the Owls' 45-17 loss to Toledo on Saturday.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Bowling Green at Temple -- The Owls have one more game to get ready for conference play and hope they can shut down Bowling Green so they can go into next week's game against Pittsburgh with a boatload of confidence.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DB Sadeke Konte -- The 6-1, 215-pound senior delivered 11 tackles, a sack and forced a fumble in Temple's loss to Toledo. Konte has recorded 24 hits on the season.
RB Tim Brown -- The 5-8, 185-pound junior recovered from a mysterious heel ailment, which kept him out of the Florida A&M game (Sept. 18), and rushed for 74 yards on 17 carries.
ROSTER REPORT: Tim Brown regained his role as starting running back after Umar Ferguson stepped in a week ago. ... DL Antwon Burton (foot) is out indefinitely.


 Rasheed Marshall's opinion finally counts. The third-year starting quarterback has been given the green light to voice his opinions on the sideline, which, according to West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, is a sign of Marshall's maturity.
"Rasheed is definitely giving more opinions," Rodriguez said. "He understands the offense and knows how to read defenses, so we're listening to him more now than in the past."
Marshall completed 17 of 22 pass attempts for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 45-10 victory over James Madison on Saturday. Marshall's numbers may not scare the opposition, but his pass efficiency rating (a Big East-best 169.1) is well above average.
Sixth-ranked West Virginia also leads the league in scoring (41.2 ppg.) and total offense (450.8 ppg.). Marshall has led the Mountaineers to 11 straight regular season victories.
West Virginia could open with a 5-0 record for the first time since 1996, but Virginia Tech (2-2) stands in the way. The Mountaineers and Hokies fashioned one of the Big East's top rivalries until the latter departed for the Atlantic Coast Conference at the conclusion of the 2003 season.
The Mountaineers have won the past two meetings, including a 2002 decision in Blacksburg, Va., that Rodriguez claimed significantly added to his program's legitimacy. This one is certain to provide a few fireworks.

 SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Although West Virginia's backs couldn't crack the 100-yard barrier on Saturday, Kay-Jay Harris (137.2 ypg.) and Jason Colson (62.0 ypg.) still comprise a dangerous rushing tandem. QB Rasheed Marshall runs an efficient but unspectacular offense. The Mountaineers lead the conference in total offense (450.8 ypg.).
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: West Virginia features the Big East's second-best defense in terms of yards allowed (298.8) and the third-best in scoring (17.2 points per game allowed).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've talked about it. But let's not worry about where we're ranked or what other people say. It all works out in the end anyway." -- West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez on his team's No. 6 ranking in the Associated Press poll. The Mountaineers are the only Big East team included in the rankings.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: West Virginia at Virginia Tech, Oct. 2 -- These teams have met every season since 1973. Virginia Tech has been competitive against tough teams USC and North Carolina State but was unable to pull off the win. It's a battle of two good QBs -- Mountaineers QB Rasheed Marshall and Tech's Bryan Randall -- who can make plays with their arms and their legs.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Chris Henry -- The 6-5, 200-pound junior has scored a touchdown in six straight regular-season games and tied a career high with seven catches in Saturday's win over James Madison. Henry finished with 74 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
LB Adam Lehnortt -- The 6-5, 235-pound senior led the defense with eight tackles (five solo) last week and recorded his first career touchdown on a 21-yard fumble recovery. The Big East Defensive Player of the Week ranks second in the conference in the tackles for loss (6).
ROSTER REPORT: Lehnortt suffered a sprained ankle, but should be available for Virginia Tech.

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