Big East landscape continues to change
Many so-called ‘experts', including myself, picked West Virginia to win the Big East again this season. These same people questioned just how good UConn would be in 2008 and gushed over Pittsburgh's potential to possibly bust the BCS. Well, the college football season is not even one month in and already, everything we once thought we knew has been turned on its head.
Already reeling from one stunning out of conference loss, West Virginia fell 17-14 to Colorado on the road in overtime. The Buffaloes surged to a 14-0 lead just five minutes in. Cody Hawkins threw two touchdown passes, but West Virginia's Pat White responded later in the first quarter with the first of two touchdown runs to cut the deficit in half. The game then evolved into a defensive struggle, but the Mountaineers' signal caller was able to break free again for a 39-yard touchdown as the third quarter wound down. West Virginia forced the game to overtime and got the ball first. After driving inside the Colorado 10, West Virginia came up empty when kicker Pat McAfee clanked a short field goal off the left upright. Aric Goodman, the Buffaloes kicker, did not miss his opportunity, knocking home a 25-yarder to give the Buffs a huge 17-14 non-conference victory. The loss leaves serious doubts on West Virginia's viability as a BCS contender. With games still remaining against Auburn and South Florida, two top 15 teams, the Mountaineers will most likely miss out on the BCS this year unless they win the conference.
While West Virginia's season nears the critical point; Louisville turned its campaign around, improving to 2-1 on the season. The Cardinals played a solid sixty minutes of football and came up winners, 38-29 over Kansas State. Following a visit from Muhammad Ali, Louisville turned it up a notch, specifically its freshman tailback Victor Anderson. He finished with 176 yards and three touchdowns, running roughshod on the Wildcats' defense. Louisville thoroughly dominated the game, posting 31 first downs and nearly six hundred yards of total offense. They held the ball for more than double the time Kansas State did, and to top it off, they forced three turnovers. The Cardinals will have plenty of momentum and motivation entering Big East play, as they open conference play on Friday night against Connecticut in a revenge game.
The Huskies, meanwhile, prepared for Big East play by winning a thrilling contest, 31-28 over Baylor. Tailback Donald Brown, amongst the nation leaders in most rushing categories, finished with 150 yards and a pair of touchdown jaunts on 34 carries. His final TD run of the night rallied UConn from a four-point deficit with six minutes to play, giving them their final margin of victory. In a back and forth game that the Huskies fell behind in early, their quarterback Tyler Lorenzen was limited to just 125 yards through the air with two interceptions. However, he ran for 73 yards and two touchdowns to keep Connecticut's perfect record intact. If Connecticut can beat North Carolina on the road in two weeks, it will mark the first time they have finished their non-conference schedule unbeaten in quite some time.
Pittsburgh is one team who will not have a chance at completing an undefeated out-of-conference slate in 2008. The Panthers were upset by Bowling Green on the opening weekend of the season, but have slowly been on the rebound. They handled Iowa 21-20 on Saturday, dealing Kirk Ferentz's squad its first loss of the season. The Panthers got 78 yards and touchdown from LeSean McCoy, but were outplayed in the game overall. Short touchdown runs by Bill Stull and Greg Cross enabled Pittsburgh to have a 21-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter that their defense was just able to hold onto. Pitt will open Big East play next weekend at high noon as Dave Wannstedt's crew invades the Carrier Dome.
Speaking of those Orange, they got a 30-21 win over Northeastern on Saturday, marking their first (and perhaps only) win of the season. The Orange relied on its strength in the ground game to batter an overwhelmed Northeastern defense. However, the Huskies kept the game tight, closing to within six points in the fourth quarter and amassing nearly four hundred yards of total offense on the Orange defense – which can only be generously described as a mediocre work in progress right now. Despite the victory, Syracuse AD Dr. Daryl Gross says Coach Greg Robinson still has not given him "tangible evidence of improvement." Apparently, Gross still considers another West Coast man, Lane Kiffin, an intriguing possibility for the impending coaching vacancy that the ‘Cuse are almost sure to have.
Another head coach that is struggling, but unlike Robinson, needn't worry about being on the hot seat is Rutgers' Greg Schiano. After the program underwent a resurrection over the past five years, the Scarlet Knights have dropped their first three games to begin the 2008 season. Most recently, Rutgers fell 23-21 to…gasp…Navy. The Scarlet Knights stacked up pretty even with the Midshipmen on the stat sheet, but had two glaring turnovers on the road. Rutgers struggled mightily through the air; leading to speculation quarterback Mike Teel's job might be in jeopardy. The Scarlet Knights should be able to get back on track when they host Morgan State this weekend.
The South Florida Bulls don't need to worry about getting on track. The Bulls, ranked #13/14 in the country, avoided a scare and defeated Florida International 17-9. The Bulls, however, had a shutout going until the final three minutes of the game, despite losing linebacker Brouce Mompremier. He was airlifted to the hospital after colliding with a fellow USF player in the third quarter. He would avoid serious injury and USF would survive both this scare and the one posed by FIU. Mike Ford had two short touchdown runs to account for most of the Bulls' scoring on the night.
Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bearcats also disposed of an in-state rival. They trounced Miami (OH) 45-20. Junior quarterback Tony Pike, starting his first game of the season, was razor sharp, completing 20 of his 24 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns. The Bearcats used an overwhelming offensive effort and their stalwart defense to ensure this game would never be in serious doubt. Cincinnati has been playing very well out of conference, even showing well on the road against a top 5 team in Oklahoma. They could find themselves busting into the BCS as the Big East's representative this season, but first must take care of two more non-conference opponents on the road before beginning Big East play.
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