Big East Week 1 Preview

Opening week in the Big East features a pair of solid games along with some definite yawners.


Seven of the eight league teams open the 2011 season at home. USF is the sole road warrior, travelling to Notre Dame. However, the quality of the openers leaves something to be desired, as only Cincinnati, Louisville, USF and West Virginia have games on broadcast outlets, and four schools open against FBS opponents. Also, non-traditional day games equal the Saturday contests, as just four of the eight games are scheduled for the first day of the holiday weekend.


While fans are anticipating high-powered attacks to be unveiled at West Virginia and Pitt, Cincinnati also has some weapons to deploy. The Bearcats have the Big East's top returning passer (Zach Collaros), rusher (Isaiah Pead) and receiver (D.J. Woods).


Syracuse is trying to put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2001, when the Orange wrapped up an excellent run of 15 consecutive winning seasons. The coach at the time? None other than UConn's new head man, Paul Pasqualoni.


As our final bit in each week's Big East preview, we'll offer up some picks for the league's games. Five of the contests this week are pretty much no-doubters, and we don't see too much of an upset threat in any of them, so we're calling wins for Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pitt and Rutgers. That leaves West Virginia, Syracuse and USF for a bit more scrutiny.

The West Virginia - Marshall game is a bitter one from fan perspective, and while that fuels the underdog Herd, it shouldn't be enough to propel them to a win. Syracuse is trending upward, and while Wake Forest has a lot of players back, the Cuse looks poised to play solid football and not beat itself. Can USF make it a Big East sweep in week one? It has the talent, but overcoming the blatant homerism ghosts at South Bend might prove to be too much. The Bulls have the ability, but we're calling this one for the Irish.

Sat 9/3
7:00 PM
Big East
Saturday's game will be the fifth meeting between Cincinnati and Austin Peay … The Bearcats have won all four previous matchups, the last being a 42-10 win Sept. 4, 1993 … The first game was played during the 1985 season … Austin Peay head coach Rick Christophel was an assistant at Cincinnati in 1983 … Cincinnati has faced a Football Championship Subdivision opponent each year since 2005 and has gone 6-0 in those games … Cincinnati has outscored its FCS opponents by a 240-20 margin since 2006.

Cincinnati looks to return to the postseason in Butch Jones' second year on the Bearcat sideline … The Bearcats won back-to-back Big East titles in 2008 and 2009, but slipped to 4-8 last season … The Bearcats were 2-5 in the Big East … Optimism abounds in Cincinnati, however, thanks to the return of all 11 starters on defense and and an offense that boasts the conference's top returning passer, rusher and receiver … QB Zach Collaros was unanimously chosen to the All-Big East First Team after he threw for 2,902 yards and 26 touchdowns last season … Collaros led the BIG EAST in passing yards (263.8 ypg) and total offense (282.2 ypg) … RB Isaiah Pead was fourth in the Big East in rushing last year (1,029 yards, 6 TDs), but leads all returning tailbacks in the conference … WR D.J. Woods was an All-Big East Second Team pick after he had 57 catches for 898 yards and eight touchdowns … LB JK Schaffer, who had a team-high 111 tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups, leads the veteran defense … DT Derek Wolfe registered four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss as the anchor of the defensive line … DE Brandon Mills registered six sacks and had 12.5 tackles for loss … SS Drew Frey and FS Wesley Richardson had a team-leading two interceptions each.

Austin Peay has 18 starters back from last year's team, which went 2-9 overall and 1-7 in the Ohio Valley Conference … The Governors dropped their last eight games of the 2010 season … Austin Peay lists just 11 seniors on its roster … QB Jake Ryan saw most of the action last season, throwing for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns with 11 interceptions … WR Devin Stark is the top returning receiver after he had 19 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns last year … The Governors return eight of their top 10 tackle leaders from last year, including three — LB Darrick Dillard, FS Antwuan Majors and WS Amius Smith — who had at least 80 stops … K Stephen Stansell led the team in scoring with 57 points last year and was 3-for-4 on field goal attempts from 50 yards or longer … Austin Peay plays back-to-back Bowl Subdivision teams to start the 2011 season as the Governors visit Memphis Sept. 17.

Sat 9/3
12:00 PM
Connecticut and Fordham meet for just the second time when they begin the 2011 season … The only previous matchup was a 35-0 Fordham win in the 1915 season … Fordham head coach Tom Masella was an assistant coach at Connecticut in 1998 under current USF coach Skip Holtz … Masella also holds ties to Connecticut as the head coach at Fairfield (1995) and Central Connecticut (2004-05) … Fordham receivers coach Patrick Maguire is a 2009 graduate of Connecticut and a former student assistant with the Huskies.

Connecticut turned to Paul Pasqualoni as its head coach following the offseason departure of Randy Edsall to Maryland … Pasqualoni is hardly a stranger to the BIG EAST as he served as Syracuse's head coach from 1991-2004 and has a league-record 62 conference wins … The Huskies bring a five-game regular-season winning streak into the 2011 opener … Connecticut has won a share of the Big East title twice in the last four years (2007, 2010) … Connecticut returns nine starters from last year's unit … DT Kendall Reyes earned All-Big East First Team honors to lead a group of four returning starters on the defensive line … S Jerome Junior and CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson had four interceptions each last year … LB Sio Moore, who ranked fifth in the BIG EAST with 110 tackles last year, is the lone returning linebacker … The offense will feature new starters at quarterback, running back and three interior line positions … The Huskies do not have a quarterback on the roster who has started a college game … OT Mike Ryan (All-Big East First Team) and C Moe Petrus (All-Big EastSecond Team) anchor a veteran offensive line … K Dave Teggart is an All-Big EastFirst Team pick who scored 111 points last year.

Fordham is coming off a 5-6 season in 2010 as the Rams won three of their last four games … The Rams have finished 5-6 in each of the last three seasons after winning the 2007 Patriot League title … Fordham is ineligible for the Patriot League championship due to the Rams' awarding of athletic scholarships in football beginning in 2010 … In addition to Thursday's game against Connecticut, the Rams also face Army from the FBS ranks … Fordham has just four home games in 2011 and plays just two of its first seven at home … The Rams have 11 returning starters from last year … RB Darryl Whiting rushed for 771 yards and four touchdowns last season, while DT Justin Yancey registered 41 tackles, three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss … QB Ryan Higgins finished the year as Fordham's starter and threw for 665 yards and four touchdowns against four interceptions in 2010.

LOUISVILLE vs. Murray St
Thu 9/1
6:00 PM
Thursday's game will be the 18th meeting between Louisville and Murray State, which are separated by approximately 230 miles in Kentucky … The Cardinals hold an 11-6 series lead and have won the last three matchups … The most recent meeting was a 73-10 Louisville win Aug. 30, 2007, when the Cardinals scored on their first offensive play and were never threatened behind a 375-yard, four-touchdown effort from QB Brian Brohm … The teams first met in 1927 and played each year from 1953-60 … Murray State's first win in the series was a 105-0 decision in 1932.

Louisville ended a three-year hiatus from postseason play in Charlie Strong's first season as head coach as the Cardinals went 7-6 last year, defeating Southern Miss in the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl … The Cardinals are 24-8 in nonconference games since joining the Big East with the .750 winning percentage ranking second among active Big East members … The Cardinals return just 11 starting position players from last year and will have to replace seven offensive starters … Louisville will have new starters at quarterback, running back and in four spots on the offensive line … QB Will Stein, who made two starts in 2009 and saw spot duty in relief last year, is the projected starter behind center … RB Victor Anderson, the 2008 Big East Rookie of the Year, projects as the featured tailback … Louisville ranked 10th nationally in pass defense last year (167.4 yards per game) and was 14th in total defense (311.7 ypg) … Strong has cited his defensive line as an area of strength, with three returning starters bolstered by a number of players with solid game experience … S Hakeem Smith earned Big East Rookie of the Year honors last season after he led the Cardinals with 88 tackles as a freshman … K/P Chris Philpott will handle kicking and punting duties for the second straight year.

Murray State returns 19 starters from last year's team that went 6-5 overall and finished 5-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference under first-year head coach Chris Hatcher … Last year marked Murray State's first winning season since 2004 … Hatcher won an NCAA Division II championship as the head coach at Valdosta State in 2004 and previously served as head coach at Georgia Southern before taking over on the Racers' sideline last year … The list of former Murray State head coaches includes current Virginia Teach coach Frank Beamer and current Mississippi head coach Houston Nutt … RB Mike Harris rushed for 904 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, while QB Casey Brockman threw for 2,442 yards and 15 TDs with six interceptions … LB Brandon Wicks had a team-high 73 tackles last year.

PITTSBURGH vs. Buffalo
Sat 9/3
6:00 PM
Saturday's game will be the third meeting between Pittsburgh and Buffalo … The Panthers hold a 2-0 series lead after a 54-27 win in Buffalo Sept. 12, 2009 … Pittsburgh RB Dion Lewis ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns and TE Dorin Dickerson had three touchdown receptions in the win … Pittsburgh was a 27-16 winner the previous year at Heinz Field against a Buffalo team that went on to win the Mid- American Conference title.

Saturday's game will mark the debut of coach Todd Graham on the Pittsburgh sideline … Graham inherits a Panther squad that returns 14 starters from last year's team, which earned a share of the Big East title … Graham spent two years in the Big East as an assistant, serving at West Virginia in 2001 and 2002 … Pittsburgh has played in a bowl game in each of the past three seasons and has ended the last two seasons with bowl wins … QB Tino Sunseri returns for his second year as the Panthers' starter … Sunseri threw for 2,572 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2010 and could thrive in Graham's fast-paced offense … RB Ray Graham rushed for 922 yards and eight touchdowns last year and is expected to shoulder more of the load following the departure of Dion Lewis to the NFL … Pittsburgh is moving to a 3-4 base defense this season … The Panthers return three defensive line starters from last year, including DE Brandon Lindsey, who had 10 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in 2010 … LB Max Gruder had 84 tackles last year, good for second on the team and the most among returning players … FS Jared Holley had five interceptions last year, ranking second in the Big East.

Buffalo went 2-10 last year under first-year head coach Jeff Quinn, the former offensive coordinator at Cincinnati … The Bulls were 1-7 in the Mid-American Conference last year … In addition to Saturday's game against Pittsburgh, Buffalo has another date against a Big East opponent in 2011 when the Bulls host Connecticut Sept. 24 … Quinn will go with QB Chazz Anderson as the starter against Pitt … Anderson is a transfer from Cincinnati who is eligible this season under NCAA postgraduate transfer rules … Anderson started two games for Cincinnati's 2008 Big East championship squad and made one start last year … WR Marcus Rivers had 50 receptions for 690 yards and five touchdowns last year … The Bulls managed just three rushing touchdowns last season … Buffalo's defense lost eight starters from last year … LB Khalil Mack is the top returner after he had 68 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 2010.

RUTGERS vs. N.C. Central
Thu 9/1
7:30 PM
Thursday's game will be the first meeting between Rutgers and North Carolina Central … Rutgers has won its last seven games against opponents from the Football Championship Subdivision, outscoring its opponents by a combined 311-20 margin.

Rutgers looks to 17 returning starters to help the Scarlet Knights return to the postseason after the team saw a five-year streak of bowl appearances end with last season's 4-8 record … The Scarlet Knights won four of their first six games last season, but closed the year with a six-game losing streak … Head coach Greg Schiano, who enters his 11th year in 2011, is the longest-tenured Big East head coach and the ninth-longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision … Rutgers hired former Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti to run the Scarlet Knight offense … The offense returns 10 starters from last year, including QB Chas Dodd, who made eight starts as a true freshman and threw for 1,637 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions … WR Mark Harrison was the leading receiver with 44 catches for 829 yards and nine touchdowns … WR Mohamed Sanu is a versatile player who had 44 receptions for 418 yards and two TDs to go with four rushing touchdowns … The top returning rusher is RB Jordan Thomas, who had 417 yards and a touchdown, though RB Jeremy Deering — who was a wideout last year — and freshman RB Savon Huggins could challenge for a starting spot … The defense is led by LB Steve Beauharnais, who had 79 tackles, six tackles for loss and four fumble recoveries last season … DT Scott Vallone is the lone returning starter on the defensive line, but is a solid All-Big East candidate … K San San Te returns for his third year as the Scarlet Knights' placekicker … Rutgers' special teams units blocked nine kicks last season and have 15 blocks in the last two seasons.

North Carolina Central turned to veteran head coach Henry Frazier to turn around a program that went 3-8 last season … The Eagles compete as an independent in the Football Championship Subdivision … Frazier was the 2009 Eddie Robinson National FCS Coach of the Year after taking Prairie View A&M to a 9-1 season and a SWAC championship … Frazier went 32-9 in his last four years at Prairie View A&M … The Eagles return 13 starters from last season, including eight on offense … North Carolina Central features a spread offense and operates from a 4-2-5 base defense … QB Michael Johnson threw for 1,179 yards and six touchdowns last season … WR Geovonie Irvine had 53 catches for 758 yards and five TDs … LB Roger Stewart finished 2010 with 50 tackles and 11 tackles for loss.

SYRACUSE vs. Wake Forest
Thu 9/1
8:00 PM
Thursday's game will be just the second meeting between Syracuse and Wake Forest … The only previous meeting was a 20-10 Wake Forest win in the 2006 season-opener, jump-starting the Deacons to an 11-3 season and an ACC championship … The game will be the first Thursday-night home date for Syracuse since a Nov. 23, 1989, Thanksgiving matchup against West Virginia, won by the Mountaineers, 24-17.

Syracuse has increased its win total in each of Doug Marrone's first two seasons at his alma mater, including an 8-5 showing in 2010 … The Orange hope to register their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2001, when they capped a streak of 15 straight winning seasons … Syracuse was 2-4 in home games last season and has dropped four straight at the Carrier Dome … QB Ryan Nassib leads an experience offensive unit that returns its five leading receivers and four starters on the offensive line … Nassib threw for 2,334 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions last season … RB Antwon Bailey (554 yards, 2 TDs) should see an increased workload with the departure of All-Big East tailback Delone Carter … WR Van Chew had 41 receptions for 611 yards and five touchdowns last season … DE Chandler Jones is the featured man on defense following an All-Big East Second Team performance in 2010 … Jones had 57 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season … SS Shamarko Thomas and FS Phillip Thomas return from a secondary that led the Big East in pass defense last year (165.3 ypg) … K Ross Krautman set a Big Eastsingle-season record last year by making 94.7 percent of his field goal attempts (18 of 19).

Wake Forest went 3-9 overall and was 1-7 in the ACC Atlantic Division in 2010 … The Demon Deacons snapped a nine-game losing streak with a win at Vanderbilt in the season finale … Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe ranks second on the school's career wins list … The Deacons return 17 starters from last year's team … QB Tanner Price started the last nine games of 2010 as a true freshman, throwing for 1,349 yards and seven touchdowns with eight interceptions … RB Josh Harris — also a true freshman last year — was the leading rusher with 720 yards and seven touchdowns … The top returning receiver is WR Chris Giens, who had team highs of 514 yards and four touchdown catches last year … The defense returns nine starters from a unit that allowed six opponents to score at least 30 points … LB Kyle Wilber led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks last season, while NG Nikita Whitlock had 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks … Wake Forest plays nine opponents that played in a bowl game last season.

USF at Notre Dame
Sat 9/3
3:30 PM
Saturday's game will be the first meeting between USF and Notre Dame on the gridiron … Despite the lack of a series history, both head coaches are quite familiar with their opponent … USF coach Skip Holtz is a 1986 graduate of Notre Dame, a former Irish player and was an assistant coach at his alma mater from 1990-93 … Holtz's father, Lou Holtz, was Notre Dame's head coach for 11 years (1986-96) and won the 1988 national championship … Current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly spent three years in the Big East at Cincinnati (2007-09), during which time the Bearcats won two Big East titles.

USF has finished 8-5 in each of the last three seasons and is one of just 15 schools that has won at least eight games in five consecutive seasons … USF has played in a bowl game in each year it has been a member of the Big East … Head coach Skip Holtz has taken his teams to five straight bowl games, including four trips as head coach at East Carolina … QB B.J. Daniels returns for his third year as the Bulls' starting signal-caller … Daniels battled through injuries to throw for 1,685 yards and 11 touchdowns last year … RB Demetris Murray is the top returning rusher, with 542 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, but RB Darrell Scott — a transfer from Colorado — could see significant carries as well … WR A.J. Love returns to the lineup for a sixth year of eligibility after he missed all of last year with a knee injury … LB DeDe Lattimore (69 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and LB Sam Barrington (65 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss) lead a veteran defense … WR Lindsey Lamar was the 2010 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year after he turned in 1,101 all-purpose yards last year.

Notre Dame enters the 2011 season ranked No. 16 in the preseason Associated Press poll and No. 18 in the USA Today coaches' poll … The Fighting Irish were 8-5 last season in Brian Kelly's first season in South Bend … Notre Dame was 4-5 through nine games last season, but reeled off four straight wins to close the season … QB Dayne Crist has been named as the Opening Day starter … Crist threw for 2,033 yards and 15 touchdowns with seven interceptions in an injury-shortened 2010 season … WR Michael Floyd is considered one of the nation's top receivers, evidenced by a school-record 28 career touchdown receptions … Floyd has 13 career games with at least 100 receiving yards … The Irish defense lists eight returning starters from last year, including LB Manti Te'o, who registered 133 tackles and had 9.5 tackles for loss last year … K David Ruffer (18-19 FG, 37-40 PAT) was a finalist for the Lou Groza Award in 2010.

WEST VIRGINIA vs. Marshall
Sun 9/4
3:30 PM
Sunday's game will be the 11th meeting between West Virginia and Marshall in the Friends of Coal Bowl … The Mountaineers have won all 10 previous meetings … The series dates to the 1911 season, though the schools only played five times from 1911 to 1997 … The 2011 matchup is the sixth game in a scheduled seven-year series … The closest call for West Virginia came last season, when the Mountaineers scored the final 15 points in a 24-21 overtime decision in Huntington, W.Va., when Mountaineer QB Geno Smith threw for 316 yards and a touchdown … Marshall head coach Doc Holliday is a 1979 graduate of West Virginia and is a former assistant coach with the Mountaineers … The winner of the West Virginia-Marshall game receives the Governor's Cup.

Sunday's game will mark the head coaching debut of Dana Holgorsen, who became the Mountaineers' 33rd football coach in June … Holgorsen had most recently served as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, where he engineered a Cowboy unit that averaged 520.2 yards and 44.2 points per game last season … The keys to Holgorsen's offensve will go to QB Geno Smith, the All-Big East Second Team selection in 2010 … Smith threw for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions last year in his first season as a starter … WR Tavon Austin had eight touchdown receptions and had 787 receiving yards last year and is the top returning receiver … WR Ryan Nehlen, who could crack the starting lineup, is the grandson of former Mountaineer head coach Don Nehlen … West Virginia ranked No. 2 nationally in sacks, rushing defense and third-down defense and was No. 3 in scoring and total defense last year, but returns just four starters from that unit … CB Keith Tandy earned All-Big East First Team honors thanks to his six interceptions in 2010 … DE Bruce Irvin registered 14 sacks, playing primarily as a third-down end.

Marshall won just one of its first seven games in 2010, but closed the season with four wins in the last five games to finish 5-7 … The Thundering Herd return nine starters from last year's defense, including DE Vinny Curry, who was an All-Conference USA First Team pick … Curry was the national leader in tackles among defensive linemen last season (94) and had 12 sacks … The Thundering Herd return their defensive secondary unit intact … Marshall relied on 28 freshmen last season, second nationally only to Florida, which had 31 freshmen see game action last year … Marshall returns its top four rushers and two of its top three receivers from last year, but will have to rely on a new quarterback … Thundering Herd defensive coordinator Chris Rippon spent 13 years in the Big East, including 12 years at Syracuse as a defensive and special teams coordinator.

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