Big East Football Weekend Preview

As the season winds down, the pressure is on as Big East teams scamble for bowl berths.

To understand Boston College's success this season, look no further than its defense. The Eagles have the Big East's top-ranked scoring defense (13.2 ppg.) and total defense (313.9 ypg.) and are in position to secure a BCS berth.

Boston College (7-2) limited West Virginia to a pair of offensive touchdowns on Saturday in a game that may have determined the league's BCS representative. If the No. 19 Eagles beat Temple (2-8) on Saturday and Syracuse (5-5) on Nov. 27, they will lock up the invitation.

"(Defense) has been the most experienced group coming in," Boston College coach Tom O'Brien said. "We have some great players up front in (DT Tim) Bulman and (DE Mathias) Kiwanuka. But I don't know if we could've expected Brian Toal to fill in the way he has at linebacker."

While the Eagles' offense managed just 243 total yards in a 36-17 win at West Virginia, special teams spelled the difference. Both Will Blackmon and DeJuan Tribble returned punts for touchdowns and place-kicker Ryan Ohliger drilled three field goals.

O'Brien's biggest challenge may be keeping his players from looking past the final two games.

"With all the upsets in college football, there's a history," O'Brien said. "You can point to things. If we're not smart enough to figure it out, we'll be in trouble."

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Eagles managed only 243 yards, but still handed West Virginia a 36-17 loss on Saturday. Redshirt freshman running back L.V. Whitworth rushed for 84 yards and quarterback Paul Peterson completed 18 of 30 passes for 162 yards. Boston College's offense is ranked fifth in the Big East with 23.1 ppg.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The league's top ranked defense -- 13.1 ppg., 313.9 ypg. -- limited West Virginia to two offensive touchdowns. DE Mathias Kiwanuka sacked quarterback Rasheed Marshall twice last week and leads the Big East with 17 tackles for loss.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "At one point I said to him on Saturday, 'Jeesh, if we had you for four years you might really be a good quarterback.' " -- Boston College coach Tom O'Brien, talking about senior Paul Peterson. A junior college transfer, Peterson has won 10 of the 12 games he has started for the Eagles, dating to last season.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Boston College at Temple, Nov. 20 -- The Eagles are coming off a 36-17 win at West Virginia on Saturday, while the Owls edged Syracuse 34-24. Boston College handed Temple a 38-13 loss in 2003.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: KR/PR Will Blackmon -- The junior returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown against West Virginia. Blackmon leads the Big East with a 29.2-yard kickoff return average and is second in punt returns (13.8). DE Mathias Kiwanuka -- The junior, who led the Big East with 11.5 sacks in 2003, has recorded eight this season and is tied for the league lead with Ryan Neill of Rutgers. Kiwanuka also has a conference-best 17 tackles for loss.

ROSTER REPORT: No significant injuries or moves.

The Huskies, who have lost three times on the road this season, will return home to Rentschler Field on Saturday for a matchup with Buffalo (2-8). Three of Connecticut's four defeats this season occurred away from home.

The Huskies (5-4) have dropped two straight games, including Saturday's 30-10 loss at Georgia Tech. Quarterback Dan Orlovsky passed for 205 yards and receiver Keron Henry reeled in six receptions for 65 yards, but Connecticut was issued a second consecutive defeat for the first time since October of 2002.

Tailback Cornell Brockington, the Big East's leading rusher (104.1 ypg.), managed just 43 yards on 18 carries. The Yellow Jackets took a 20-3 halftime lead and never looked back.

"I thought our defense played well throughout the game," Huskies coach Randy Edsall said. "But we weren't able to get the offense moving because of the Georgia Tech defense, which was the best we've faced all year."

The good news is Connecticut needs just one win to become bowl eligible for the first time in school history. Following the Buffalo game, the Huskies will have just four days to prepare for a conference battle against Rutgers (4-5) on Thanksgiving.

"I'm not a real big fan of (the schedule), to tell you the truth," Edsall said. "The exposure is nice, but it hinders the kids in terms of academics and how you have to prepare. We've been through this when we have a Saturday game and play again on Thursday. Fortunately, we have experience with it."

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Senior QB Dan Orlovsky is the Big East's second-ranked passer (285.3 ypg.), while RB Cornell Brockington is its top-ranked rusher (104.1 ypg.). Orlovsky has thrown for 17 touchdowns against 12 interceptions in nine games. The Huskies are averaging 28.2 points per game, third in the conference behind West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Huskies own the league's third-ranked scoring (23.9 ppg.) and total (344.2 ypg.) defense. Alfred Fincher and Maurice Lloyd, both senior linebackers, have recorded 109 and 83 tackles, respectively.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our kids are looking forward to going out and practicing and sending our seniors out in a special way. These are the guys who were the foundation, the architects. We need to send them off the right way." -- Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, on finishing the season in strong fashion for his senior class.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Buffalo at UConn, Nov. 20 -- The Huskies are coming off a 30-10 loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday, but should get healthy in this game. Connecticut handed Buffalo a 38-8 loss in 2003.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Dan Orlovsky -- The senior completed 28 of 49 passes for 205 yards against Georgia Tech, but failed to throw for a touchdown. Orlovsky has passed for 12 scores against seven interceptions. PK Matt Nuzie -- The sophomore has connected on 14 of 19 field goal attempts, with a long of 51.

ROSTER REPORT: DE Tyler King (broken leg) is out indefinitely.

Coach Walter Harris was still praising quarterback Tyler Palko two days after the junior led Pittsburgh to a 41-38 road win over Notre Dame.

"Our quarterback played extremely well," Harris said. "He was great when the chips were down. He's a tremendous competitor and has a bright future."

Palko became the first player in history to burn the Irish with five touchdown passes. Palko completed 26 of 42 attempts for 334 yards, and place-kicker Josh Cummings sealed the win with a 32-yard field goal with one second left.

The victory marked Pittsburgh's first in South Bend since 1986. The Panthers have won four of their past five games and are in the hunt for one of the conference's four guaranteed bowl invitations. But first, Pittsburgh (6-3) will turn its attention to the "Backyard Brawl" with West Virginia (8-2) on Thanksgiving, which follows an open date this weekend. The two rivals will hook up for a night game on ESPN.

"We just got to do everything we can to get ready to play great against West Virginia," Harris said. "It's always the hardest hitting game we play in each year. We've had excruciating losses the last two times we've played them. If we take care of our business, everything will work out."

The Panthers will close the season at South Florida on Dec. 4.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: WR Greg Lee leads the Big East in receiving yards per game (103.0) and has scored six touchdowns. Pittsburgh's passing attack, led by QB Tyler Palko, is ranked third in the Big East (253.7 ypg.).

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Pittsburgh owns the Big East's worst pass defense (264.9 ypg.). The secondary has surrendered 17 touchdowns. Overall, the defensive unit has delivered middle-of-the-pack numbers (25.1 ppg., and 396.4 ypg.).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think people recognize the caliber of the opponent and the name of the opponent. I didn't speak to that many people, but I had a little time to be out and be a human being, so to speak. I did see some people and they were respectful of it. But it doesn't affect me. I'm just happy for our football team and our coaching staff." -- Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris, on the aftermath of Saturday's 41-38 win at Notre Dame.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Pittsburgh (6-3) will take the week off before hosting rival West Virginia in the "Backyard Brawl" on Thanksgiving.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Tyler Palko -- The junior completed 26 of 42 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns at Notre Dame. He is the Big East's second-rated quarterback and is averaging 248.9 passing yards per game. WR Greg Lee -- The Big East's leading receiver reeled in five passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

ROSTER REPORT: No significant injuries or moves.

Rutgers used its bye week to heal and, more importantly, prepare for what could be the most important stretch of coach Greg Schiano's career. The Scarlet Knights must defeat Navy (7-2) on Saturday and Connecticut (5-4) five days later to secure their first winning season since 1992. A pair of victories would also make Rutgers eligible for postseason consideration. A split would leave the Scarlet Knights (4-5) not much better than last year's 5-7 version, while two losses might send a much different message.

"Hopefully the things we preach and talk to them all the time about -- staying in the moment and staying within the process -- comes up in the stretch run," Schiano said. "You don't want your guys pressing. But I don't think that will be an issue with our guys."

Schiano will look to defensive end Ryan Neill (tied for the league lead with eight sacks) and wide receiver Tres Moses (sixth nationally in receptions per game) for leadership over the next two weeks.

Rutgers, incidentally, owns a 1-6 record in post-bye week games under Schiano. The Scarlet Knights, however, handed Navy a 48-27 loss in last season's meeting.

"It's going to be a real challenge going to Annapolis and playing Navy,'' Schiano said. "They run the option out of double slots and run it very well."

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Rutgers owns the Big East's top-ranked passing game (295.6 ypg.) and last-ranked rushing offense (88.6). The Scarlet Knights have rushed for 100 or more yards as a team just once in the last eight games. That might not be a huge deal against Navy, which was torched through the air by Tulane in its most recent game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The unit turned in what was perhaps its most impressive performance of the season at Boston College on Nov. 6. The Scarlet Knights surrendered two defensive touchdowns and forced four turnovers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're in better shape physically. ... We practiced twice and weight trained twice. We only had two on-field workouts and a long weekend. I think the guys feel a lot better this week." -- Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, on his plan for the recent off week.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at Navy, Nov. 20 -- The Scarlet Knights handed the Midshipmen a 48-27 loss last season. Rutgers is bigger and stronger than Navy, but the Middies are a very efficient team that makes few mistakes and loves beating bigger teams.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Tres Moses -- The senior caught six passes for 98 yards in a 21-10 loss to Boston College on Nov. 6. Moses needs one more reception to tie Rutgers' single-season record of 69. He has managed 56 catches for 659 yards in the past six games. QB Ryan Hart -- Though he has accounted for 14 turnovers in Rutgers' last three games, Hart leads the Big East in passing yardage (2,611). He has thrown for 14 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.

ROSTER REPORT: WR Shawn Tucker (groin) will miss the remainder of the season. LG Brian Duffy (knee) and DT Gary Gibson (knee) missed the Boston College game (Nov. 6) and are questionable for Navy.

Syracuse will use its bye week to think about what went wrong during Saturday's 34-24 loss to Temple and look ahead to a season finale against No. 19 Boston College (7-2) on Nov. 27. The Orange, who have won two of their last three, will need one additional victory to become eligible for the postseason. Syracuse hasn't been to a bowl since 2001.

"We're a little bumped up and a little tired," coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "This will give us a chance to refresh ourselves. Our final game against Boston College will give us a chance for a winning season and to become bowl eligible."

With starting tailback Walter Reyes on the sideline nursing a shoulder injury, reserve Damien Rhodes rushed for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns. His effort, however, wasn't enough as Temple snapped a Big East losing streak that dated back to 2002.

Syracuse (5-5) sliced Temple's lead to 24-17 after Rhodes rushed for a 16-yard touchdown with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter, but couldn't get any closer. Pasqualoni must now address glaring problems on defense and special teams.

"The problem we had was they got up on us and defensively, we couldn't stop them," Pasqualoni said. "When we did stop them, we made critical errors on special teams. ... We made too many miscues."

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Junior TB Damien Rhodes rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in place of injured starter Walter Reyes, but couldn't lead Syracuse to victory. QB Perry Patterson completed 20 of 35 passes for 240 yards. The Orange feature the league's sixth-ranked scoring offense (23.0 ppg.).

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Syracuse fields the Big East's sixth-ranked scoring (27.6 ppg.) and total (433.7 ypg.) defense. Junior James Wyche leads all Big East linemen with 62 tackles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The Big East is really something. There is actually a lot of football left to play with two weeks to go. We've got to try to bounce back from this thing and get ready to play a very good Boston College team." -- Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni, on Saturday's 34-24 loss to Temple and the remainder of the season.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Syracuse (5-5) will take the week off before traveling to Boston College (7-2) for a league game on Nov. 27.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: TB Damien Rhodes -- Filling in for injured starter Walter Reyes, the junior rushed for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Temple on Saturday. It marked Rhodes' second straight 100-yard game. FS Anthony Smith -- The junior recorded 14 tackles, five solos, against Temple. Smith has reeled in two interceptions this season and returned one for a touchdown.

ROSTER REPORT: TB Walter Reyes (shoulder) missed the Temple game and is questionable for Boston College.

Owls coach Bobby Wallace has grown so familiar with quarterback Walter Washington's exploits that he sometimes takes them for granted.

"He's played the same the last four or five weeks," Wallace said. "He's just such a great runner. He runs from strength and carries people. You think you have him defended and when you tackle him, he's gone five yards. I almost forget to mention him because we take him for granted."

Washington rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns in Saturday's 34-24 win over Syracuse. He also set the Big East's single-season rushing record for a quarterback. He has 816 yards on 201 carries. Washington also completed 10 of 19 passes for 130 yards against Syracuse. He has played a part in Temple's last 14 touchdowns.

"He's a dominating football player," Wallace said. "He could've got more recognition earlier if we won some games."

The Owls (2-8) will host No. 19 Boston College (7-2) in their season finale on Saturday. The game will also mark Temple's last in the Big East as the program will be an independent next season.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Walter Washington is the focal point of Temple's offense, averaging 192.4 passing yards and 81.6 rushing yards. Washington leads the conference with 15 rushing touchdowns. The Owls are the lowest-scoring team in the Big East at 22.1 ppg.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Temple owns the conference's last-ranked scoring (36.5 ppg.) and total (441.3) defense. LB Rian Wallace leads the team with 91 tackles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We finally put one away. ... It was very satisfying. I'm very proud of our players for continuing to fight." -- Temple coach Bobby Wallace, on his team's 34-24 victory over Syracuse on Saturday.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Boston College at Temple, Nov. 20 -- The Owls are coming off a 34-24 win over Syracuse on Saturday, while the Eagles bested West Virginia 36-17. Boston College leads the series 11-2.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Walter Washington -- The junior, who is responsible for Temple's last 14 touchdowns, rushed for 185 yards and three scores against Syracuse. Washington also completed 10 of 19 passes for 130 yards. He was named the Big East Co-Offensive Player of the Week with Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko. WR Ikey Chuku -- Not only did the senior manage three receptions for 28 yards, but he also completed a 51-yard pass to Buchie Ibeh.

ROSTER REPORT: DL Antwon Burton (foot) is out indefinitely.

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