Big East Football Roundup

Wrapping up the regular Big East season and looking ahead to bowl games and the offseason

As the Eagles begin preparations for the Continental Tire Bowl, they undoubtedly will ponder what could have been.

Had No. 23 Boston College beaten Syracuse on Saturday, it would've locked up its first Big East championship and a berth in the Bowl Championship Series. Instead, the Eagles are headed to Charlotte, N.C., for a Dec. 30 game against future ACC foe North Carolina (6-5). That's a decent matchup, but a far cry from a New Year's Day appearance.

Syracuse, fueled by the virtuoso performance of safety/tailback Diamond Ferri, handed Boston College a 43-17 loss in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Ferri, pressed into duty in the backfield, rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns and also returned an interception for a score.

"We're all disappointed at (Saturday's) performance, and we certainly offer no excuses for that," Boston College director of athletics Gene DeFilippo told the Boston Globe. "However, when I look back at it, it was a very, very successful season."

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: With starting QB Paul Peterson sidelined by a broken hand, Boston College managed just 200 passing yards in a 43-17 loss to Syracuse on Nov. 27. Backup quarterback Matt Ryan completed 24 of 51 attempts and was intercepted three times. The Eagles' rushing offense has also dropped to fifth (132.1 ypg.) in the seven-team Big East.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Eagles own the Big East's top scoring (16.3 ppg.) and second-ranked total (330.0 ypg.) defense. Boston College, led by DE Mathias Kiwanuka and CB Will Blackmon, has surrendered a league-low 20 touchdowns in 11 games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got a lot to prove. People say we're no good after just one game. We're going to prove we're a good team." -- Boston College quarterback Paul Peterson.

NEXT GAME: No. 23 Boston College (8-3) will play North Carolina (6-5) in the Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 30 in Charlotte, N.C.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: LB Brian Toal -- The true freshman blocked a punt with 31 seconds left in the first half and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown against Syracuse on Nov. 27. The score cut Syracuse's lead to 24-10, but Boston College didn't get any closer.

DE Mathias Kiwanuka -- The junior, who led the Big East with 11.5 sacks in 2003, has recorded 10 this season and 19.5 tackles for loss.

ROSTER REPORT: QB Paul Peterson broke his right hand on Nov. 20 and is sidelined indefinitely.

The Huskies now know where they are going for their first-ever bowl game. They will be motorin'.

On Tuesday, the Huskies accepted a bid to the Dec. 27 game, played at Ford Field in Detroit. They will play the winner of the MAC title game between Toledo and Miami (Ohio).

"We were ecstatic that the University of Connecticut was available to us and it took all of about three seconds for an unanimous vote," said Motor City Bowl executive director Ken Hoffman.

The Huskies (7-4) became bowl-eligible with a 29-0 win over Buffalo on Nov. 20 and improved their chances of selection by beating league foe Rutgers, 41-35, on Nov. 25. Connecticut was reportedly prepared to accept an invitation to the Continental Tire Bowl last week, but Pittsburgh's win over West Virginia and Syracuse's upset of Boston College over the weekend altered the conference's balance. But for a team that just moved up to Division I-A in 2002 and joined the Big East in 2004, any bowl is a mighty big bowl.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Senior QB Dan Orlovsky is the Big East's second-ranked passer (283.2 ypg.), while RB Cornell Brockington is its top-ranked rusher (104.2 ypg.). Orlovsky has thrown for 21 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in 11 games. The Huskies are averaging 29.5 points per game, second in the conference behind West Virginia.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Huskies own the league's third-ranked scoring (22.7 ppg.) and total (331.6 ypg.) defense. Alfred Fincher and Maurice Lloyd, both senior linebackers, have recorded 131 and 99 tackles, respectively.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We talked all year long about seizing the opportunity and this young group of men did just that." -- Coach Randy Edsall, on the Huskies being selected for the Motor City Bowl.

NEXT GAME: Connecticut (7-4) will be playing in the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 27 in Detroit against the winner of the MAC title game -- either Toledo or Miami (Ohio).

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Dan Orlovsky -- The senior completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 264 yards and three touchdowns in his final regular season game against Rutgers. Orlovsky, who managed scoring passes of 16, 32 and 3 yards, also rushed for 40 yards.

RB Cornell Brockington -- The Big East's leading rusher delivered 73 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the first half against Rutgers. He also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass, but didn't return for the final two quarters after sustaining a shoulder injury.

ROSTER REPORT: DE Tyler King (broken leg) is out indefinitely. Brockington (shoulder) should be available for the bowl game.

The Panthers' Bowl Championship Series fate is in their own hands. A win at South Florida on Saturday will complete Pittsburgh's quick rise from the middle of the Big East standings and seal the bid. Thanks to the Panthers' 16-13 win over rival West Virginia on Nov. 25 -- and Boston College's timely 43-17 loss to Syracuse two days later -- the conference was turned upside-down in a single weekend.

There is a four-way tie atop the standings between No. 19 Pittsburgh, No. 23 Boston College, West Virginia and Syracuse. But the Panthers would win the tiebreaker by beating South Florida, and then likely would be off to the Fiesta Bowl, with the Sugar also being a possibility.

"It is all in our hands now," junior quarterback Tyler Palko told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We are back to where we were at the beginning of the season. It is all on us."

The Panthers (7-3) have won two straight games and five of their last six. The stretch includes victories over Boston College, Notre Dame and West Virginia. So, what happens if Pittsburgh loses to future Big East member South Florida (4-6)? The Panthers could still win the BCS berth, but their fate would be determined by polls.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Tyler Palko guides the Big East's fourth-ranked passing offense (244.8 ypg.). Greg Lee, Palko's favorite target, is ranked sixth nationally with 105.1 receiving yards per game. Pittsburgh's ground game, however, leaves something to be desired. The Panthers are averaging 110.3 yards, 98th in the country

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Pittsburgh's pass defense, which is ranked last in the seven-team Big East, has surrendered an average of 252.9 yards per game. The Panthers' scoring defense (22.7 ppg.) is ranked third in the league.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is now bigger than the West Virginia and Notre Dame games because a win puts us where we want to be. You can't ask for anything more than that, you want to have those kinds of situations. That's what all the hard work all year long is for." -- QB Tyler Palko, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on what is at stake in the South Florida game.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Pittsburgh at South Florida, Dec. 4 -- This non-conference game was originally scheduled for Sept. 6, but was postponed due to Hurricane Frances. The Panthers will lock up the Big East's automatic BCS bid with a victory. Pittsburgh is coming off a 16-13 win over West Virginia in the "Backyard Brawl," while South Florida suffered a 30-12 loss to Memphis on Saturday.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Tyler Palko -- The junior completed just 14 of 38 pass attempts for 165 yards against West Virginia, but he has been spectacular at times this season. Palko has thrown for 18 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions.

WR Greg Lee -- The Big East's leading receiver (105.1 ypg.) reeled in eight receptions for 124 yards in Thursday's 16-13 win over West Virginia.

ROSTER REPORT: No significant injuries or moves.

The Scarlet Knights entered the season with a chance to build on last year's 5-7 mark. Instead, Rutgers took a step back, losing its final five games to finish 4-7. Coach Greg Schiano's team actually had a chance to win two straight and become bowl eligible, but surrendered 1,100 yards and 95 points in losses to Navy and Connecticut in a six-day stretch.

"(This season) is a disappointment," sophomore cornerback Joe Porter said. "We came in with high hopes. At the same time, it makes us hungry for next year." Though Schiano has won just 12 of 46 games in four seasons, his job is safe. As long as director of athletics Robert Mulcahy is in office -- and he will be until at least 2010 -- Schiano likely will be Rutgers' football coach. The coaching staff must now face the challenge of recruiting off another losing record. Rutgers had secured eight oral commitments by season's end.

The Scarlet Knights, who played a comparatively soft schedule and returned a preponderance of starters, failed to turn the corner this season. And if they thought expectations were relatively high this year, wait until August.

GAME OF THE YEAR: A sellout crowd of 42,612 celebrated the Scarlet Knights' 19-14 victory over Michigan State on Sept. 4 by storming the Rutgers Stadium turf. DE Ryan Neill returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, which helped seal the most significant win of the Greg Schiano era.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: WR Tres Moses -- The senior reeled in 81 receptions for 1,056 yards and five touchdowns. Moses broke Rutgers' single-season records for catches and yardage. Keep in mind, he managed just 12 catches for 108 yards in Rutgers' first three games. Although he has been listed as a senior, he does have one year of eligibility left, as he received a medical redshirt in 2003, when he suffered a severe leg injury in the third game.

RAPID REVIEW: The Scarlet Knights, who finished 5-7 in 2003, faced elevated expectations and failed. They opened the season with a critical win over Michigan State on national television, but tanked the following Saturday in a loss to I-AA New Hampshire. Rutgers dropped its final five games.

FAST FORWARD: Schiano will discover whether or not the bloom is off the rose as he completes his fifth recruiting class over the next two months. The program's fan base, which has been waiting for a winner since 1992, is growing impatient. Most of the starters will be back next season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This thing has been a journey from the beginning. As a head coach, I have to always step back and look. Not at the immediate circumstances, but where were we, where did we start, where are we now and where are we going? I feel good about where we're going and feel good about the young men on our football team. ... Those are all positive things." -- Coach Greg Schiano, on Rutgers' football future.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Ryan Hart -- The junior broke his own school records for passing yardage (3,154), attempts (453) and completions (295), but was picked off 19 times. He shared snaps with backup quarterback Terrence Shawell in Rutgers' final two games. With freshman Mike Teel waiting in the wings, Hart will have to compete to keep his job.

DE Ryan Neill -- Returned from a devastating knee injury in 2002 to lead the Scarlet Knights with eight sacks. He started all 11 games and managed 43 tackles after missing all of the 2003 season. He has one year of eligibility left.

INJURY IMPACT: WR Shawn Tucker missed eight games with a groin injury. The secondary was depleted for the season's second half as Dondre Asberry (spine, neck), Manny Collins (head, face) and Eddie Grimes (head, face) were involved in a car accident on Oct. 16 and didn't return.

Syracuse may be the Big East's most unlikely bowl entrant, as it seemed that coach Paul Pasqualoni spent most of the season trying to avoid the hot seat. Losses to Purdue, Virginia and Florida State held back the team's progress, but the Orange are in position to earn their first bowl berth since 2001.

Syracuse (6-5) handed Boston College a 43-17 loss on Saturday, earning a share of the Big East championship and a likely bowl invitation. Syracuse, No. 19 Pittsburgh, No. 23 Boston College and West Virginia finished in a four-way tie for the conference title. The Orange was squeezed out of Big East's guaranteed tie-ins, but there are plenty of other bowls needing to fill open spots.

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Syracuse's rushing offense, which is ranked second in the Big East (190.4 ypg.), took a hit when reserve tailback Damien Rhodes left the Boston College game on Nov. 27 with a knee injury. With starter Walter Reyes already sidelined with a shoulder ailment, strong safety Diamond Ferri stepped in and rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Syracuse owns the Big East's fifth-ranked scoring (26.6 ppg.) and total (418.9 ypg.) defense. LB Jerry Mackey leads the team with 97 tackles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "If they want to leave the Big East, we'll send them out with a loss." -- Diamond Ferri, in the Boston Globe, on spoiling future ACC member Boston College's hopes for a BCS bid.

NEXT GAME: Syracuse (6-5) awaits word on its postseason future.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: SS Diamond Ferri -- The senior turned in one of the season's most impressive performances against Boston College on Nov. 27, while playing three positions. He rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns, returned an interception 44 yards for a score and made six tackles in a 43-17 win. He also returned punts.

QB Perry Patterson -- The sophomore completed 9 of 16 passes for 88 yards and rushed for a 5-yard touchdown in the victory over Boston College.

ROSTER REPORT: TB Walter Reyes (shoulder) missed Syracuse's final two games, but he might be ready for a postseason appearance. TB Damien Rhodes (knee) left the Boston College game in the first quarter and didn't return.

The Owls limped to a disappointing 2-9 finish, but scored one upset before leaving the Big East. Temple snapped a six-game losing streak on Nov. 13 by edging Syracuse 34-24. The Owls, who were voted out of the league two years ago, will play an independent schedule in 2005. The ouster has been a source of discontent for coach Bobby Wallace, but at least he had the last laugh. Temple, however, will finish last in the conference standings for the second straight season.

Junior quarterback Walter Washington grabbed headlines for most of the season. The 6-2, 240-pound junior college transfer, set the league's rushing record for quarterbacks this season. He passed for 2,207 yards and played a part in 25 touchdowns.

"I almost forget to mention him because we take him for granted," Wallace said.

Temple's football future is uncertain, but at least it has a marquee player at one position. But one question remains. Can Washington lead this soon-to-be independent team out of college football's basement?

GAME OF THE YEAR: The Owls, who had posted a disappointing 13-68 record in Big East play since 1993, scored a victory over Syracuse in their next-to-last conference game. QB Walter Washington rushed for 185 yards and passed for an additional 130 in Temple's only Big East win of the year.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Walter Washington -- Not only did the junior break the Big East's career rushing record for quarterbacks, he also delivered in the pocket. The 6-2, 240-pound Washington rushed for 889 yards, passed for 2,207 and played a part in 25 touchdowns ... all while getting little help from his teammates.

RAPID REVIEW: Temple played the part of conference doormat this season, but scored a surprise victory over Syracuse on Nov. 13. The Owls opened with big losses to Virginia (44-14) and Maryland (45-22), but bested I-AA representative Florida A&M 38-7 in Week 3. Temple also gave Pittsburgh a game at home, but eventually dropped a 27-22 decision.

FAST FORWARD: Temple played its final game in the Big East on Nov. 20 -- a 34-17 loss to Boston College -- and will have an independent schedule in 2005. The Owls were voted out of the league two years ago. According to coach Bobby Wallace, a committee is in the process of determining the school's future in athletics.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We finally put one away. ... It was very satisfying. I'm very proud of our players for continuing to fight." -- Coach Bobby Wallace, on Temple's 34-24 victory over Syracuse on Nov. 13.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Walter Washington -- The 6-2, 240-pound junior could be one the nation's most exciting players next year. He continues to develop and can virtually do what he wants in the Owls' offensive system. Washington will never be a prototypical pocket passer, but his approach has worked, even though Temple's record may not show it.

LB Rian Wallace -- The 6-4, 245-pound junior recorded a team-best 101 tackles, including 5.5 for loss. Even though he missed one game for disciplinary reasons, Wallace proved to be one of the league's top linebackers. He even managed one interception.

INJURY IMPACT: DL Antwon Burton (foot) missed the entire season. But injuries didn't play a significant role in Temple's struggles.

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