Big East Football Roundup

We cap the regular season and look ahead to the Big East bowl games in this edition of the Big East roundup.

The Eagles will play before a partisan crowd in Charlotte when they take on North Carolina in the Continental Tire Bowl on Dec. 30. But tuning out obnoxious fans is nothing new to Boston College, which has been treated like the Big East's ugly stepsister since announcing plans to leave for the ACC last fall. North Carolina faithful have already purchased more than 20,000 tickets for the game, which will be played at Bank of America Stadium.

"I'm proud of the way our fans have responded in a short time," North Carolina director of athletics Dick Baddour said. "It is a tribute to the student-athletes and coaches on this team that so many fans want to watch them play one more time."

Boston College fans hope to see quarterback Paul Peterson suit up again. The senior quarterback broke his right (throwing) hand in a game against Temple on Nov. 20, but is expected to be available. In Peterson's absence, backup Matt Ryan completed 24 of 51 pass attempts for 200 yards and was intercepted three times in a 43-17 loss to Syracuse on Nov. 27.

The Eagles (8-3) hadn't exactly planned for a trip to Charlotte as they let the outright Big East championship and a possible BCS bid slip through their fingers during the season's final two weeks. But any bowl is better than no bowl.

"I know this team is not going to end the season the way we played (against Syracuse)," defensive tackle Tim Bulman said. "I know I'm not. I have a lot of fire left. I am really looking forward to one more game to get things done."

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- Consecutive bowl invitations secured by Boston College. Tom O'Brien, who is in his eighth season coaching the Eagles, has made appearances in the Insight, Aloha, Music City, Motor City and San Francisco Bowls.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Boston College 36, West Virginia 17 (Nov. 13) -- The Eagles vaulted into the BCS picture behind punt returns for touchdowns by DeJuan Tribble and Will Blackmon. Boston College would've locked up the automatic berth had it closed the season with victories over Temple and Syracuse. But the Orange stung the Eagles, 43-17, two weeks later.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Boston College CB Will Blackmon vs. North Carolina QB Darian Durant -- The 6-0, 198-pound Blackmon picked off three interceptions and managed 42 tackles during the regular season. He is widely considered the league's best cover corner. Durant passed for 1,979 yards and 14 touchdowns in 11 games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to play another football game. I think the way it worked out, short of a New Year's Day game, this is the best situation for us in terms of travel. We finally get a game east of the Mississippi and in a good time slot for us." -- Coach Tom O'Brien, on accepting an invitation to the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte.

BOWL AT A GLANCE: Boston College (8-3) vs. North Carolina (6-5), Continental Tire Bowl, Charlotte, Dec. 30 -- Eagles get an early taste of what the ACC is all about.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Grant Adams -- The 6-1, 201-pound senior leads the Eagles with 47 receptions for 692 yards (14.7 per catch). Adams has also scored two touchdowns in 11 games.

LB Brian Toal -- The Big East Rookie of the Year started Boston College's final seven games and was second on the team with 70 tackles. Toal was only the second defensive player since 1994 to be receive the honor.

PRO POTENTIAL: DE Mathias Kiwanuka -- The Big East Defensive Player of the Year led the conference with 10 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. The 6-7, 261-pound Kiwanuka spearheaded the Eagles' defense, which allowed just 16.3 points per game.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Paul Peterson broke his right (throwing) hand during the Temple game on Nov. 20 but is expected to return for Boston College's bowl appearance.

The Huskies' first season as Big East members -- and only its third in Division I-A -- will end in storybook fashion when they face Mid-American Conference champion Toledo in the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 27. Coach Randy Edsall's team entered the league a year ahead of schedule, which has proven to be a landmark decision. Connecticut (7-4) was able to take advantage of the league's weakened state and secure its first-ever bowl bid. The Huskies accepted the Motor City Bowl invitation on Nov. 30, after Boston College made public its intentions to play in the Continental Tire Bowl. "People are ecstatic for us," Edsall told the Hartford Courant. "It gives us great momentum. It sets us apart from other people." Connecticut capped the regular season with wins over Buffalo (29-0) and Rutgers (41-35). The Huskies beat only two teams that finished with winning records -- I-AA Murray State and Pittsburgh -- but nonetheless performed well in 2004. The bowl game will give senior quarterback Dan Orlovsky one more opportunity to showcase his talents for professional scouts. Orlovsky has passed for more than 10,000 yards in his four seasons at Connecticut.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Seasons since Connecticut competed at the I-AA level. The Huskies made the move to I-A in 2002 and have managed a 22-13 record since.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Connecticut 41, Rutgers 35 (Nov. 25) -- A Thanksgiving Day victory all but guaranteed the Huskies their first-ever bowl invitation. QB Dan Orlovsky passed for 265 yards and three touchdowns, while tailback Cornell Brockington added three scores.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Connecticut QB Dan Orlovsky vs. Toledo FS Patrick Body -- The 6-5, 236-pound Orlovsky completed 268 of 416 pass attempts for 3,115 yards and 21 touchdowns against 14 interceptions in the regular season, second in the Big East behind Rutgers' Ryan Hart for passing yards per game (283.2). Body managed two interceptions and led Toledo with 95 tackles.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not hard when you're waiting for a bowl. It doesn't matter what bowl. We're going to a bowl. I couldn't be happier." -- Connecticut linebacker Alfred Fincher to the Hartford Courant, regarding the Huskies' first-ever bowl invitation.

BOWL AT A GLANCE: Connecticut (7-4) vs. Toledo (9-3), Motor City Bowl, Detroit, Dec. 27.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: TB Cornell Brockington -- The 6-0, 195-pound Brockington leads the Big East in rushing yards per game (104.2). He managed 1,146 total yards on the ground and 11 touchdowns.

CB Justin Perkins -- The All-Big East selection picked off four interceptions and delivered 11 pass breakups in the regular season. Perkins also managed 35 tackles.

PRO POTENTIAL: QB Dan Orlovsky -- The senior has the size and arm strength to merit a good look on the next level. Doesn't do much with his feet, either scrambling or on a rollout, but he gets rid of the ball fast to avoid taking more sacks.

INJURY IMPACT: DE Tyler King (broken leg) is out indefinitely. Brockington (shoulder) should be available for Connecticut's bowl appearance.

There was little question as to where Panthers coach Walter Harris was headed following Saturday's 43-14 win at South Florida. Harris, who ran off the field underneath a huge sombrero, wasted no time celebrating his team's BCS berth and impending trip to the Fiesta Bowl. Quarterback Tyler Palko threw for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns, guaranteeing Pittsburgh (8-3) the Big East's automatic bid.

"It doesn't really matter who we play, where we play or what time we play," Palko told the Associated Press after the win over South Florida. "I'm just excited to get our football team the kind of respect that we've earned. And with that, we've set the bar high. There's going to be naysayers here and there, but the only way we take care of that is continue to stay focused as a team and keep winning."

The Panthers will play the undefeated and explosive Utah Utes on New Year's Day.

The win marked the Panthers' sixth in the last seven games. Pittsburgh, however, emerged as a relative surprise considering it opened the season 2-2 and needed overtime to get past Division I-AA Furman. But Palko and wide receiver Greg Lee, who burned South Florida for three touchdowns, began to click as the season progressed. The results have been better than anyone expected.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Pittsburgh's margin of victory over Division I-AA opponent Furman on Sept. 25. Had the Panthers lost in overtime that day, their chances of securing the Big East's BCS bid would have been severely hindered.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Pittsburgh 16, West Virginia 13 (Nov. 25) -- The 97th installment of the "Backyard Brawl" had BCS implications. Had the Mountaineers managed a victory at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, it's safe to say they would be representing the Big East in the BCS rather than the Panthers.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: QB Alex Smith vs. the Panther secondary -- Smith had one of the best seasons of any quarterback -- throwing for 2,624 yards and 28 touchdowns. Smith loves to sling it around -- and also make things happen with his feet -- and unless Pittsburgh plays its best game, Walt Harris & Co. could have a problem.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought this was a big game, obviously, for us because we had to make a statement that we weren't backing in. We had a chance to take care of our destiny. Our players stepped up and played like we had to play." -- Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris, regarding his team's 43-14 win at South Florida on Saturday and subsequent bowl invitation.

BOWL AT A GLANCE: Pittsburgh (8-3) vs. Utah, Fiesta Bowl, Tempe, Ariz., Jan. 1 -- The Panthers are headed to their fifth straight bowl under Walt Harris, but haven't played on New Year's Day or later since 1983.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Tyler Palko -- The junior passed for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns in Saturday's win over South Florida. He has grown rapidly week to week and has completed 208 of 369 attempts for 2,816 yards and 23 scores, with only seven interceptions.

PK Josh Cummings -- The All-Big East selection has connected on 18 of 25 field goals and ranks ninth nationally with 1.64 made per game.

PRO POTENTIAL: OT Rob Petitti -- The 6-6, 330-pound senior is widely considered Pittsburgh's top player. Because he is a lineman and the Panthers' run attack has left much to be desired this season, Petitti hasn't drawn much attention. But pro scouts are aware of his potential.

INJURY IMPACT: 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 IN 2005: 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.

Coach Paul Pasqualoni's job may still be on the line, but at least he has guided Syracuse to a bowl game for the first time since 2001. The Orange (6-5) will be playing in the Champs Sports Bowl against Georgia Tech. Nonetheless, director of athletics Jake Crouthamel has yet to publicly back Pasqualoni. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, Crouthamel declined comment as to whether or not he had met with Pasqualoni to discuss the future.

For the short term, Pasqualoni's biggest concern is the health of senior tailback Walter Reyes. Syracuse was able to upset Boston College two weeks ago without Reyes in the lineup, but figures to be a much stronger team with him running the football. Backup running back Damien Rhodes started for Reyes against Boston College, but sustained a knee injury in the first quarter and couldn't return. Pasqualoni then turned to strong safety Diamond Ferri, who managed 141 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Orange, however, hope no further personnel miracles are needed as both Reyes and Rhodes should be available for the postseason.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Losses Syracuse suffered during the regular season to bowl-bound teams -- Virginia, Purdue, Florida State and West Virginia.

GAME OF THE YEAR: Syracuse 38, Pittsburgh 31 (Nov. 6) -- The Orange needed two overtimes to beat the Big East's BCS representative in the Carrier Dome. TB Damien Rhodes accounted for all 25 yards on Syracuse's game-winning drive and capped it with a 2-yard touchdown. Rhodes delivered 103 yards on the ground, while fellow tailback Walter Reyes added 123.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: TB Walter Reyes vs. the Georgia Tech run defense -- Reyes is strong, tough and productive -- when healthy. He ran for 856 yards, but missed the final two games of the season. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni believes Reyes should be ready to play against Tech.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know even from high school I didn't get to finish my season the way I wanted to since we ended up losing in the semifinals for the state tournament. It's really a great opportunity to have a dedicated coaching staff and an even more excited team to go into the last game of the season and prepare for a win." -- Syracuse captain Matt Tarullo, on the postseason.

BOWL AT A GLANCE: Syracuse vs. Georgia Tech, Champs Sports Bowl, Orlando, Dec. 21

PLAYERS TO WATCH: SS Diamond Ferri -- The senior turned in one the season's most impressive performances, 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 over Boston College on Nov. 27. He also returned punts.

QB Perry Patterson -- The sophomore has completed 147 of 255 passes for 1,632 yards and six touchdowns (against nine interceptions). Patterson is the question mark and must do a lot to prove he can lead this team into a high-intensity situation.

PRO POTENTIAL: TB Walter Reyes -- Syracuse's second-leading all-time rusher averaged 100.0 yards per game during the regular season. He delivered 856 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns.

INJURY IMPACT: Reyes (shoulder) missed Syracuse's final two games, but should be ready for a postseason appearance. TB Damien Rhodes (knee) left the Boston College game (Nov. 27) in the first quarter and didn't return.

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