Big East Preview - Week One

A preview of this week's Big East conference football openers. All eight teams are in action on either Thursday or Saturday.

CINCINNATI vs. SE Missouri St
Thu 8/30
7:00 pm
ESPN360
Thursday's game will be the first meeting between Cincinnati and Southeast Missouri State … It will mark the regular-season debut of Bearcat head coach Brian Kelly, who took over on the Cincinnati sideline prior to the International Bowl win against Western Michigan to close the 2006 season … Kelly had been head coach at Central Michigan for three seasons and was head coach at Grand Valley State for 13 years, where he won two NCAA Division II championships … The game is the first of four straight for Cincinnati that will be played on FieldTurf.

Cincinnati enters the 2007 season with a three-game winning streak in place after the Bearcats closed 2006 with wins in five of their last six games … The run included a 27-24 win against Western Michigan in the International Bowl … Head coach Brian Kelly has named former Wake Forest QB Ben Mauk his starting quarterback for the opener … "I've never been in such a competitive quarterback situation before with four guys," Kelly told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "It may come down to playing them in a game to figure out who the best guy is." … The other candidates at quarterback are junior Dustin Grutza and sophomores Craig Carey and Tony Pike … The defense returns seven starters from a group that ranked in the top half of the BIG EAST in four of the five major statistical categories … The top returning player on defense is junior DT Terrill Byrd, who was a first team All-BIG EAST selection in 2006 … Junior CB Mike Mickens was an All-BIG EAST Second Team pick last year who ranked eighth nationally in pass breakups.

The Redhawks return 11 starters and 23 letterwinners from a 2006 team that went 4-7 … Southeast Missouri State competes in the Ohio Valley Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision … Junior RB Timmy Holloman is the top offensive returner after he rushed for 653 yards and six touchdowns in 2006 … Senior FB Clint Jones keeps the Redhawks' starting backfield from last season intact for 2007 … The Redhawks lost their starting quarterback and receivers from last season … Fifth-year senior ILB Adam Casper had a team-high 108 tackles to lead the Redhawk defense … Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh attended Southeast Missouri State for a year and is a native of Cape Girardeau, Mo., where the campus is located. Television ESPN 360 Cincinnati Radio WLW-AM 700 (Cincinnati), XM Satellite Radio (Channel 173)


CONNECTICUT At Duke
Sat 9/1
2:00 PM
No TV
Saturday's game will be the second meeting between Connecticut and Duke … The first game between the schools took place Sept. 11, 2004, when the Huskies were 22-20 winners against the Blue Devils at Rentschler Field … That game saw Connecticut rally from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit with 16 unanswered points to close the game, including the game-winning 21-yard field goal by Matt Nuzie with 3:40 left … Connecticut is the only BIG EAST school to open its 2007 season on the road … The game will be the Huskies' first trip to North Carolina since a Nov. 15, 2003 win against Wake Forest (51-17).

While Connecticut opens on the road, the Huskies will play at home seven times in its final 11 games in 2007 … Fourteen starters return from the 2006 team, including eight on offense … Head coach Randy Edsall has announced that junior QB Tyler Lorenzen will be the starter behind center … Lorenzen was a junior college All-American at Palomar (Calif.) last season … "He's the guy who had everything we were looking for in a quarterback in terms of leading our team," said Edsall of Lorenzen … Sophomore RB Donald Brown rushed for 896 yards and seven touchdowns last season, finishing fifth in the BIG EAST in rushing … Senior LB Danny Lansanah had a team-high 99 tackles last season, and senior LB Ryan Henegan had 92 stops and ranked third in the conference in tackles per game … Freshman LB Greg Lloyd Jr. is the son of the former Pittsburgh Steeler standout with the same name and has seen reps with the first defense in the preseason … Receivers coach Matt Cersosimo and his wife, Megan, celebrated the birth of his son, Brady, Aug. 17.

Duke enters Saturday's game against Connecticut looking to shed a 20-game losing streak that stands as the longest in the Division I Bowl Subdivision … The Blue Devils were 0-12 in 2006, but battled ACC champion Wake Forest to a onepoint game … Duke returns all 11 starters on offense from last year and has five defensive starters back … Sophomore QB Thaddeus Lewis had solid numbers as a freshman as he completed 180 of 340 passes for 2,134 yards and 11 touchdowns … Duke averaged just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground, but got five rushing touchdowns from senior RB Justin Boyle … The Blue Devils look to turn around a defense that allowed 28 points or more in nine of the last 10 games … Senior DE Patrick Bailey is the top returner after he registered a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss in 2006.


LOUISVILLE At Murray State
Thu 8/30
7:30 PM
ESPNU
Thursday's game is the 18th meeting between Louisville and Murray State with the Cardinals holding a 10-6 series lead … The schools have not met on the gridiron since a 68-0 Louisville win in the 1990 season … That game was part of the Cardinals' 10-1-1 campaign that ended with a win against Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl … The last five meetings between the Cardinals and Murray State have been played in Louisville … The schools met every year from 1953-60 and just four times since 1980 … The game will be the debut of new Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe.

Expectations are high in Louisville as the Cardinals return 15 starters from last year's team that went 12-1, captured the BIG EAST title and won the FedEx Orange Bowl with a 24-13 decision against ACC champion Wake Forest … Head coach Steve Kragthorpe makes his debut on the Cardinal sideline after spending the last four seasons as head coach at Tulsa … He replaces Bobby Petrino, who stepped down to become head coach of the Atlanta Falcons after last season … The Cardinals are armed with a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in senior QB Brian Brohm, who threw for 3,049 yards and 16 touchdowns against just five interceptions in 2006 … Brohm enters 2007 as the BIG EAST career-record holder with 11 games of at least 300 passing yards… Brohm is protected by junior OT George Bussey, who did not allow a sack last season and was an All-BIG EAST first team pick … The Cardinals also return senior K Art Carmody, the 2006 Lou Groza Award winner as the nation's top kicker and the school's career scoring leader (341 points).

Murray State went 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the Ohio Valley Conference last year under first-year head coach Matt Griffin … The Racers' preseason roster lists 72 players who are either freshmen or sophomores … There are only 14 juniors or seniors on the roster … Despite the youth, 17 starters return from last year's team, including nine on defense … Sophomore QB Zach Barnard threw for 1,583 yards and 11 touchdown passes in 2006 … Eight of the TD passes went to junior WR Rod Harper, who had 573 receiving yards on 48 catches … Senior LB Nathan Williams had 100 tackles last year … Murray State's list of alumni includes Louisville associate athletics director for media relations Kenny Klein.


PITTSBURGH vs. Eastern Michigan
Sat 9/1
6:00 p.m.
No TV
Pittsburgh and Eastern Michigan meet for just the second time … The only previous matchup was a 66-30 win for the Panthers Sept. 9, 1995 … It's the first in a stretch of three home games in four weeks to open the season for Pittsburgh … The Panthers have won nine of their last 10 season openers with the lone setback coming to Notre Dame to start the 2005 campaign … The game marks the fifth straight season in which the Panthers will face at least one opponent from the Mid-American Conference, and Pittsburgh is 5-2 in those games.

The Panthers enter the season armed with 15 returning starters from last year's squad, which went 6-6 overall and 2-5 in the BIG EAST … Pittsburgh won six of its first seven games to start last year, but looks to rebound from a fivegame slide to close the season … Eight starters return from an offense that averaged 31.8 points per game last year, including a solid ballcarrier in junior RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (893 yards, 9 TDs) … Head coach Dave Wannstedt has named junior QB Bill Stull his Week 1 starter … Stull saw spot duty last year behind 2006 BIG EAST passing efficiency leader Tyler Palko, but, "he has performed the best and is the most confident," according to Wannstedt … The Panthers were dealt a blow with the season-ending knee injury to senior WR Derek Kinder, who ranked second in the BIG EAST in receptions per game in 2006 … The defense, which loses BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year H.B. Blades, is led by senior DE Joe Clermond, who led the conference in tackles for loss last season … Junior K Connor Lee scored a team-high 83 points last season.

The Eagles struggled to a 1-11 overall record and a 1-7 mark in the Mid- American Conference last season … Eastern Michigan looks to snap a five-game losing streak … The lone win from last year was a 17-13 decision against Toledo … The Eagles were projected to finish sixth in the MAC West Division in 2007 … The top returning players are junior LB Daniel Holtzclaw and senior DE Jason Jones … Holtzclaw led the MAC with 114 tackles a year ago, while Jones ranked fifth nationally in tackles for loss (18.5) … Sophomore P Zach Johnson was named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy award … The Eagles play just two of their first seven games at home … Notable alumni from Eastern Michigan include Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch.


RUTGERS vs. Buffalo
Thu 8/30
7:00 p.m.
ERT Local/MSG
Pittsburgh and Eastern Michigan meet for just the second time … The only previous matchup was a 66-30 win for the Panthers Sept. 9, 1995 … It's the first in a stretch of three home games in four weeks to open the season for Pittsburgh … The Panthers have won nine of their last 10 season openers with the lone setback coming to Notre Dame to start the 2005 campaign … The game marks the fifth straight season in which the Panthers will face at least one opponent from the Mid-American Conference, and Pittsburgh is 5-2 in those games.

The Panthers enter the season armed with 15 returning starters from last year's squad, which went 6-6 overall and 2-5 in the BIG EAST … Pittsburgh won six of its first seven games to start last year, but looks to rebound from a fivegame slide to close the season … Eight starters return from an offense that averaged 31.8 points per game last year, including a solid ballcarrier in junior RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (893 yards, 9 TDs) … Head coach Dave Wannstedt has named junior QB Bill Stull his Week 1 starter … Stull saw spot duty last year behind 2006 BIG EAST passing efficiency leader Tyler Palko, but, "he has performed the best and is the most confident," according to Wannstedt … The Panthers were dealt a blow with the season-ending knee injury to senior WR Derek Kinder, who ranked second in the BIG EAST in receptions per game in 2006 … The defense, which loses BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year H.B. Blades, is led by senior DE Joe Clermond, who led the conference in tackles for loss last season … Junior K Connor Lee scored a team-high 83 points last season.

The Eagles struggled to a 1-11 overall record and a 1-7 mark in the Mid- American Conference last season … Eastern Michigan looks to snap a five-game losing streak … The lone win from last year was a 17-13 decision against Toledo … The Eagles were projected to finish sixth in the MAC West Division in 2007 … The top returning players are junior LB Daniel Holtzclaw and senior DE Jason Jones … Holtzclaw led the MAC with 114 tackles a year ago, while Jones ranked fifth nationally in tackles for loss (18.5) … Sophomore P Zach Johnson was named to the preseason watch list for the Ray Guy award … The Eagles play just two of their first seven games at home … Notable alumni from Eastern Michigan include Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch.


SOUTH FLORIDA vs. Elon
Sat 9/1
7:00 p.m.
ERT Local
Saturday's game will be the third meeting between USF and Elon on the gridiron … Each school has defended its home field in the two previous meetings, with Elon taking a win in 1997 (during USF's inaugural season) and the Bulls countering with a win in 1998 at Raymond James Stadium … Elon is USF's only Championship Subdivision opponent on the schedule, while the Bulls are the only Bowl Subdivision opponent for the Phoenix … Since becoming a Bowl Subdivision member in 2000, USF has gone 17-0 against Championship Subdivision schools … USF is 10-0 in home openers in its varsity history.

USF begins its 11th season of varsity football on the heels of its most successful season in school history … The Bulls went 9-4 last season, including a 4-3 mark in BIG EAST play, and defeated East Carolina in the PapaJohn's.com Bowl for the program's first bowl victory … USF has appeared in a bowl game in each of the last two seasons … The Bulls are led by sophomore QB Matt Grothe, who was the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year in 2006 … Grothe led the conference in total offense (3,198 yards) and accounted for 24 touchdowns (15 passing, nine rushing) in his rookie year … The entire starting offensive line from last season returns intact in 2007 … USF's calling card might well be its defensive secondary, which features senior CB Trae Williams and senior CB Mike Jenkins … Williams, an All-BIG EAST First Team pick last year, had seven interceptions and nine pass breakups, while Jenkins knocked away 15 passes … The preseason roster lists 96 players from the state of Florida and 10 players from six other states.

Elon went 5-6 last year under first-year head coach Pete Lembo, who took over after five years as head coach at Lehigh … The Phoenix has three straight home games following its season-opening trip to USF … Elon special teams coordinator Shane Burnham is the son of USF associate head coach and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham … Elon tied for fifth place in the Southern Conference last season — the league that produced NCAA champion Appalachian State … Junior LB Corey Weaver is the top player on the roster after he registered 93 tackles as a sophomore … Weaver leads a group of eight returning starters on defense … The offense has six starters back, highlighted by senior WR Michael Mayers, who caught 73 passes for 866 yards last year.


SYRACUSE vs. Washington
Fri 8/31
7:00 p.m.
ESPN
Friday's game is the third meeting between Syracuse and Washington and the first in nearly 30 years … The schools last met Sept. 24, 1977, when the Orange took a 22-20 win at Archbold Stadium … The home team has won each of the first two meetings — the Huskies were 21-7 winners in Seattle in 1973 … The game will mark Syracuse's first season-opener against a Pac-10 opponent since the 1990 season, when the Orange faced Southern California in Week 1 … The game will be carried nationally on the BIG EAST/ISP radio network with John Rooke on play-by-play and Peter Brock providing analysis.

Syracuse and third-year head coach Greg Robinson bring 10 starters back from 2006, including six on offense … The Orange's nonconference schedule features three straight games against schools from BCS conferences to start the season … Syracuse is at Iowa in Week 2 before taking on Illinois at the Carrier Dome in the third week of the season … The Orange will be without the services of last year's leading rusher, sophomore RB Delone Carter, who suffered a hip injury during spring practice and is expected to miss the 2007 season … Sophomore QB Andrew Robinson saw action in five games in 2006 and is expected to be the starter this season … Sophomore WR Mike Williams led the team in receiving yards as a freshman (461, four TDs) … Senior DE Jameel McClain led the BIG EAST with 9.5 sacks in 2006 … Senior FS Joe Fields had a team-leading four interceptions and four pass breakups to go with 76 tackles last season … Junior RB Curtis Brinkley had 1,110 all-purpose yards last year, including 571 on the ground and 448 on kickoff returns.

The Huskies return 12 starters from a 2006 team that went 5-7 overall and 3- 6 in the Pac-10 … In addition to the game against Syracuse, Washington's nonconference schedule includes games against No. 11/10 Ohio State, No. 24/ 23 Boise State and No. 23/24 Hawaii … Head coach Tyrone Willingham expects to start sophomore Jake Locker, who did not see any game action as a true freshman last season, at quarterback … Senior RB Louis Rankin rushed for a team-high 666 yards in 2006 and is the only tailback who has seen game action … Four of Washington's six returning defensive starters can be found on the line in DE Greyson Gunheim, DE Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, DT Wilson Afoa and DT Jordan Reffert.


WEST VIRGINIA vs. Western Michigan
Sat 9/1
3:30 p.m.
ERT Local
Saturday's game is the second meeting between West Virginia and Western Michigan … The only other game between the schools was Sept. 7, 1996, when the Mountaineers rode a 149-rushing-yard effort from RB Amos Zereoue to a 34-9 win in Morgantown … The contest will be the Mountaineers' first of four games in a five-week stretch against teams that played in a bowl game last season … It is one of ony two home games for West Virginia in the first six weeks … The game is the second straight for Western Michigan against the BIG EAST — the Broncos closed last season with a 27-24 loss to Cincinnati in the International Bowl.

West Virginia was projected as the overwhelming favorite to capture the 2007 BIG EAST championship in the conference's preseason media poll … The Mountaineers received 20 of 24 first-place votes on the heels of their 11-2 season and Gator Bowl win against Georgia Tech … The Mountaineers are ranked No. 3 and No. 6 in the national preseason polls and boast two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates, including recent Sports Illustrated cover subject RB Steve Slaton and QB Patrick White … "I just want to ignore it," head coach Rich Rodriguez said to the Charleston Daily Mail of the preseason hype. "We've already sold out season tickets, so that doesn't matter. We're 0-0 right now. We haven't made a first down, haven't made a stop. No one's thrown for a touchdown or ran for one." … Slaton was a consensus all-American in 2006 after he rushed for 1,744 yards and 16 TDs, while White was the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year after he ran for 1,219 yards and 18 TDs from behind center.

The Broncos enjoyed an 8-5 season in 2006, capped by an appearance in the International Bowl against Cincinnati … Western Michigan was tabbed as the 2007 favorite in the Mid-American Conference preseason media poll … The Broncos were projected to finish first in the West Division and to win the league championship game against East Division favorite Ohio … The Broncos bring 17 starters back from last year's squad, including eight from a unit that led the MAC in total defense … The top man on defense is junior CB Londen Fryar, who had 52 tackles and a team-high five interceptions in 2006 … Senior RB Mark Bonds rushed for 1,082 yards and seven TDs as a junior.


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