Big East Preview: Week One

We go once around the league for a look at each of the eight football openers for each team.

The action is spread out over five days as all eight Big East squads open the 2008 football season. Rutgers is in the spotlight with a stern test against giant-killer Fresno State, while Louisville looks for retribution against Kentucky.


CINCINNATI vs. E Kentucky
Thu 8/28
7:30 PM
No TV
Thursday's game will be the second meeting between Cincinnati and Eastern Kentucky … The schools last met Sept. 2, 2006, when the Bearcats rolled to a 31-0 win at Nippert Stadium in the season-opener … WR Dominick Goodman caught a pair of touchdown passes and the Cincinnati defense had three interceptions and limited the Colonels to just 250 yards of offense.

Cincinnati has won its last three season openers, defeating Eastern Michigan, Eastern Kentucky and Southeast Missouri State in succession … The last Bearcat loss to open a season came when ninth-ranked Ohio State took a 27-6 decision in Columbus Sept. 4, 2004 in the debut of then-coach Mark Dantonio … DT Terrill Byrd, an Associated Press All-America selection and an All-BIG EAST First Team pick in 2007, will not play against Eastern Kentucky for disciplinary reasons … QB Dustin Grutza is expected to resume his 2006 role as the Bearcats' starter behind center … Grutza played behind Ben Mauk last season, making two starts in 2007 when Mauk was injured, but has made 24 starts in his career … Grutza completed 39 of 55 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in wins against Miami (Ohio) and Marshall last year … Cincinnati boasts what might be the nation's top cornerback tandem in DeAngelo Smith (eight interceptions in 2007) and Mike Mickens (six INTs) … P Kevin Huber was a consensus all- America pick last year … The game against Eastern Kentucky is one of five for Cincinnati against a 2007 conference champion (Connecticut, Hawaii, Oklahoma, West Virginia).

Thursday's game will mark the debut of new Eastern Kentucky coach Dean Hood, who had been the defensive coordinator at Wake Forest since 2001 … Hood succeeds Danny Hope, who left to become the associate head coach at Purdue and has been tabbed to take over the Boilermaker program after this season … The Colonels were tabbed for second place in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll … Eastern Kentucky was the OVC champion in 2007, going 8-0 in the conference and 9-3 overall … The Colonels fell to Richmond (31-14) in the first round of the NCAA Championship … Eastern Kentucky has not had a losing season since 1972 … The top returner is QB Allan Holland, the 2007 OVC Player of the Year who threw for 1,990 yards and 14 touchdowns against just four interceptions last year while completing 60.1 percent of his passes (178 of 296).


CONNECTICUT vs. Hofstra
Thu 8/28
7:30 PM
Big East Local
Thursday's game will be the fifth meeting between Connecticut and will break a 2-2 tie in the series, which began in 1996 … Hofstra was a 56-17 winner in Hempstead, N.Y., Sept. 4, 1999 in the most recent matchup, which was Randy Edsall's debut as Connecticut's head coach … Though Hofstra now competes in the Colonial Athletic Association (formerly the Atlantic 10 for football), the Pride joined the league in 2001, two years after Connecticut had departed.

Connecticut has won its last four season openers and has never lost a home opener at Rentschler Field (5-0) … The Huskies' average margin of victory in Rentschler Field openers is 36.6 points … Connecticut's last Opening Day setback was a 24-16 loss at Boston College Aug. 31, 2002 … The Huskies return 17 starters from last year's team, which gained a share of the BIG EAST championship … Connecticut went 7-0 at home last season and was the only BIG EAST team to finish unbeaten on its home field … The most decorated returning player is RB Andre Dixon, who earned All-BIG EAST Second Team accolades last season after he ran for 828 yards and three touchdowns … Dixon joins RB Donald Brown (821 yards, eight TDs) to comprise one of the more effective tandems in the nation … QB Tyler Lorenzen threw 13 touchdown passes against six interceptions last season … Connecticut had four players with at least 100 tackles last season, while no other BIG EAST team had more than two … Three of those players return, including LB Lawrence Wilson, who made 113 stops, and LB Scott Lutrus, who had 107.

Hofstra enters the 2008 season on the heels of a 7-4 showing in 2007 … The Pride improved by five wins from its 2-9 record in 2006 … Hofstra began last season with six straight wins, climbing as high as No. 9 in the FCS national poll, but dropped four of its last five to close the season … Hofstra looks to replace 14 starters from 2007 … The Pride was picked third in the CAA North Division in the preseason poll of coaches and media … The top returning player is QB Bryan Savage, who threw 13 touchdown passes and rushed for 10 TDs last season … Savage completed 232 of 367 passes for 2,668 yards, but also had 16 interceptions … Hofstra's offense lost a rusher (Kareem Huggins, 957 yards) and a receiver (Charles Sullivan, 991), who flirted with 1,000-yard seasons … Two former BIG EAST players are on the Hofstra roster — DB Leslie Jackman played at Rutgers from 2005-07 and WR Darren Brownlee played at West Virginia in 2006 and 2007 after redshirting in 2005.


LOUISVILLE vs. Kentucky
Sun 8/31
3:30 PM
Big East Network
Sunday's game will be the 21st meeting between Louisville and Kentucky, with the Wildcats holding an 11-9 series lead … The schools met six times between 1912 and 1924 and resumed the series in 1994 with the Governor's Cup going to the winner … Louisville has won the Governor's Cup nine times, while Kentucky has won it five times … Last year's matchup in Lexington saw two lead changes in the last 1:45 in the Wildcats' 40-34 win … Louisville WR Harry Douglas finished with 223 receiving yards and a TD on 13 catches.

Louisville has won five straight season-openers, including four wins against Kentucky in that span … The last Cardinal loss in a season-opener was a 22-17 setback to the Wildcats Sept. 1, 2002 … Louisville plays 11 of its 12 games this season on artificial surfaces … The only game on natural grass will be the Nov. 8 game at Pittsburgh … Louisville plays six of its first seven games at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium … Louisville has had 10 straight seasons with at least a .500 record … The Cardinal offense lost its leading rusher, passer and its top three receivers from last year's team … RB Brock Bolen is the top returning skill position player after he finished with 456 yards and seven touchdowns in 2007 … QB Hunter Cantwell takes over behind center for the graduated Brian Brohm — the BIG EAST's career passnig leader … Cantwell is a top NFL draft prospect despite his having made just four career starts … Louisville ranked sixth nationally in total offense last season (488 yards per game) and was 18th in scoring offense (35.17 points per game) … New defensive coordinator Ron English was most recently the defensive coordinator at Michigan.

Kentucky returns 15 starters from last year's team that went 8-5 overall and 3-5 in the Southeastern Conference … The Wildcats finished in a fourthplace tie in the SEC East and defeated Florida State in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl … Kentucky registered back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 1977 … Kentucky's win against then-No. 9 Louisville last season snapped a 46-game losing streak against top-10 opponents … The top returning player is DE Jeremy Jarmon, an All-SEC First Team selection in 2007 after he had nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss … QB Mike Hartline, brother of Ohio State WR Brian Hartline, is expected to take over as the starter behind center following the departure of Andre Woodson.


PITTSBURGH vs. Bowl Green
Sat 8/30
Noon
ESPNU
Saturday's game will be the third meeting between Pittsburgh and Bowling Green … The Panthers are 2-0 all-time against the Falcons, with a 30-10 decision Sept. 4, 1999 and a 34-16 victory Sept. 9, 2000 … The most recent meeting saw Pitt QB John Turman come off the bench to throw three touchdown passes, including two to WR Antonio Bryant, while the Panther defense limited the Falcons to 35 rushing yards.

Pittsburgh has won 10 of its last 11 season-openers — all of which have been home games … The only blemish in that run was a 42-21 setback to Notre Dame in Dave Wannstedt's 2003 debut as Pitt's coach … Pittsburgh's first three games of the 2008 season will be at Heinz Field … The Panthers' 12 opponents in 2008 all hail from the Bowl Subdivision of Division I … Pitt returns 17 starters from last year's team, which closed the season with a 13-9 win at then No. 2/1 West Virginia … The Panthers enter the 2008 season six wins shy of 650 in program history (644-471-42) … At this time a year ago, Pittsburgh did not have a quarterback on its roster who had started a college game … By comparison, Pitt now has four QBs with at least one college start — Bill Stull, Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith all made starts for the Panthers last season, while Greg Cross was a starter in the junior college ranks in 2007 … RB LeSean McCoy was the unanimous 2007 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year and an All-BIG EAST First Team pick after rushing for 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman … LB Scott McKillop averaged 12.6 tackles per game in 2007 to lead the nation.

Bowling Green was tabbed as the favorite in the East Division of the Mid- American Conference … The Falcons are coming off an 8-5 showing in 2007 that ended with a 63-7 loss to Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl … Bowling Green finished in a three-way tie with Miami (Ohio) and Buffalo atop the MAC East standings in 2007, but saw Miami earn a spot in the conference championship game due to the conference's tiebreaker policy … Bowling Green returns 19 starters from last year's team … The Falcons are led by QB Tyler Sheehan, who threw for 3,264 yards and 23 touchdowns against 11 interceptions last season … RB Anthony Turner scored nine rushing touchdowns and led Bowling Green with 519 yards on the ground … WR Freddie Barnes, a former starter at quarterback, had team highs of 962 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches … The defense is paced by LB Enrique Dozier, who had 112 tackles last season.


RUTGERS vs. Fresno St
Mon 9/1
4:00 PM
ESPN
Monday's game will be the first meeting on the gridiron between Rutgers and Fresno State … It will be the third game in Rutgers' history against an opponent from the Western Athletic Conference … Rutgers is 1-1 all-time against the WAC, having split a pair of games against Hawaii … The game will be Fresno State's first against a BIG EAST opponent and the Bulldogs' first game in the Eastern time zone since a 2000 matchup at Ohio State.

Rutgers has won its last two season-openers and its last four home-openers … The Scarlet Knights' last Opening Day setback was a 33-30 loss at Illinois Sept. 3, 2005 … Rutgers' 19 wins from 2006-07 mark the program's best two-year run since the Scarlet Knights won a combined 20 games in 1975 (9-2) and 1976 (11-0) … The Scarlet Knights are 11-3 at home in the last two seasons … Rutgers has won 11 of its last 12 nonconference games … Rutgers has eight starters returning on both offense and defense … The Scarlet Knights lost RB Ray Rice to the NFL Draft, but return their starting quarterback, tight end and top three wide receivers from last year … QB Mike Teel enters his final year 2,517 yards shy of Rutgers' career passing record (Ryan Hart, 8,482) … WRs Kenny Britt (1,232 yards) and Tiquan Underwood (1,100) finished first and second, respectively, on the school's single-season receiving yards chart last year … RB Mason Robinson is penciled in as the starter at tailback … FS Courtney Greene is a two-time All-BIG EAST selection who led Rutgers with 101 tackles last year.

Fresno State went 9-4 overall and 6-2 in the Western Athletic Conference last season, finishing behind Hawaii and Boise State in the WAC standings … The Bulldogs were 40-28 winners against Georgia Tech in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl … Fresno State has played in a bowl game in eight of the last nine seasons … Since 2000, the Bulldogs have registered 12 wins against schools from charter BCS conferences — more than any other non- BCS-affiliated team … Fresno State was 3-3 on the road last year and is 4-8 in road games in the last two seasons … Fresno State scored at least 30 points in each of its last five games to close the 2007 season … QB Tom Brandstater threw for 2,654 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and had three rushing TDs … The defense looks to replace five starters including LB Marcus Riley, who was the WAC Defensive Player of the Year … CB A.J. Jefferson led the nation in kickoff return average last season (35.8 ypr) … Jefferson scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns.


SOUTH FLORIDA vs. Tenn-Martin
Sat 8/30
7:00 PM
Big East Local
Saturday's game will be the first meeting between USF and Tennessee-Martin … The game will be one of eight for USF on a natural grass playing surface as the Bulls play six of their first seven on grass.

Beginning with an 80-3 win against Kentucky Wesleyan in the program's 1997 debut, USF has gone 11-0 in home openers with an average margin of victory of 28.7 points … The Bulls are 7-4 all-time in season-openers and have won their last two … USF is nationally ranked to start a season for the first time … USF is 55-30 all-time in night games and has won four of its last five under the lights … The Bulls are 55-14 all-time in home games and 49-11 at Raymond James Stadium … USF has won six straight games when the temperature at kickoff was at least 80 degrees … The Bulls return 10 starters on offense from last year's team … USF also has its top six rushers from last season back … QB Matt Grothe was one of just two players nationally (Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow of Florida was the other) to finish with at least 850 rushing yards and 2,500 passing yards … Grothe rushed for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns while throwing for 2,670 yards and 14 TDs … LB Tyrone McKenzie, who had a team-high 121 tackles last season, was an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection, putting him on the all-conference teams of two BCS leagues in as many years — McKenzie was an All-Big Ten Second Team pick at Iowa State in 2006 … McKenzie, one of six defensive starters returning for USF, also played at Michigan State in 2004.

Tennessee-Martin is coming off a 4-7 season in 2007 … The Skyhawks finished sixth in the Ohio Valley Conference with a 4-4 league record … The four conference losses were by a combined 15 points … Tennessee-Martin averaged 58 points in its last three games of 2007, scoring wins against Southeast Missouri State (55-20), Murray State (76-34) and Tennessee State (43-38) … Head coach Jason Simpson led the Skyhawks to the 2006 OVC title and a spot in the NCAA Championship in his first year … Tennessee-Martin's 2008 schedule includes a pair of top-25 Bowl Subdivision opponents in USF and Auburn (Nov. 8) … The Skyhawks enter 2008 with exactly 300 wins in program history (300-428-18) … Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is a former assistant at Tennessee-Martin, while New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese was a former player and assistant coach with the Skyhawks.


SYRACUSE at Northwestern
Sat 8/31
Noon
ESPN2
Saturday's game puts Syracuse and Northwestern on the same field for the eighth time, with the Orange holding a 4-3 series lead … Northwestern won the first three games of the series (1940, 1948, 1971), but Syracuse has taken the last four (1979, 1980, 1983, 1984) … Northwestern will be the first of two Syracuse opponents from the Big Ten Conference in a three-week stretch — the Orange face Penn State Sept. 13 at the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse is the only BIG EAST team to open the 2008 season on the road … The Orange have dropped their last four season-openers, including two straight on the road … The last road win to open a season was a 49-47 triple-overtime decision at North Carolina Sept. 6, 2003 … Syracuse brings 12 starters back from last year's squad and should also receive a boost from the return of key players who missed most of last season … QB Andrew Robinson threw for more than 2,000 yards and had 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions last season, ranking fifth in the BIG EAST in passing average (199.3 yards per game) … RB Delone Carter returns to the lineup after missing all of last season due to a hip injury … Carter ran for 713 yards as a true freshman in 2006 … The Orange also return Curtis Brinkley (371 rushing yards), who missed the last four games of the season, and Doug Houge (251 yards as a true freshman in 2007) … Syracuse has a new offensive coordinator for 2008 in Mitch Browning, who had been an assistant at Minnesota from 1999-2006, including six years as offensive coordinator … DT Arthur Jones was third in the BIG EAST with 17.5 tackles for loss in 2007.

The Wildcats went 6-6 in 2007 and finished seventh in the Big Ten at 3-5 in the conference … Northwestern has won three consecutive openers, with the last Opening Day loss a 48-45 setback to Texas Christian in doubleovertime Sept. 2, 2004 … The Wildcats were 4-3 at home last season and 3-1 in nonconference games … The Wildcats return 19 starters from last year's team, including eight on defense … QB C.J. Bachér led the Big Ten in passing yards last season, throwing for 3,656 yards and 19 touchdowns … Bachér also had 19 interceptions, however, including 11 in Northwestern's last four games … Bachér accounted for 3,687 yards of offense last year, good for seventh among returning players nationally … Northwestern plays its first seven games on grass this season … DT John Gill, who has made 30 career starts, will not play against Syracuse while serving a one-game suspension for violating team rules.


WEST VIRGINIA vs. Villanova
Sat 8/31
3:30 PM
Big East Local
Saturday's game will be the seventh meeting between West Virginia and Villanova, with the Mountaineers holding a 5-1 series lead … The schools first met in 1913 and played five times between 1967 and 1977 … West Virginia's lone setback in the series came Oct. 29, 1977 in the most recent meeting — a 41-36 loss … All six previous meetings were played in Morgantown, W.Va.

West Virginia head coach Bill Stewart will make his regular-season debut on the Mountaineer sideline against Villanova … Stewart coached West Virginia to its Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win against Oklahoma to close the 2007 season … West Virginia has won its last four season-openers, winning those games by an average of 27.8 points … The last Mountaineer loss on Opening Day was a 24-17 setback to Wisconsin in Morgantown Aug. 30, 2003 … West Virginia has won at least a share of the BIG EAST Championship four times in the last five years … West Virginia returns 13 starters from last year's BIG EAST championship team … Eight starters return on offense, including QB Pat White, who placed sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting last season … West Virginia is 26-4 with White as the starting quarterback … White enters the season just 783 yards shy of the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback (4,289 by Brad Smith of Missouri) … White has rushed for 3,506 yards and 39 touchdowns and passed for 4,207 yards and 35 TDs in his career … RB Noel Devine averaged 8.6 yards per carry as a true freshman last year … The Mountaineers have just four starters returning on defense … LB Reed Williams led the team with 107 tackles last season.

Villanova became a member of the BIG EAST Conference in 1980, though the Wildcats compete in football as part of the Championship Subdivision as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association … Villanova was picked fourth in the CAA South Division in the conference's preseason poll … The Wildcats were 7-4 last season, including a win against eventual FCS runner-up Delaware, but did not reach the NCAA Championship … Head coach Andy Talley has registered 17 winning seasons in his 23 years at Villanova … The Wildcats have opened with a Bowl Subdivision opponent in each of the last three seasons, falling at Rutgers (38-6) in 2005, Central Florida (35-16) in 2006 and Maryland (31-14) last season … QB Antwon Young completed 64.7 percent of his passes (99 of 153) for 1,192 yards and 14 touchdowns in six games last year before being lost for the season with a knee injury.


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