Big East Football Preview

All eight teams are in action over Labor Day weekend, but the Rutgers-Cincinnati contest on Monday is certainly the highlight of the week.


CINCINNATI at Rutgers
Mon 9/7
4:00 PM
ESPN
Cincinnati and Rutgers have met 14 times since the 1980 season with the Scarlet Knights holding a 7-6-1 series lead … The Bearcats have taken the last three meetings, however, including a 13-10 decision at Nippert Stadium Oct. 11, 2008 … The win helped Cincinnati on its way to the outright Big East title, while it turned out to be the last loss of the season for Rutgers, which won seven straight to close the year … This year's game marks the earliest Big East opener since a West Virginia defeated Syracuse Sept. 4, 2005.

Cincinnati comes into the 2009 season on the heels of its most successful year in program history … The Bearcats won a school-record 11 games, claimed its first Big East championship and played in the FedEx Orange Bowl for the first time … Head coach Brian Kelly has been chosen as Big East Coach of the Year in each of his first two seasons in the Queen City … WR Mardy Gilyard was the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year after leading the conference in kickoff return average (28.0 ypr) … Gilyard also set Cincinnati's single-season receiving yards record (1,276) and had 11 touchdown catches … Gilyard was an All-Big East First Team pick as both a receiver and a return specialist … QB Tony Pike was an All-Big East Second Team selection last year after he threw for 2,407 yards an 19 TDs … S Aaron Webster is the lone returning starter on defense … LB Demetrius Jones is expected to start on defense, which would be his second career start … Jones started at quarterback for Notre Dame in the 2007 season opener.

Rutgers is enjoying its most prosperous run in program history as the Scarlet Knights bid for a fifth consecutive bowl appearance in 2009 … Rutgers has won three straight bowl games, including a 29-23 win against North Carolina State in the PapaJohns.com Bowl last year … Monday's game against Cincinnati will debut the newest phase of the expansion to Rutgers Stadium … The Scarlet Knights will have to replace their starting quarterback and top two receivers from last year … Head coach Greg Schiano has not named a starting quarterback for Monday, with either Domenic Natale or true freshman Tom Savage expected to get the call … Three returning players ran for at least 400 yards each last season with RB Kordell Young leading the way with 554 yards and five touchdowns … RB Jourdan Brooks ran for 516 yards and a team-high six toucdowns, while RB Joe Martinek had 404 yards and four TDs … OT Anthony Davis, an All-Big East Second Team pick, anchors an offensive line that returns all five starters … LB Ryan D'Imperio was second on the team with 93 tackles in 2008.


CONNECTICUT at Ohio
Sat 9/5
7:00 PM
ESPN360.com
Saturday's game will be the second meeting between Connecticut and Ohio … The Huskies took a 37-19 win Sept. 21, 2002, at Memorial Stadium in Storrs, Conn. … Connecticut trailed 19-6 late in the third quarter, but reeled off 31 unanswered points in the final 19:40 … QB Dan Orlovsky was 15-for-29 for 224 yards and a touchdown for Connecticut.

Connecticut enters the 2009 season looking to continue the stretch of prosperity that the team has enjoyed in recent years … The Huskies have played in bowl games in each of the last two years, shared the 2007 Big East title, had the nation's leading rusher in 2008 and had four players chosen in the first two rounds of the 2009 NFL Draft … Connecticut returns six starters from a defensive unit that ranked No. 6 in the nation last year in total yards (278 yards per game) … LB Scott Lutrus, LB Lawrence Wilson and LB Greg Lloyd comprise one of the nation's better linebacker triumvirates … Lutrus and Wilson registered 106 and 73 tackles, respectively, in 2008 … Connecticut, which ranked 109th nationally in passing offense last season, will go with a no-huddle look this year … QB Zach Frazer is the projected Opening Day starter … RBs Andre Dixon — an All-Big East Second Team pick in 2007 — and Jordan Todman look to shoulder the load left by the departure of Donald Brown, who ran for a Big East-record 2,083 yards last season … Both specialists return in K Dave Teggart and P Desi Cullen.

Ohio went 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the Mid-American Conference in 2008 … Ohio has won five of its last six home openers … Ohio went 9-5 in 2006 and won the MAC East Division, but have gone 6-6 and 4-8 in the two seasons since … The Bobcats' last game against a Big East opponent was a 24-7 loss at Rutgers in 2006 … Ohio was projected to finish fourth in the MAC East in the league's preseason media poll …The Bobcats return nearly all of their skill position players from last season, including their top two quarterbacks … QB Boo Jackson came in as the starter in the second game of the season and responded by setting single-season school records with 2,355 passing yards and 19 touchdown passes … QB Theo Scott was the starter out of the gate, but suffered a broken collarbone in the second game of the year, ending his season … LB Noah Keller was an All-MAC Second Team pick who had a team-high 104 tackles last year … Notable Ohio alumni include Today host Matt Lauer, baseball hall-of-famer Mike Schmidt and actor Paul Newman


LOUISVILLE vs. Indiana St.
Sat 9/5
7:30 PM
Big East Local
Louisville and Indiana State have met 10 times prior to Saturday's game with the Cardinals holding a 5-3-1 series lead … The last matchup was a 44-21 Indiana State win Oct. 23, 1984.

Louisville enters the 2009 season looking to snap a five-game slide that carried over from the 2008 campaign … The Cardinals were 5-2 through seven games a year ago, but were unable to overcome injuries to key players in the second half of the year … Louisville is 48-55-3 all-time in season openers … The Cardinals have won four straight nonconference games … Nine of Louisville's 12 opponents played in bowl games last year and the Cardinals face six of those teams on the road … Louisville has eight offensive starters back from last year … Head coach Steve Kragthorpe will call the offensive plays himself in 2009 … RB Victor Anderson was the 2008 Big East Rookie of the Year after he ran for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns … WR Doug Beaumont earned All-Big East Second Team honors last year after finishing with 750 yards on 62 catches … WR Scott Long was limited to just three games last year, but is projected as one of the Big East's top wideouts in 2009 … QB Justin Burke, a transfer from North Carolina State, will make his first career start against Indiana State … LB Jon Dempsey had a team-high 80 tackles and was an All-Big East Second Team pick a year ago.

Indiana State opened its 2009 with a 26-20 overtime loss to NAIA Quincy Aug. 27 in Terre Haute, Ind. … The Sycamores held a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, but were unable to snap a 26-game losing streak that dates to the 2006 season … Quincy scored the tying touchdown with 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter, missed what would have been the go-ahead PAT, but forced a turnover to start overtime before winning on its first OT possession … Indiana State has now lost 27 straight games — the longest streak in Division I — and brings a 28-game road skein into Saturday's matchup against Louisville … RB Darrius Gates was the top offensive performer for Indiana State … Gates ran for 102 yards on 11 carries and also threw a 75- yard touchdown pass on his only attempt … QB Chris Stutziem completed 9 of 18 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown … Forty of the 87 players on the Indiana State roster are either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen … Indiana State was the first Division I team to play a game this season … Prominent alumni include basketball legends John Wooden and Larry Bird.


PITTSBURGH vs. Youngstown St.
Sat 9/5
1:00 PM
None
Saturday's game is the second meeting between Pittsburgh and Youngstown State … The Panthers were 41-0 winners Sept. 24, 2005, in the only previous matchup, which was the first win for Pittsburgh head coach Dave Wannstedt … QB Tyler Palko threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns … Pittsburgh and Youngstown State are located 70 miles apart.

Pittsburgh made a four-win improvement from 2007 (5-7) to 2008 (9-4), giving head coach Dave Wannstedt his most successful season on the Panther sideline … Pittsburgh returns 14 starters from last year, but looks to replace its top performer on offense, defense and special teams … QB Bill Stull enters his third year as the Panthers' starting signal-caller, though QB Pat Bostick has also made nine career starts … TE Nate Byham (20 rec., 260 yards) was an All-Big East First Team selection last year and is considered one of the nation's top tight ends … Freshman RB Dion Lewis is expected to start at tailback to replace LeSean McCoy, who departed for the NFL … The tandem of DE Greg Romeus (7.5 sacks, three blocked kicks) and DE Jabaal Sheard (5.5 sacks) is one of the better collection of bookends on the defensive line … FS Aaron Berry had three interceptions last year and was an All-Big East Second Team pick … The Panthers have to replace both kicking specialists from last year, with P Dan Hutchins penciled into the punting duties … Either Hutchins or K Kevin Harper will be the placekicker.

Youngstown State is coming off a 4-8 season in 2008 … The Penguins snapped a six-game losing streak with wins against Indiana State and Western Illinois to close the 2008 season … The Penguins have played an FBS opponent in each of the last four seasons, but have been outscored 159-9 in those games … Linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky was an all-America linebacker at Pittsburgh who graduated in 1990 … Youngstown State was pegged for sixth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll … The Penguins also were picked sixth in 2005, when they won the MVC title … DT Mychal Savage was tabbed as a preseason first team all-America by the Sports Network … Savage was a third team all-America in 2007 who used a medical redshirt last season … QB Brandon Summers returns as the starter behind center after throwing 18 touchdown passes last year … Notable alumni of Youngstown State include actor Ed O'Neill, Kansas head coach Mark Mangino, former All-Pro quarterback Ron Jaworski and entrepeneur Milan Puskar, whose namesake adorns West Virginia's stadium.


RUTGERS vs. Cincinnati
Mon 9/7
4:00 PM
ESPN
Cincinnati and Rutgers have met 14 times since the 1980 season with the Scarlet Knights holding a 7-6-1 series lead … The Bearcats have taken the last three meetings, however, including a 13-10 decision at Nippert Stadium Oct. 11, 2008 … The win helped Cincinnati on its way to the outright Big East title, while it turned out to be the last loss of the season for Rutgers, which won seven straight to close the year … This year's game marks the earliest Big East opener since a West Virginia defeated Syracuse Sept. 4, 2005.

Cincinnati comes into the 2009 season on the heels of its most successful year in program history … The Bearcats won a school-record 11 games, claimed its first Big East championship and played in the FedEx Orange Bowl for the first time … Head coach Brian Kelly has been chosen as Big East Coach of the Year in each of his first two seasons in the Queen City … WR Mardy Gilyard was the Big East Special Teams Player of the Year after leading the conference in kickoff return average (28.0 ypr) … Gilyard also set Cincinnati's single-season receiving yards record (1,276) and had 11 touchdown catches … Gilyard was an All-Big East First Team pick as both a receiver and a return specialist … QB Tony Pike was an All-Big East Second Team selection last year after he threw for 2,407 yards an 19 TDs … S Aaron Webster is the lone returning starter on defense … LB Demetrius Jones is expected to start on defense, which would be his second career start … Jones started at quarterback for Notre Dame in the 2007 season opener.

Rutgers is enjoying its most prosperous run in program history as the Scarlet Knights bid for a fifth consecutive bowl appearance in 2009 … Rutgers has won three straight bowl games, including a 29-23 win against North Carolina State in the PapaJohns.com Bowl last year … Monday's game against Cincinnati will debut the newest phase of the expansion to Rutgers Stadium … The Scarlet Knights will have to replace their starting quarterback and top two receivers from last year … Head coach Greg Schiano has not named a starting quarterback for Monday, with either Domenic Natale or true freshman Tom Savage expected to get the call … Three returning players ran for at least 400 yards each last season with RB Kordell Young leading the way with 554 yards and five touchdowns … RB Jourdan Brooks ran for 516 yards and a team-high six toucdowns, while RB Joe Martinek had 404 yards and four TDs … OT Anthony Davis, an All-Big East Second Team pick, anchors an offensive line that returns all five starters … LB Ryan D'Imperio was second on the team with 93 tackles in 2008.


SYRACUSE vs. Minnesota
Sat 9/5
12:00 PM
ESPN2
Saturday's game will be the third meeting between Syracuse and Minnesota … The schools played a two-game series in 1995 and 1996, with the home team prevailing each time … Syracuse was a 27-17 winner at the Carrier Dome Sept. 23, 1995, behind a 184-yard effort by receiver Marvin Harrison … Minnesota took the rematch 35-33 in Minneapolis Sept. 21, 1996.

Saturday's game marks the debut of Doug Marrone as Syracuse's head coach … Marrone had spent the last three seasons as the New Orleans Saints' offensive coordinator. He also served as offensive line coach with the New York Jets (2002-05) and coached collegiately at Tennessee (2001), Georgia (2000) and Georgia Tech (1995-99) … Marrone was a three-year starting offensive lineman at Syracuse from 1983-85 … The game against Minnesota is the first of three straight against Big Ten opponents for Syracuse … The Orange made headlines in the preseason with the announcement of Greg Paulus as the starting quarterback … Paulus was the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2005 at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse, but hasn't played football since high school … Paulus was a two-time captain and an Academic All-America selection in basketball at Duke … WR Mike Williams returns to the Orange after a year away from the gridiron and brings a streak of nine straight games with a touchdown reception into the season-opener … NT Arthur Jones is a returning All-Big East First Team selection who ranked sixth in the conference in tackles for loss last season (1.08 per game).

Minnesota returns 18 starters — the most in the Big Ten — from last year's team that went 7-6 overall and was 3-5 in the Big Ten … The Golden Gophers won seven of their first eight games last year, but carry a five-game losing streak into their 2009 opener … The seven wins marked a significant turnaround from the 2007 season, when Minnesota finished 1-11 … The Golden Gophers have 10 returning starters on offense, losing only their tight end from last year … Associate head coach Tim Cross served as Syracuse's defensive line coach from 2005-06 … The top returning player on offense is WR Eric Decker, an All-Big Ten First Team pick who led the conference in receptions (7.0 rpg) and receiving yards (89.5 ypg) in 2008 … QB Adam Weber completed 62.2 percent of his passes and threw for 2,761 yards and 15 touchdowns last season … CB Traye Simmons was an All-Big Ten Second Team selection last year after finishing with four interceptions and 18 passes defended.


USF vs. Wofford
Sat 9/5
7:00 PM
BHSN
Saturday's game will be the first between USF and Wofford on the gridiron … The Bulls look to improve to 13-0 all-time in home openers and have won three straight season openers … USF and Wofford have a common opponent this season in Charleston Southern.

USF has found itself ranked among the national top 10 in each of the past two seasons, but the Bulls finished 2008 by dropping four of their last five regular-season games … USF has played in a bowl game in each of the last four years, including a 41-10 win against Memphis in the first St. Petersburg Bowl to close the 2008 season … QB Matt Grothe enters 2009 just 287 yards shy of the Big East career total offense … Grothe has 10,242 career yards to trail only former West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who had 10,529 yards … Grothe threw for a career-best marks of 2,911 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and finished as the Bulls' leading rusher (591 yards, four TDs) … RB Mike Ford, the top running back from last season (407 yards, five TDs), will miss the season opener while serving a two game suspension for a violation of team rules … DE George Selvie is the NCAA's career leader among active players in tackles for loss (60) and is second in sacks (25.5) … Selvie is a two-time all-America selection and was the 2007 Big East Defensive Player of the Year … K/P Delbert Alvarado will handle the punting and placekicking chores this season after the season-ending back injury incurred by K Maikon Bonani.

Wofford enters the 2009 season after making back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division I Championship for the first time in program history … The Terriers' schedule includes two FBS teams that played in bowl games in USF and Wisconsin … Wofford returns four offensive starters and five defensive starters from last year's group that went 9-3 … Wofford has enjoyed seven consecutive winning seasons … The Terriers were picked third in the Southern Conference preseason media poll … RB Mike Rucker rushed for 539 yards and averaged better than seven yards per carry last year … DE Mitch Clark had eight sacks to rank third in the Southern Conference in 2008 … The Carolina Panthers have held their preseason training camp at Wofford since 1995 … Wofford alumni include acting Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Copps, ESPN talent Wendi Nix, and former Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry.


WEST VIRGINIA vs. Liberty
Sat 9/5
12:00 PM
Big East Local
Saturday's game will be the first meeting between West Virginia and Liberty … Liberty will be the sixth FCS opponent that the Mountaineers have faced since the 2002 season … West Virginia won its five previous games against FCS schools by an average of 38.4 points.

West Virginia returns 15 starters from last year's team, which went 9-4 overall and 5-2 in the Big East … The Mountaineers finished in a three-way tie for second in the Big East standings, giving West Virginia its seventh straight top-two finish in the league … QB Jarrett Brown takes over as the starter behind center following the departure of Pat White, the NCAA's career rushing leader among quarterbacks and the Big East's career leader in total offense … Brown completed 73.3 percent of his passes (22 of 30) in eight games last season … RB Noel Devine is the top returning rusher in the Big East … Devine averaged 99.2 yards per game, 6.3 yards per carry and scored four rushing touchdowns … WR Jock Sanders accounted for nine touchdowns last year and had 462 receiving yards to go with 250 rushing yards … LB Reed Williams was the Mountaineers' leading tackler in 2007 and returns to the lineup after redshirting the 2008 season with injuries to both shoulders … West Virginia will feature a new placekicker and a new punter to replace All-Big East pick Pat McAfee … K Tyler Bitancurt is expected to handle the placements, while P Scott Kozlowski takes over as the punter.

Liberty enters the 2009 season on the heels of its most successful season in program history … The Flames went 10-2 in 2008, setting a school record for wins and defeating two teams ranked in the FCS top 25 (No. 23 Youngstown State, No. 12 Elon) … Liberty went 5-0 in the Big South Conference to take the conference title … Liberty was considered a controversial omission from the NCAA Division I Championship … The Flames were ranked No. 14/15 in the final FCS polls … Liberty has won back-to-back Big South titles and has won 11 consecutive conference games, dating to 2006 … Head coach Danny Rocco inherited a team that went 1-10 in 2005 and has amassed a 24-10 record with two conference titles … Only seven starters return from last year's team, led by S Chris Rocco (Danny Rocco's nephew), who had 78 tackles in 2008 … QB Tommy Beecher and WR Freddie Brown are transfers from South Carolina.


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