Big East Football Preview

News, notes previews and more from this Saturday's action in the Big East football conference

Cincinnati Turning Heads Early

The college football season is only two weeks old, but the Cincinnati Bearcats are already making everyone take notice. UC is 2-0 heading into Saturday's game at Oregon State. The Bearcats have gone from unranked in the preseason polls to a No. 17 ranking this week in the Associated Press poll. Statistically, Cincinnati is second nationally in scoring, averaging 58.5 points per game and fifth in total offense, averaging 571 yards per contest.

Big East Teams Face Rugged Road Tests

All eight Big East teams play nonconference games this week and four of them have to hit the road. Cincinnati plays at Oregon State at 6:45 p.m. ET on the Fox Sports Network. Oregon State is ranked No. 24 this week in the USA Today poll. The other traveling teams include Louisville taking an in-state trip to Kentucky (ESPNU at noon), Connecticut playing at Baylor (5 p.m.) and West Virginia going to Auburn (ESPN2 at 7:45 p.m.).

Grothe Topples Big East Total Offense Mark

USF quarterback Matt Grothe became the Big East's all-time leader in total offense last week after helping the Bulls win 35-13 at Western Kentucky. The senior, who has hurt opponents as a runner and a passer, has amassed 10,702 yards of offense. He passed West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who finished his collegiate career last season, with 10,529 yards. Grothe also is fourth on the Big East career passing list with 8,520 yards.

Fresh Faces Making A Mark

Some freshmen are already making their presence felt this season. Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis is third in the nation in rushing, averaging 159.5 yards per game. In his first collegiate start, Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-7 win last week over Howard. West Virginia's placekicker Tyler Bitancurt is 4-for-4 in field goal attempts and has made all eight extra points. Syracuse's Greg Paulus is not a freshman, but he has earned national attention. He is a graduate student who had played four seasons of basketball at Duke. Paulus earned a starting role immediately for the Orange. He has completed 64.7 percent of his passes and has thrown for two touchdowns.

Late Night

Seven of the eight games involving league teams have kickoffs of 6:00 PM or later. Only Louisville's noon grudge match with Kentucky will finish under the sun

CINCINNATI at Oregon St.
Sat 9/19
6:45 PM
Saturday's game will be the second meeting between Cincinnati and Oregon State … The Bearcats took a 34-3 win Sept. 6, 2007, at Nippert Stadium behind two touchdown passes from QB Ben Mauk … Cincinnati's defense registered six interceptions as S Haruki Nakamura and CB DeAngelo Smith had two picks each … The Bearcats also had a fumble recovery to finish with seven takeaways.

Cincinnati has registered a pair of comfortable victories to open the 2009 season … The Bearcats pulled away from Rutgers for a 47-15 road win in the season-opener on Labor Day before rolling to a 70-3 win against Southeast Missouri State in the home opener last Saturday … Cincinnati's offense has clicked at a frenetic pace thus far — the Bearcats lead the nation in pass efficiency (197.34) and rank second nationally in scoring (58.5 ppg) and fifth in total yards (571.0 ypg) … QB Tony Pike has completed 44 of 57 passes (77.2 percent) for 591 yards and six touchdowns against just one interception through two games … Pike ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency and is 14th in passing yards (295.5 ypg) … WR Mardy Gilyard is ranked second nationally in scoring (15.0 ppg) and has scored five touchdowns this season … Gilyard has 14 receptions for 200 yards and three touchdowns and has added one rushing TD and one punt return TD … S Aaron Webster leads the BIG EAST with two interceptions … The Bearcats are second nationally in turnover margin (+3.0 per game).

Oregon State stands at 2-0 after the Beavers came away with a 23-21 road win against UNLV last Saturday … The Beavers opened the season with a 34-7 decision against Portland State in Corvallis, Ore. … RB Jacquizz Rodgers ran for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and became the first freshman in history to be named the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year … Rodgers earned the honor despite missing nearly all of the last three games of the season … Rodgers has rushed for 269 yards and four TDs in 2009 … QB Sean Canfield has taken over as the starter behind center with a preseason shoulder injury sidelining last year's starter, Lyle Moevao … Canfield completed 25 of 31 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns in the win at UNLV … The Beavers have not had a turnover and have not allowed a first-half point through two games.

Sat 9/19
5:00 PM
The only previous meeting between Connecticut and Baylor was last season's 31-28 Huskies win Sept. 19, 2008, at Rentschler Field … Connecticut RB Donald Brown ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns — including the game-winning score with 6:04 left in the fourth quarter … Baylor QB Robert Griffin threw for 208 yards and three TDs.

Connecticut fell to 1-1 following a 12-10 loss to then-No. 19/19 North Carolina at Rentschler Field … The Huskies held a 10-0 fourth-quarter lead, but the Tar Heels scored a touchdown and a safety in the last 2:36 to get the win … QB Zach Frazer suffered a knee injury against North Carolina and is expected to miss the next two games … QB Cody Endres entered in relief against North Carolina and is expected to start against Baylor … Endres saw action in five games last season and completed 39 of 84 passes for 411 yards with three interceptions … RB Jordan Todman enters Saturday's game ranked second in the BIG EAST in rushing (111.5 yards per game) … Connecticut's strength has been its defense, which has limited its first two opponents to 14 points per game … The Huskies have not allowed a rushing touchdown and have limited opponents to 48.0 rushing yards per game and 1.4 yards per carry … Connecticut is averaging 5.0 sacks per game, with seven sacks coming from DE Lindsey Witten … Witten had four sacks against North Carolina and three in the Week 1 win at Ohio … All-BIG EAST Second Team LB Scott Lutrus missed the North Carolina game after he suffered a neck stinger against Ohio.

Baylor opened its season with a 24-21 win at Wake Forest Sept. 5 and enjoyed a bye in Week 2 … The Bears play the first of three straight home games against Connecticut … In a conference that has no shortage of wellknown quarterbacks, Baylor QB Robert Griffin was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2008 … Griffin threw 15 touchdown passes and ran for 13 scores as a true freshman in 2008, when he was the youngest starting signal-caller in the nation … Griffin is a world-class track athlete who was the 2009 Big 12 champion in the 400-meter hurdles … Griffin threw for 136 yards and a touchdown and ran for 41 yards in the win against Wake Forest … He completed his first eight passes … Baylor snapped a 14-game losing streak in games in which the opponent rushes for 100 yards … LB Joe Pawlek was an All-Big 12 First Team pick last season.

LOUISVILLE at Kentucky
Sat 9/19
Saturday's game is the 22nd meeting between Louisville and Kentucky in a series that dates to 1912 … The Wildcats hold a 12-9 series lead and have taken the last two meetings, including a 27-2 decision in Louisville last season … Last year's game produced just 415 yards of offense between the teams … Kentucky took advantage of five Louisville turnovers to win last season … The winner is presented with the 110-pound Governor's Cup.

Louisville enjoyed a bye week after scoring a 30-10 win against Indiana State Sept. 5 … The Cardinals finished with a 419-101 advantage in total yards and limited the Sycamores to just 19 rushing yards … It was Louisville's best defensive effort since the Cardinals held Grambling to 60 yards Sept. 9, 2000 … Louisville has dropped three straight road games with the last win away from home coming Oct. 10, 2008, at Memphis … Louisville has won four of its last five road openers … QB Justin Burke will make his second career start and will play in front of his hometown crowd for the first time since his senior year at Lexington Catholic HS … Burke threw for 223 yards and two interceptions against Indiana State … Burke completed just one of his first eight passes, but completed 16 of his last 23 attempts … The Cardinals forced four turnovers against Indiana State, registering three interceptions and a fumble recovery … WR Doug Beaumont has at least one reception in 13 straight games after he had a team-high five receptions against Indiana State … RB Victor Anderson, the 2008 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year, ran for two touchdowns to give him 10 in his brief career.

Kentucky opened in impressive fashion as the Wildcats were 42-0 winners against Miami (Ohio) Sept. 5 in Cincinnati … Kentucky begins a stretch of three straight home dates with Saturday's game … The Wildcats have 10 starters back from last year's team that went 7-6 and defeated East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl … CB Trevard Lindley — a second team All-America pick last year — was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week following the Miami (Ohio) game … Lindley had an interception return for a touchdown to go with three pass breakups and three tackles in the win against the RedHawks … Kentucky has won 15 consecutive nonconference games, which trails only LSU's 20-game streak nationally.

Sat 9/19
6:00 PM
Saturday's game is the 38th meeting between Pittsburgh and Navy in a series that dates to 1912 … The schools met each year from 1961-79 and 1983-89 before resuming pleasantries in 2007 … The Panthers hold a 21-13-3 series lead after taking a 42-21 decision in Annapolis, Md., last year.

Pittsburgh improved to 2-0 on the young season with a 54-27 road win against Buffalo … The Panthers have won 12 of their last 16 games dating to last season … It's Pittsburgh's best stretch since the 2001 and 2002 seasons, when the Panthers were 14-2 in a 16-game span … The Panthers have scored points on all 11 of their red zone opportunities and have scored touchdowns on 10 of 11 chances … By comparison, the Panthers have held their opponents to 1-for-3 efficiency from the red zone … RB Dion Lewis leads the BIG EAST and ranks third nationally in rushing (159.5 yards per game) … Lewis trails only Ralph Bolden of Purdue (178.5 ypg) and Nic Grigsby of Arizona (162.5) on the national chart … Lewis has 319 yards and four rushing touchdowns through two games … Lewis' 85-yard touchdown run at Buffalo was the longest play from scrimmage involving a Pittsburgh freshman in school history … LB Adam Gunn, who suffered a broken neck in the first game of the 2008 season and is using a sixth year of eligibility, has five sacks through two games … P Dan Hutchins leads the BIG EAST in punting (47.4 ypp).

Navy picked up its first win of the season with Saturday's 32-14 decision against Louisiana Tech at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium … Navy is 13-17 against schools from automatic-qualifying BCS conferences since 2003 … Long known for its triple-option offense — Navy has led the nation in rushing in each of the last four seasons — the Midshipmen have registered back-to-back games with at least 100 passing yards for the first time since 2005 … The Midshipmen have averaged 238 rushing yards and 129.5 passing yards per game thus far … Navy held Louisiana Tech to 11 rushing yards and allowed the Bulldogs to cross the 50-yard line just twice … Navy has converted 15 of 26 third down opportunities (53 percent) and has held opponents to just 7-for-23 on third down (30 percent) … QB Ricky Dobbs has completed 14 of 21 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns with one interception and is averaging 65.0 rushing yards per game … Dobbs has four rushing touchdowns … Navy has enjoyed six straight winning seasons and has captured six straight Commander-In-Chief's Trophies (series against Army and Air Force).

RUTGERS vs. Cincinnati
Sat 9/19
5:00 PM
Big East Network
Rutgers and Florida International meet for the first time Saturday … It will also be Rutgers' first game against a Sun Belt Conference opponent … Florida International head coach Mario Cristobal was an assistant at Rutgers from 2001-03 under Greg Schiano … The Golden Panthers are 0-14 all-time against BIG EAST teams.

Rutgers played its second game in six days when the Scarlet Knights defeated Howard 45-7 last Saturday … Rutgers raced to a 42-7 lead at halftime and added a third-quarter field goal … The Scarlet Knights had four scoring drives that consisted of two plays or fewer … RB Jourdan Brooks ran for 124 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries for his third career 100-yard game … QB Tom Savage made his first career start and completed 8 of 13 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns … Savage is ranked third in the BIG EAST in pass efficiency (174.9) and is fifth in passing yards (179.0 yards per game) … WR Tim Brown leads the BIG EAST in receiving yards (109.0 yards per game) and is averaging 21.8 yards per catch … LB Ryan D'Imperio has a team-high 12 tackles this season … DE Jonathan Freeny leads the team with two sacks … Nine Rutgers players made their collegiate debuts against Howard … The game against Florida International is Rutgers' third straight home game and its fifth in a six-game span to open the year.

Florida International plays its second straight road game after the Golden Panthers fell to No. 4/4 Alabama 40-14 last Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. … Florida International held a 14-13 lead in the second quarter, but Alabama scored 27 unanswered points to close the game … The Golden Panthers scored on two of their first three drives, but were held scoreless the rest of the way … WR T.Y. Hilton was an All-Sun Belt Conference First Team selection as a wide receiver, kickoff returner and punt returner as a true freshman last year … Hilton returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against Alabama and also had five receptions for 40 yards … The kickoff return marked the second straight season in which Hilton found the end zone on his first touch of the year … QB Paul McCall completed 16 of 32 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown Florida International did not sponsor varsity football until 2002 … Head coach Mario Cristobal inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2006 and tied the program record for wins with a 5-7 mark last season … Cristobal was an All-BIG EAST offensive tackle at Miami (Fla.) in 1992 … Sixteen starters return from last year's squad, which went 3-4 in the Sun Belt Conference.

SYRACUSE vs. Northwestern
Sat 9/19
7:00 PM
Saturday's game is the fifth meeting between Syracuse and Northwestern and the second of a current four-game series between the schools … The winner of Saturday's game will take a 5-4 series lead … Northwestern was a 30-10 winner last season in Evanston, Ill., thanks to a three-touchdown effort by Wildcat QB C.J. Bacher.

Syracuse hopes the third time is the charm for head coach Doug Marrone, who is looking for his first career win … The Orange opened the season with a 23-20 overtime loss to Minnesota and fell at No. 5/7 Penn State 28-7 last week … QB Greg Paulus has been the story on offense thus far as the former Duke basketball standout has proven more than capable of leading a major college offense … Paulus has completed 64.7 percent of his passes (33 of 51) for 272 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions … WR Mike Williams is the leading receiver with 148 yards on 12 catches … Williams saw a streak of 10 straight games with a touchdown reception end when Penn State kept him out of the end zone … RB Delone Carter is averaging 64.0 rushing yards per game and has the team's lone rushing touchdown … LB Derrell Smith has a team-high 16 tackles and S Mike Holmes has 15 to lead the defense … Holmes has forced two turnovers this season with an interception and a fumble recovery … The game against Northwestern is the first of six straight at the Carrier Dome.

Northwestern looks to remain unbeaten on the young season as the Wildcats bring a 2-0 record into Saturday's game at Syracuse … Northwestern has won seven straight regular-season nonconference games, with the last loss coming at Nevada Sept. 22, 2006 (31-21) … The Wildcats were 27-24 winners against Eastern Michigan last Saturday and defeated Towson 47-14 Sept. 5 in the season-opener … The Wildcats got a 49-yard field goal with six seconds left in the fourth quarter by K Stefan Demos to defeat Eastern Michigan … Saturday's game is the first road date of the year for Northwestern … Northwestern has a 24-24 Big Ten record in the last six years, good for sixth in the conference … The Wildcats have outscored their opponents by a 28-0 margin in the first quarter and by a 58-10 count in the first half … Northwestern has won six straight games in September … Northwestern has won its last eight games when leading at halftime … QB Mike Kafka has completed 29 of 44 passes for 350 yards with one interception … RB Stephen Simmons is the leading rusher with 150 yards and two TDs.

USF vs. Wofford
Sat 9/19
7:00 PM
Saturday's game will be the fifth meeting between USF and Charleston Southern … The Bulls have won all four previous meetings by a combined score of 159-19 … The last matchup was a 55-7 USF win in 2003 … Charleston Southern looks for its first against a Bowl Subdivision program in 17 tries … The teams have Wofford as a common opponent in the young season — USF was a 40-7 winner against the Terriers in Week 1, while Charleston Southern dropped a 42-14 decision last Saturday.

USF is off to a 2-0 start after the Bulls took a 35-13 win at Western Kentucky last Saturday in Bowling Green, Ky. … USF opened the season with a 40-7 decision against Wofford and is receiving votes in both national polls for the third straight week … QB Matt Grothe became the BIG EAST's all-time leader in total offense two games into his senior season … Grothe enters Saturday's game with 10,702 yards, surpassing former West Virignia quarterback Pat White, who had 10,529 … Grothe has completed 32 of 45 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions on the year … RB Moise Plancher is ranked third in the BIG EAST in rushing (96.5 yards per game) … Plancher is tied for the league lead with four rushing touchdowns … WR Carlton Mitchell is fourth in the BIG EAST in receiving yards (83.5 ypg) … All-America DE George Selvie faced 31 double- and triple-teams against Western Kentucky … DE David Bedford made his first career start against Western Kentucky and had two tackles for loss and a sack … Highly regarded freshman DE Ryne Giddens registered two sacks in just 11 snaps against the Hilltoppers in his collegiate debut.

Charleston Southern enters Saturday's game at 0-2 after the loss to Wofford in Spartanburg, S.C. … The Buccaneers opened the season with a 62-3 setback to top-ranked Florida and play their third straight road game to start the year … Charleston Southern was picked fifth in the Big South preseason media poll … The Buccaneers finished tied for second in the conference last season after being picked fifth in the preseason poll … Head coach Jay Mills took the Buccaneers from a 1-11 mark in 2003 to a Big South championship in 2005 and a school-record nine wins in 2006 … QB A.J. Toscano has completed 33 of 55 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions … WR Kwame Krakue is the top receiving threat with 12 catches for 124 yards through two games.

Sat 9/19
7:45 PM
West Virginia won the only previous meeting between the Mountaineers and Auburn 34-17 as QB Pat White threw three touchdown passes and RB Noel Devine ran for 207 yards and a score Oct. 23, 2008 … West Virginia came back from an early 17-3 deficit to improve to 22-17-2 all-time against current members of the Southeastern Conference.

West Virginia is 2-0 following a 35-20 win against East Carolina last Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium … QB Jarrett Brown has emerged as a consistent big-play threat, evidenced by three pass plays of 40 yards or more this year … The Mountaineers had four 40-yard pass plays in the entire 2008 season … Brown ranks second in the BIG EAST and 16th nationally in passing yards (288.5 yards per game) and is eighth nationally and the BIG EAST leader in total offense (359.5 ypg) … RB Noel Devine is fourth in the BIG EAST in rushing with an average of 96.0 yards per game and two touchdowns … WR Jock Sanders is averaging a conference-best 8.5 receptions per game … West Virginia has not allowed a sack in its first two games … The Mountaineers withstood four turnovers and 104 yards in penalties to defeat East Carolina … DB Brandon Hogan has a team-high 17 tackles … DE Julian Miller leads the squad with 2.5 sacks … K Tyler Bitancurt was 4-for-4 on field goal attempts in the season-opener against Wofford, but wasn't called upon for a three-pointer against East Carolina.

Auburn has opened in impressive fashion under new head coach Gene Chizik as the Tigers scored wins against Louisiana Tech (37-13) and Mississippi State (49-24) in back-to-back home games … The game against West Virginia is the third of four straight home dates to open the season for Auburn … The Tigers rank second nationally in rushing offense (345.5) and have the only two teammates who average more than 100 rushing yards per game … RB Ben Tate leads the Southeastern Conference and is seventh nationally (137.0 yards per game), while RB Onterio McCalebb is averaging 131.0 yards per game and leads the SEC in all-purpose yards (196.0 ypg) … The Tigers had 589 yards of offense in the win against Mississippi State for the best performance in an SEC opener in school history … Like West Virginia, Auburn has not allowed a sack … Auburn has won 17 straight games when Gene Chizik is on the coaching staff.

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