Tag:Pittsburgh
Posted on: November 14, 2010 2:30 am
Edited on: November 14, 2010 2:32 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Nov. 13)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1. West Virginia is tired of being talked down to - There was a time, in this very feature, when it was declared that West Virginia looked like they could cruise to the Big East title. But coming into Saturday, the Mountaineers were tied at the bottom of the conference standings and no longer considered a threat by many. Tired of being disrespected, West Virginia made a statement in the 37-10 victory over Cincinnati. Recently, it has been difficult to find the same West Virginia team that used to hold position in the polls and gave LSU a run for their money. The Mountaineers scored fast and often, jumping out to a 30-3 halftime lead on the Bearcats. Cincinnati never had a chance, with the defense chipping in as well to force four turnovers. With how wide open the Big East race is, the Mountaineers are now bowl eligible, and not completely out of the conference championship race.

2. Skip Holtz ushering in new chapter at USF - When the Jim Leavitt scandal erupted a season ago, a dark cloud hovered over the young program. If South Florida was going to continue the kind of early success that has catapulted the Bulls up the football ranks, they needed to figure out a way to start a new chapter. Enter Skip Holtz, a young, football-smart coach from a rich football bloodline and also recent success at East Carolina. Holtz' first two conference games were a harsh welcome to the conference, losing to Syracuse and West Virginia. But since the rough start, the Bulls have been rolling and now find themselves eligible for the postseason. The overtime victory at Louisville extended the winning streak to three, as South Florida looks ahead to hosting the first-place Pittsburgh Panthers. The Bulls are one of the hottest teams in the conference, and pose a great threat to Pittsburgh's conference lead with Saturday's date in Tampa just a week away.

3. Get used to these Big East teams, they'll be playing into December - Big East could have a heavy representation in the bowl picture- Widely regarded as one of the worst conferences with an automatic qualifying bid to the BCS, the Big East already has three bowl eligible teams. Also, it is possible that Connecticut, Louisville, and conference leader Pittsburgh will all become eligible as well, giving the conference six possible teams in postseason play. With all of the criticism leveled on the conference, there has to be some bit of optimism from the fact that 3/4 of the conference will be playing into December. Others would argue that the records are just a snapshot of the conferences mediocrity. Whichever way you slice it, it looks like the Big East will have several chances to prove their worth in bowl play.

Posted on: November 12, 2010 2:59 pm
Edited on: November 12, 2010 2:59 pm
 

Fun with charts: The Big East title hunt

Posted by Chip Patterson

With Connecticut's upset of the first-place Pittsburgh Panthers on Thursday night, a seemingly closed Big East title race has been officially re-opened. The Panthers could have put significant space between them and the rest of the conference, with a 1.5 game lead over second-place Syracuse AND owning the tie-breaker against the Orange. The Orange could have pulled away from the rest of the pack last week, but instead fell short 28-20 to Louisville.

 So now the entire Big East is within two games of first place with each team having at least two conference games left on the schedule, with some having as many as four. Such a tight race in a conference like the Big East would not seem like a big deal on the national scale, but when there is a BCS bowl berth at stake everything chances.  Let's take a look at the weeks ahead in the Big East.


(click here to enlarge image)

Now a few thoughts...

1. Pittsburgh still the team to beat - Despite the upset to Connecticut, Pittsburgh will be the only team in the conference with one loss at the conclusion of Week 11.  The number of two-loss teams will be cut down to four by Sunday, thus pushing three teams basically out of the race entirely.  Also, the teams with the easiest remaining schedule (according to the combined conference record of opponents) are all teams that Pittsburgh has defeated.  The most crucial of which is second-place Syracuse.  Win out, and the BCS Bowl berth will belong to the Panthers.  But nothing is certain, particularly with trips to Tampa and Cincinnati left on the schedule.  Don't forget about those Mountaineers...

2. Three (1-2) teams the most dangerous - With four conference games left on the schedule, even the teams at the bottom of standings have a chance to create the most havoc.  Pittsburgh has yet to play West Virginia and at Cincinnati, two teams that have not lived up to the standards of recent years but are still very dangerous.  Rutgers also hosts Syracuse on Saturday, and could continue to muddle the standings with an upset of the Orange.  They may have the toughest battle to win the conference, but they have the best chance to spoil the fun for the favorites.  Pittsburgh needs at least a game of separation heading into the finale at Cincinnati, because that game is anyone's to win - no matter what the records say.

3.  Looking for a dark horse?  Try Louisville - The Cardinals are fresh off an impressive upset of Syracuse, and they have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the conference.  Also with wins over Connecticut and the Orange, they have positioned themselves well in the event of the likely possible tie-breaker.  Last week the Cardinals showed that the success of the rushing game is not dependent on Bilal Powell, and being able to dictate tempo with the ground game will help significantly down the stretch.  First-year coach Charlie Strong has seen his fair share of obstacles this season, but if he can muster up any kind of home-field advantage at Papa John's Stadium in the next two weeks the Cardinals could find themselves in the Big East title hunt come December.      

Posted on: November 3, 2010 4:45 pm
Edited on: November 3, 2010 4:55 pm
 

Previewing Week 10 in the Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

The Big East has been busy making headlines this week with the announcement of planned expansion to ten football-playing schools.  The announcement solidifies many reports and has started speculation on everything from school selection, to timeframe, and even the potential changes to the college football landscape.  Seems fitting that the Big East would choose this week to make their most significant off-field announcement, because there is very little action on the field in Week 10.

Last week, Pittsburgh and Syracuse separated themselves from the rest of the conference by picking up their third conference victory.  Behind them is 1-1 Rutgers, and the rest of the conference is tied at 1-2.  The Panthers are not only a half-game ahead of the Orange, but also own the tiebreaker against Syracuse and Rutgers thanks to victories earlier in the season.  With only a month left in conference play the conference race is not over, but PIttsburgh does carry their own fate from here on out.  It would require two conference losses for the Panthers to be in jeopardy of losing the automatic BCS berth, and even then another team would have to win out.    

But the conference still holds six bowl ties, and every team is still technically capable of making the postseason at this point.  Most of the games left on the schedule are all conference games, and with seven teams 4-4 or better, each game will hold extra importance to anyone hoping to play football in December.  So while it may be hard to chase down conference-leading Pittsburgh, there is still plenty to play for.  The Panthers get Week 10 off, as does West Virginia, Connecticut, and Cincinnati.  

Wednesday - Rutgers at South Florida -  While they try to keep their focus on the field, it is impossible to ignore the health of defensive tackle Eric LaGrand, paralyzed while making a tackle against Army on October 16.  Thankfully, LaGrand was transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation center on Wednesday, which as about as good as news will come on that front.  With a win, South Florida could come within a game of bowl eligibility.  It has been an up and down season for first-year head coach Skip Holtz, and a postseason berth would put a happy ending on his trial run with the Bulls.  I expect quarterback B.J. Daniels to build on his four TD performance against Cincinnati with another big outing.  PICK - South Florida 28, Rutgers 21 

Saturday - Louisville at Syracuse - Louisville could be without Bilal Powell, the conference's leading rusher, but will get backup Victor Anderson back for the first time in three games.  The Cardinal rushing attack is ranked among the top 25 in the nation, but they will face their greatest challenge against the Syracuse defense.  In the six Syracuse victories, the Orange have held their opponents to 14 points or less.  They have complimented that defense with a patient and effective rushing attack of their own, headed by Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey.  Syracuse has been clicking recently, and already looks like a different team than the one that got throttled 45-14 by Pittsburgh.  The Orange have been successful on the road, and I do not see them changing their execution at home.  PICK - Syracuse 19, Louisville 14   
Posted on: October 30, 2010 9:32 pm
 

What I learned from the Big East (Oct. 30)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1. West Virginia has been giving away their season, one turnover at a time - Just three weeks ago, West Virginia was "leading" the Big East. They toted a 5-1 record and a national ranking, as well as a top ranked defensive unit that was holding opponents to less than two touchdowns per game. But while the season was at a midpoint, the conference schedule was just getting started. But in the last two games, turnovers have almost cost the Mountaineers their shot at a BCS bowl berth. The eye test said that the Mountaineers were cruising on easy street down to Miami, until they decided they were tired of taking care of the ball. Against Syracuse West Virginia turned the ball over three times, all of which were turned into points for the Orange. Saturday's matchup with Connecticut was more of the same from the Mountaineer offense. West Virginia racked up 414 yards of total offense, but four lost fumbles prevented them from scoring more than 13 points on the Huskies defense.  If the Mountaineers avoid coughing the ball up, they could be 3-0 in conference play and looking down the road to a potential BCS bowl game.  But instead of the Mountaineers, it is the Pittsburgh Panthers.  Speaking of...

2. Lewis has reclaimed the favor of the Pittsburgh coaching staff - Earlier in the season, Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis was struggling to get his season going.  His yards per carry were down from his 2009 Rookie of the Year campaign, and he was sharing many of his carries with backup Ray Graham.  Now that conference play has begun, Lewis has emerged as the clear-cut but first stringer in the Panther backfield.  After a phenomenal performance last week against Rutgers that included 17 rushes for 130 yards and a touchdown, Lewis appeared to have regained the starting job despite Graham continuing to lead the team in rushing by a convincing margin.  In the win over Louisville, Lewis carried the ball 18 times compared to Graham's nine attempts.  Earlier in the season, that was much more of a 50-50 divide between the two backs.  Now Lewis must make the most of his increased opportunities in order to hold that spot. 

3. Syracuse's tenacious second half defense is a key to their success - In five of the Orange's six victories, the defense has shut out the opponent in the second half.  Syracuse's offense has relied on a dominant running game led by Delone Carter and Antwon Bailey.  The smash mouth brand of football under second year head coach Doug Marrone has turned last season's 1-6 conference record around to 3-1 at the midpoint of the conference schedule.  Syracuse has only been to a bowl game twice since since 2000 and not at all since 2004, but the 2010 Orange are already bowl eligible at 6-2.  A conference championship may be out of reach after the loss to Pittsburgh, but anything is an upgrade from the way things have been at Syracuse.
Posted on: October 24, 2010 11:40 am
Edited on: October 24, 2010 11:43 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Oct. 23)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1. Eight teams still have a shot at BCS berth - As crazy as it sounds, the perfect storm of circumstance has brought about a wide open Big East conference race.  The first major factor has been the scheduling.  For the most part, each team backlogged their conference schedule.  So while we are at the midpoint of the regular season, six of the eight teams in the conference are only two games into league play.  Even the seemingly hapless Connecticut Huskies are a Pittsburgh upset from climbing back into the race.  Knock the Big East as much as you want, but at the wide-open race will at least make each game interesting coming down the stretch.  
  
2. Syracuse isn't flashy, but they are getting it done - After getting throttled by Pittsburgh at home, Syracuse bounced back to stun West Virginia in Morgantown.  The Orange got right back to the same kind of tough football that helped them rattle off three straight wins, with aggressive defense and a solid running game.  When Delone Carter left the game with a hip injury, backup running back Antwon Bailey stepped and delivered a season high 94 yards on the ground.  The defense kept West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith guessing all day, disguising their coverages and blitzes to force a season high three interceptions.  Syracuse hasn't put together impressive victories (particularly not scoring a point after halftime) but if they can continue to stack the W's, the Orange could find themselves bowling in 2010.

3. Tino Sunseri has arrived - After a somewhat shaky start, Sunseri has come into his own as the leader of the Panthers offense.  The rushing attack has not been what it was a year ago in Dion Lewis' breakout season, but the sophomore signal caller has stepped it up through the air in conference play.  After five touchdowns in the first five games, Sunseri has connected with his receivers for seven scores in the last two weeks.  If he can continue to find playmaking wide receiver Jon Baldwin, like he did for 139 yards against Rutgers, Pittsburgh could be a difficult team to beat down the stretch.

4. There is some hope in Tampa for South Florida - To reiterate the earlier point, South Florida's 38-30 victory over Cincinnati on Friday kept the Bulls from falling all but out of the Big East hunt.  Not only did first year head coach Skip Holtz avoid starting 0-3 in the conference, but he got the best performance of the season from quarterback B.J. Daniels.  If Daniels' performance was more than just a flash in the pan, South Florida can do a lot to make up for the rough start.

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Posted on: October 23, 2010 4:20 pm
Edited on: October 23, 2010 5:12 pm
 

Syracuse just turned the Big East upside down

Posted by Chip Patterson

And just like that, the Big East has been blown wide open.  

We figured that it could happen, just weren't all that positive that it would.  But with Syracuse's 19-14 victory, West Virginia has been knocked off their post as the Big East front runner and the conference is now up for grabs.  Syracuse forced West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith into three first half interceptions that the Orange turned into points, and the Mountaineers weren't able to climb back from the halftime deficit.  In fact, after a very exciting back and forth first half of play, neither team scored scored a point after the break.  

Syracuse dominated West Virginia on the ground, racking up 183 rushing yards on one of the best statistical defenses in the nation.  Running back Delone Carter left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury after racking up 75 yards, but backup Antwon Bailey was just as effective for the Orange.  Bailey carried 19 times for 94 yards, career high's in both categories, and Syracuse shed a new light on the Mountaineer squad that many had already penciled in for the conference title. 

Pittsburgh has now jumped into the conference lead with their 41-21 dismantling of Rutgers.  After the 2-0 Panthers stand Syracuse, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Rutgers, Connecticut and Louisville as teams with one loss.  That list will be shortened after the completion of the Huskies-Cardinals game, but the argument will still be valid for 3/4 of the conference to be considered legitimate contenders.

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Posted on: October 22, 2010 3:14 pm
 

Below the Radar: Four other games to watch

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's easy to pick out this weekend's biggest games: LSU and Auburn , Iowa and Wisconsin , Oklahoma and Missouri . But every week there's plenty of interesting matchups -- no, really -- that don't feature ranked teams and don't make anyone's "must-watch" list other than the team's fans. Here's four of them you should keep an eye on regardless (all times Eastern):

Penn State (3-3, 0-2) at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3), 12 p.m. This one won't feature a ton of points (the Gophers and Nittany Lions rank 76th and 108th in scoring offense, respectively), and obviously it's not going to have much impact on the Big Ten race, either. But this is the game that could legitimately be the beginning of the end of the Joe Paterno era; the Lions might be able to stomach one humiliating loss (last week's 20-point home shellacking at the hands of Illinois ), but a second at the hands of the reeling, coach-less Gophers -- not to mention the accompanying 0-3 conference record and dwindling hopes of bowl eligibility -- could start the succession planning in earnest. The long-term implications alone make this contest critical.

Rutgers (4-2, 1-0) at Pitt (3-3, 1-0), 12 p.m. Both the Scarlet Knights and Panthers have suffered some serious nonconference pratfalls --- Rutgers' unthinkable loss to Tulane , Pitt's home bludgeoning at the hands of Miami -- but both got off to 1-0 starts in Big East play with big wins over UConn and Syracuse , respectively. This is the Big East, after all: once you get to 2-0, it's impossible not to call you a serious contender in the conference. The key matchup will be Pitt's fast-rising Ray Graham (118 rushing yards per game) against Greg Schiano 's 15th-ranked defense.

Kansas State (5-1, 2-1) at Baylor (5-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. There's honest-to-God Big 12 implications here; if Mizzou loses to Oklahoma late Saturday, the Wildcats could forge a three-way tie atop the Big 12 North with their own date against the Tigers still to come. But the stakes are probably higher for the Bears anyway; a win would push Baylor to six wins and a postseason berth for the first time since they played the 1994 Alamo Bowl. There's surprising talent on display here, too: Wildcat back Daniel Thomas is the conference's second-leading rusher at 130 yards a game, and Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin (14 TDs, 3 INT) has a Denard Robinson -esque blend of rushing speed and throwing accuracy.

Georgia (3-4, 2-3) at Kentucky (4-3, 1-3), 7:30 p.m. The storyline for this one is simple: the winner stays in the dead thick of the muddled SEC East race. Beyond that, last November the Wildcats used a bevy of Georgia turnovers to upset the Dawgs in Athens and have generally given Mark Richt 's team fits the past few seasons. If Richt wants to permanently silence the bleating for his head that began after Georgia's 1-4 start, he can't afford a second straight defeat at the hands of a team that's been Georgia's traditional inferior. Too bad for him the Wildcats have been feisty at home thus far this season, pulling one major upset against South Carolina last week and coming within one stop of doing the same to Auburn the week before. As long as Randall Cobb is around (even if Derrick Locke isn't), expect more feistiness to come, and for this one to come down to the wire.



Posted on: October 18, 2010 8:10 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2010 9:12 pm
 

Midseason Report: Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

The Midseason Report separates the contenders from the pretenders in each conference race.  The Big East has been openly criticized for their weakness in the 2010 season, but they still hold on to a BCS Bowl berth.  Someone has to win it, ranked or not.  West Virginia has carried the banner for the conference thus far, but with a backlogged conference schedule, there is a lot of football left.

West Virginia (1-0)(5-1) - The race for the Big East is pretty much the Mountaineers' to lose at this point.  They appear to be a far superior team to their conference counterparts on both sides of the ball.  While there is some concern for running back Noel Devine's health and recent decline in production, quarterback Geno Smith has emerged as the center of the West Virginia offense.  Smith has thrown for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and has done a good job spreading the receptions around the field, keeping the defense from stacking the box against Devine.  Head coach Bill Stewart said that Devine is "close to 100 percent" finally after injuring his foot against LSU.  Devine has not missed much time, but has been noticeably limited on the field.  The defense has also been a pleasant surprise for West Virginia fans in 2010.  Allowing only 12.3 points per game, the Mountaineers are rank 3rd in the nation in scoring defense.  Their greatest challenge left on the schedule is a late season matchup at Pittsburgh November 26.  But even that game looks very winnable at this point.
         
Rutgers (1-0)(4-2) - The most significant event of the Scarlet Knights' season unfortunately is also one of the saddest.  Defensive tackle Eric LeGrand still is in the hospital, paralyzed after making a special teams tackle in the 23-20 overtime win against Army.  But if you are looking for good things to take from the game, the most impressive was the performance of quarterback Chas Dodd.  Dodd appears to have the starting job locked up for now, after throwing for 251 yards and two touchdowns to help Rutgers rally back from a 17-3 third quarter deficit.  Unfortunately, the Scarlet Knights have one of the most difficult remaining schedules in the conference.  Road trips to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and West Virginia make a daunting order for Greg Schiano's squad.  
      
Cincinnati (1-0)(3-3) -  The Bearcats have shown flashes of greatness in 2010, they have just failed to carry it for an entire game.  However with a schedule full of conference foes, the slate might as well be clean for Cincinnati.  Quarterback Zach Collaros continues to sling the ball all over the field, with four straight games of at least 200 yards and three touchdowns.  His most recent five touchdown outing helped the Bearcats lock up that first road conference victory.  They still will have to face the other three teams on this list of contenders, but only have to leave home to travel to Morgantown.  Their failure to put a complete game does not give me confidence they will take the conference, but it does not make the feat impossible. 

Pittsburgh (1-0)(3-3) - Pittsburgh's season has been painfully inconsistent.  Not only have they failed to string together back-to-back wins, but their "Jekyll and Hyde" routine has kept them from climbing back into the national scene.  Ever since the season opening loss at Utah it has been a season of head scratching for Panther fans.  The good news is there are six conference games left on the schedule, and regardless of overall record they are currently tied for first.  Additionally, they also picked up their victory on the road, leaving only one significant test away from home: a season finale showdown with Cincinnati.  Both teams will be fighting for postseason postion (or maybe eligibility) and should the Panthers string some wins together and upset the Mountaineers, could have conference title implications.  Having said that, I'm not holding my breath on the Panthers running the table. 


 
 
 
 
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