Tag:Ray Graham
Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:08 am
 

Keys to the game: BBVA Compass Bowl

Posted by Bryan Fischer

SMU WILL WIN IF: The Mustangs have no problem throwing the ball around in June Jones' offense but, this year, that has led to plenty of turnovers and they're going to have cut those down if they want to win this game. SMU is dead last in turnover margin - and it's not very close - and throws interceptions as much as they do slant routes (19 on the season). Pitt has shown flashes of being a good team despite their 6-6 record and if they keep getting extra chances to score, should find the end zone enough to win the game. But, if SMU can hold onto the football and the offense is sharp as it can be, a bowl trophy should find its way to the hilltop.

PITTSBURGH WILL WIN IF: Quarterback Tino Sunseri has to step his game up and come through with some efficient drives. Pitt was the definition of average this season with their record, an up-and-down ride through the year that did see them lose several close games and win a few others they could have lost. With running back Ray Graham out, the offense has stalled after going one-dimensional and Sunseri has been making mistakes that just make you scratch your head. The defense will have its hands full with SMU's offense so the team needs the offense to move the ball and limit mistakes and turnovers. Play within themselves and Pitt should end the season on a high note and give something new head coach Paul Chryst can build on.

X-FACTOR: Is either team motivated to be in Birmingham? SMU had their coach flirt with other schools in the offseason and Pitt makes a return trip to this bowl after an average season and their coach informing them via text message that he was headed to warmer climates. They're playing in one of those games in the lull between the title game and other BCS bowls so it's possible both teams come out lackadaisical and uncaring. Add in the fact that just about every coach for the Panthers is either gone or has an interim tag and you don't know how they're going to come out of the tunnel and play. Whoever does come out sharp and executes will likely end up taking home whatever type of trophy BBVA can come up with.

Posted on: November 27, 2011 2:00 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 2:29 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 13



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Charlie Strong

In his first year, Charlie Strong was showered with praise for his ability to pull a veteran group together and give the seniors their first bowl win at Louisville. Expectations were tempered heading into 2011, with the Cardinals having to replace departed veterans up and down the depth chart. With the 34-24 win against South Florida on Friday, Louisville wrapped up their best conference record since Bobby Petrino's final season in 2006. But this success carries with it an extra feeling of accomplishment, bouncing back from early season losses to FIU and Marshall. Strong seemed frustrated at times this season, using phrases like "we just need to teach the game of football" to explain the status of his young team. But the Cardinals improved as the season progressed, and delivered their best performance when it counts in league play. With Strong's momentum and this young roster, it would not be surprising to see Louisville in the mix for the Big East title for the foreseeable future.

LOSER: BCS dreams for Rutgers and Pittsburgh

Rutgers and Pittsburgh fell from contention for a share of the Big East title - and thus a shot at a BCS bowl game - with devastating losses in Week 13. Pittsburgh gave up a 20-7 second half lead on West Virginia and Rutgers turned the ball over six times to help Connecticut run away with a 40-22 win. With the Scarlet Knights and Panthers out of the mix, the Big East title race has narrowed to three contenders: Louisville, Cincinnati, and West Virginia.

Louisville has finished their season with a 5-2 conference record, while the Mountaineers and Bearcats each have one game remaining. Here are the possible scenarios and outcomes in the hunt for a BCS bowl bid.

SCENARIO I
Cincinnati defeats Connecticut, South Florida defeats West Virginia. RESULT: Cincinnati earns BCS bid
SCENARIO II
Connecticut defeats Cincinnati, West Virginia defeats South Florida. RESULT: Louisville earns BCS bid
SCENARIO III
Connecticut defeats Cincinnati, South Florida defeats West Virginia. RESULT: Louisville earns BCS bid
SCENARIO IV
Cincinnati defeats Connecticut, West Virginia defeats South Florida. RESULT: Three-way tie for Big East title. BCS bid determined by highest ranking in BCS standings.

WINNER: The Rebuilt Cincinnati Offense

Most figured that Zach Collaros' absence from the Cincinnati offense would lead to some struggles, but the Bearcats' Big East title hopes looked dim after the first full game without him resulted in just three points. Backup Munchie Legaux looked out-of-rhythm all afternoon in the 20-3 loss to Rutgers, completing just 12 of 31 passes and picking up only 31 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Earlier this week head coach Butch Jones suggested the possibility of using two quarterbacks against Syracuse, giving more snaps to dual-threat sophomore Jordan Luallen. Luallen ended up being the perfect change of pace for the Bearcats' offense, and finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 77 yards.

The pair made the two-QB rotation work at Cincinnati, finally hitting a rhythm and putting together a five scoring drives in the final 35 minutes of play. But the star of the Bearcats' big conference win was not a new face, but an all-too familiar one for Big East opponents. Senior running back Isaiah Pead picked up 80 yards rushing and 112 yards receiving out of the backfield on the way to 246 all-purpose yard performance to lead the Bearcats. Pead has been a force for Cincinnati, and is just 38 rushing yards away from his second-straight 1,000 yard season. The win has put Cincinnati one win away from claiming a share of the Big East title, and the decisive win should help in the BCS rankings for a potential three-team tiebreaker.

LOSER: Pittsburgh RB Zach Brown

The fact that Pittsburgh has been able to stay in contention for a Big East BCS bid even after losing Ray Graham to a season-ending knee injury is astounding. Graham was the nations second-leading rusher at the time of his injury, averaging over 130 yards per game and contributing over 40% of Pittsburgh's total offense. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and backup running back Zach Brown were able to carry the offensive load in a crucial road win at Louisville last week, and appeared to have the Panthers set up for another in Morgantown. Pitt led 17-7 when Brown was injured on a long run in the final moments of the first half. For the remainder of the game, third-stringer Isaac Bennett carried the running back responsibilities almost exclusively. Bennett did finish with 69 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but there was a noticeable drop off in pass protection as Sunseri was sacked 10 times - including four times on the final drive. The entire offense struggled throughout the second half, only producing a Kevin Harper field goal in the early third quarter, and Brown's injury was the most noticeable change. Regardless of the fault, the Panthers are out of the Big East title hunt and now need a win over Syracuse to be bowl eligible.

WINNER: Connecticut's bowl hopes

Needing to win out against Rutgers and Cincinnati seemed like a daunting task for an inconsistent Connecticut team to become bowl eligible, but that campaign received new life in a 40-22 beatdown of the Scarlet Knights on Saturday. The Huskies got it done with big plays from their defense, special teams, and a bruising rushing attack led by freshman Lyle McCombs. Quarterbacks Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings were given fantastic field position all day, benefiting from six Rutgers turnovers and a couple of big returns by Nick Williams. Once they got the ball close to the goal line, it was up to McCombs and McCummings to McGet the job done. The duo combined for all four of the Huskies' offensive touchdowns, giving the Huskies a 30-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. It's been a rough first season for head coach Paul Pasqualoni, but a .500 record and a bowl berth would be a great finish considering the 2-4 start in East Hartford.

LOSER: Backyard Brawl as a Big East tradition

With Pittsburgh and West Virginia both on the move out of the Big East, Friday's edition of the Backyard Brawl was possibly the last meeting of rivals as conference foes. As of Saturday Pittsburgh is still planning on an arrival in the ACC in 2014, while Oliver Luck and West Virginia have taken the legal route to try and join the Big 12 by next season. The Big East chapter of the West Virginia-Pittsburgh rivalry has been memorable, with the game serving as annual late-season highlight of the conference schedule since the Mountaineers joined in 1995. Four of the last five meetings between the two teams have been decided by one score or less, with the 21-20 West Virginia win being the closest contest since a 31-31 tie in 1989. The rivalry outdates the Big East, so I would guess the two schools will figure a way to keep it going. But Big East football fans have a less certain future when it comes to enjoying this showdown of bitter rivals as part of the conference schedule.

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Posted on: November 4, 2011 3:04 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 10

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

Listen, we know what you're planning on having for dinner on Saturday night. The only college football fans who won't be tuning into Alabama and LSU on Saturday night are the ones who have their favorite teams playing at the same time. And even most of those people will be flipping back and forth.

Still, that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other strong options out there on Saturday. I mean, every main course needs an appetizer or 8, right?

BREAKFAST

Iowa vs. #13 Michigan - ESPN, 12pm ET

Let's face it: it's not very fun to watch games with dynamic performers if those guys get shut down by a defense. Fortunately for Michigan, that's probably not a fate awaiting Denard Robinson against Iowa. The Hawkeye defense has been jarringly bad all season long, and "Shoelace" is likely to get in the end zone several times. What more can you ask for from an early game? - Adam Jacobi

Texas vs. Texas Tech - FX, 12pm ET

The word is that beginning next season these two teams will begin playing on Thanksgiving Day, so this may be the last time you watch this game without a turkey leg in your mouth. Both are looking to make a statement on Saturday, as the Longhorns would like the world to know that they're a good team that has lost to great teams. Texas Tech, meanwhile, would like to prove that the win over Oklahoma wasn't just a fluke and it wants to wash the stench of Iowa State off. - Tom Fornelli

Florida vs. Vanderbilt - SEC Network, 12:21pm ET

Is this the week the Commodores finish the deal? After playing Georgia tough and Arkansas tougher, it would seem the reeling Gators, losers of four straight, would be ripe for the picking. But with John Brantley another week removed from his ankle injury and Will Muschamp's team now in desperation mode, the upset won't come easy. Vandy's struggled on the road, too, having lost their two SEC games away from Nashville (to South Carolina and Alabama) by combined 55-3. Can the Gators rebound? - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

Oregon State vs. #4 Stanford - ABC, 3:30pm ET

Let down game? We'll see if Stanford struggles on the road after their big, overtime win at USC last week. Strange things have been known to happen up in Corvallis with highly ranked teams so keep your eye on this one even though it's a complete mismatch in favor of the Cardinal. - Bryan Fischer

#7 Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

With its slim hopes of winning the Big 12 dashed last week by Missouri, the Aggies are now resigned to playing the role of spoiler. What better way to say goodbye to Oklahoma than by killing its chances at a Big 12 title as well? Both of these teams have strong offenses, and we could be in store for quite the shootout in Norman on Saturday. - TF

#19 Wisconsin vs. Purdue - ABC/ESPN2, 3:30pm ET

We're not saying this game won't be competitive, but before the third quarter is over, Russell Wilson will probably throw a sword at the press box then scream, "Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you have come out here?!" And then, if we haven't stretched the Gladiator reference past credulity and good taste, the Camp Randall crowd will begin chanting, "Caroliniard!" over and over. - AJ

Air Force vs. Army - CBS, 3:30pm ET

Air Force already withstood an 18-point comeback from Navy before winning 35-34 in overtime, and it would be a huge let down to follow that performance with a loss against Army at home.  The Falcons can capture their 18th outright win for the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy if they can win the ground attack battle against the Black Knights.  Army and Air Force rank 1st and 3rd nationally in rushing offense, and Saturday's battle will be a test of defense and ball control as the two service academies square off in the annual rivalry.  With Air Force starting quarterback Tim Jefferson reportedly playing with a broken nose, I expect senior Asher Clark to step up in the backfield with a big performance at home.  The Falcons are favored to win this nationally televised battle, but in these rivalry games with the service academies you never know what to expect.  - Chip Patterson

DINNER

Pitt vs. #23 Cincinnati - ESPNU, 7pm ET

The Bearcats have quietly made themselves Big East frontrunners, as the only team without a loss in conference play.  Two years ago Cincinnati came from behind to beat Pittsburgh 45-44 on Heinz Field to cap off an undefeated regular season and earn a berth to the Sugar Bowl.  Now with Butch Jones at the helm, they control their own destiny to return to a BCS bowl.  Their five-game home stretch starts with the Panthers, who will be looking to rebound from losing Ray Graham for the season with a knee injury.  Quarterback Tino Sunseri delivered one of his best performances of the season after Graham went down against UConn, and they'll need it again to take down the conference leaders. - CP

#8 Arkansas vs. #10 South Carolina - ESPN, 7:15pm ET 

Believe it or not, there's going to be two matchups of BCS top 10 teams in the SEC Saturday night. The Hogs and Gamecocks might have been able to draw a little more attention away from that other game if Carolina had done anything on offense of late, but -- go figure -- scoring just 28 points in their past two games doesn't seem to have done much to move the national needle. If Tyler Wilson can avoid getting an early shower courtesy of Melvin Ingram and the rest of the outstanding Gamecock pass rush, Carolina should be hard-pressed to keep pace with the Raozrback offense in Fayetteville. - JH

#3 Oklahoma State vs. #17 Kansas State - ABC/ESPN2, 8pm ET

Consider this Kansas State's last stand. The Wildcats were finally starting to gain the respect they deserved for their strong start to the season only to get trounced by Oklahoma last weekend. They either get off the mat and fight back against a very good Oklahoma State team or they'll just be a footnote in the 2011 season. As for Oklahoma State, they've got plenty to play for, as a berth in the BCS title game is very much in play. - TF

#2 Alabama vs. #1 LSU - CBS, 8pm ET

So, is it possible to sum up two solid weeks of previews and thousands and thousands of words in just a couple of sentences? We'll try: if AJ McCarron doesn't hand the Tigers big plays on defense and Rueben Randle doesn't break free for some big plays on offense, Alabama's brutal run game and equally brutal run defense will eventually wear down the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. But if McCarron does get sloppy and Randle does keep the Tide D off-balance, the matchup's close enough that just those handful of plays could swing it. - JH 

LATE NIGHT SNACK

Washington vs. #6 Oregon - Fox Sports, 10:30pm ET

Washington fans hate Oregon. Oregon fans hate Washington. This Northwest rivalry is underrated by many nationally and has been one-sided as of late but this year's game should be very competitive. The Huskies can score some points on the Ducks defense but can UW defensive coordinator Nick Holt stop the fast-paced Oregon attack? - BF 
Posted on: November 3, 2011 4:15 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2011 4:50 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 10



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Man vs. Woman vs. Machine is a feature that runs every Thursday afternoon. It is here that Tom Fornelli fights against the rising tide of female empowerment and technology to ensure that men everywhere can at least claim that college football is still theirs. He does this by picking a set of games against the spread against his girlfriend, Lynn, and his Playstation 3.

As defined by Webster's, hubris means "exaggerated pride or self-confidence." Unfortunately, I didn't need to look that up because I'm already quite familiar with hubris, as is Woman. For you see, as human beings, we are prone to suffering from feelings and getting a bit too full of ourselves. Because of this hubris that both Woman and I experienced, we seem to have forgotten there was a third member of this competition.

The thoughtless, emotionless machine. Now, after a mediocre week from both Man and Woman, the Machine has made its move. The two-horse race now has a third member, and things should get interesting down the home stretch.

Colorado vs. USC (-22 1/2) - Friday, 9pm (All times Eastern)

Man - It's been hard to watch USC the last two weeks and not be very impressed with what the Trojans have been doing. Compare that to how Colorado has played all season, and I don't really care if it's at home and is getting over 3 touchdowns, I'm not relying on it. Pick: USC

Woman - "Hey, Tom, have you noticed while we're fighting each other, the zombie Machine is catching up fast? All I can say is, I'm Shane, you're Otis. As for the Pac-12 Loser Bowl, let's review the numbers. Colorado lost to Stanford 48-7.  Stanford needed triple OT to best USC. And the line starts to look smaller..." Pick: USC 

Machine - Does not really appreciate being called a zombie, but it agrees with Woman anyway. USC wins 42-13. Pick: USC

West Virginia (-14 1/2) vs. Louisville - Saturday, 12pm

Man - When it comes to the Big East your first option should always be to lean toward chaos, but from what I've seen from Louisville this season, I just don't see the Cardinals being able to hang with the Mountaineers. Which means Louisville will probably win 9-7, but I'm picking West Virginia anyway. Pick: West Virginia

Woman - "West Virginia should have this won but Louisville is coming off a two-week high, beating both Rutgers and Syracuse. With both teams tied at 2-1 in the Big East standings, I'm guessing the game will be closer than the spread. (And by the way, kind of sad that Cardinals cheerleaders don't feel safe enough to cheer at Mountaineer Field.)" Pick: Louisville

Machine - Geno Smith is going to have a day to remember, as he throws for over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns as West Virginia rolls 49-21. Pick: West Virginia

Iowa vs. Michigan (-4 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Normally in a Big Ten game played in Kinnick Stadium if I saw Iowa was getting points I wouldn't have to think that much before going with the Hawkeyes. Unfortunately this year's Iowa team is not something I want to depend on for anything, and Michigan has a lot left to play for, so I'm rolling with the Wolverines. Pick: Michigan

Woman - "Big Blue's one slip this season was on the road.  But with a stout defense, Denard Robinson at the helm, and an opponent that's underperformed all season, I'm thinking Kinnick Stadium won't pose much of a threat to the Wolverines." Pick: Michigan

Machine - The Machine must not have seen Iowa play against Minnesota last week, because it doesn't see the Hawkeyes having a whole lot of trouble with the Wolverines. Iowa wins 28-17. Pick: Iowa

Nebraska (-17 1/2) vs. Northwestern - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Nebraska is a team that worries me every week, but after seeing what it was able to do with Michigan State in Lincoln last week, I'm going to put that fear aside and trust that Rex Burkhead will run all over the Northwestern defense. Pick: Nebraska

Woman - "It's a shame Northwestern QB Dan Persa can't play defense.  And it's really a shame the Northwestern defense can't play defense. Not gonna be pretty (especially at crazed Memorial Stadium)." Pick: Nebraska

Machine - The Machine sees the Nebraska offense taking full advantage of the Northwestern defense, but it also sees Dan Persa and company having some success as well. Nebraska wins 38-30. Pick: Northwestern

Oklahoma (-13 1/2) vs. Texas A&M - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - When it comes to picking games against the spread I try to subscribe to the idea of never picking the underdog unless you think the underdog has a legit chance of winning the game. I don't think Texas A&M is going to go into Norman and hand the Sooners a second straight home loss, but I also think that the Aggies will cover what's nearly a 2 touchdown spread. So screw my rules. Pick: Texas A&M

Woman - "The Aggies have been my Kryptonite, letting me down every time I've picked them. That said, they haven't lost a game this season by more than seven points and have won all their away games. So, once more into the breach. Sooners win but Aggies cover." Pick: Texas A&M

Machine - Our worst fears are being realized. The Machine is adapting to reality, as it sees Texas A&M carry a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter only to lose 31-24. Pick: Texas A&M

Pitt vs. Cincinnati (-2 1/2) - Saturday, 7pm

Man - I feel like I'm punishing myself for even including this game in the picks. I mean, seriously, it's the Big East. I have no idea what's going to happen, so let's let this nickel decide. Pick: Pitt

Woman - "Some of the most excruciating college ball I've watched this season has been at the butterfingery hands of Pitt. Losing leading rusher Ray Graham for the season with a torn ACL does nothing to make the Panthers more appealing against the Big East leader." Pick: Cincinnati

Machine - The loss of Ray Graham will not be a huge blow to the Panthers this week, as they squeeze out a win against the Bearcats, throwing the Big East into total disarray. Pitt wins 28-27. Pick: Pitt

Arkansas (-4 1/2) vs. South Carolina - Saturday, 7:15pm

Man - A South Carolina offense that was already struggling before losing Marcus Lattimore for the season and has seemingly forgotten it has Alshon Jeffery on the road against an Arkansas offense averaging 37 points a game but also has a defense that's struggled to stop Ole Miss and Vanderbilt the last few weeks. So I'm just going to go with the home team. Pick: Arkansas

Woman - "The Gamecocks 7-1 record is pretty misleading. They've scored a total of no more than 16 points three out of the last four games and, after dumping QB Stephen Garcia, now must deal with star RB Marcus Lattimore out for the season with a knee injury.  Meanwhile, Arkansas has averaged 37 points a game. Let's see, 37 minus 16 = " Pick: Arkansas

Machine - We got ourselves a clean sweep here, as Arkansas wins 31-14. Pick: Arkansas

Alabama (-4 1/2) vs. LSU - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Ah yes, the Game of The Century For This Year. Much like most of you, I've been looking forward to this one for weeks. A part of me didn't even want to pick this one just so I'd have no reason to care what the final score was and I could just enjoy it, but I also don't want to give a game away to the Woman or the Machine. I don't know who is going to win this game, but I do know that there are two incredibly good defenses facing each other. So points will be at a premium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night, and since that's the case, I'm going to take the free points and LSU. Pick: LSU

Woman - "I made the horrible mistake of picking against the Tigers once this season.  That's once too many.  Calling Baton Rouge [Les Miles]." Pick: LSU

Machine - Shocking, I know, but The Machine has always been more of a Nick Saban fan than a Les Miles one. Alabama wins 28-20. Pick: Alabama

Oklahoma State (-21 1/2) vs. Kansas State - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Remember what we saw the Oklahoma offense do to Kansas State last week? I don't think that was a mirage, and now the Wildcats are facing an even more explosive offense and on the road. I let my heart pick the Wildcats last week, but this week I'm listening to my head. Let's hope I'm not as stupid as I think I am. Pick: Oklahoma State

Woman - "The Wildcats have the unenviable task of coming off an embarrassing loss only to face the number three-ranked team in the country. The bad news for KSU: they're going to lose two games in a row. The good news: it won't be by more than three touchdowns." Pick: Kansas State

Machine - Well, Kansas State, you'll always have September and the first three weeks of October. The Machine sees Brandon Weeden picking up where Landry Jones left off, and the Cowboys win 51-20. Pick: Oklahoma State

Washington vs. Oregon (-15 1/2) - Saturday, 10:30pm

Man - Washington is averaging 39 points a game at home this season while Oregon is giving up over 25 points per game to Pac-12 opponents not named Colorado on the year. So if they want to give me more than 2 touchdowns with Washington at home, I'm going to take Washington. Pick: Washington

Woman - "It's the very last game ever at storied Husky Stadium and this is an intense rivalry folks east of the Rockies don't appreciate. The Huskies might lose but will not go gentle into that good night." Pick: Washington

Machine - The Machine thinks you should stay up late to watch this one, because it's going to be a shootout. Oregon wins 48-42. Pick: Washington

Standings

Season Record (Last Week)

1. Man 55-40 (4-6)
1. Woman 55-40 (5-5)
3. Machine 52-43 (8-2)

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Posted on: October 30, 2011 4:03 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 9



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: West Virginia's BCS title hopes

Trailing by 10 at halftime on the road against Rutgers in swirling snow, West Virginia faced the possibility of dropping their second straight conference game. It could have been a repeat of 2010, when back-to-back conference losses caused West Virginia to lose a three-team tie for the conference title. The Mountaineers were denied a trip to a BCS bowl and instead found themselves playing in the Champs Sports Bowl in December.

But the Mountaineers' defense got opportunistic in the second half, and Shawne Alston led a ground attack that seemed to catch the Scarlet Knights off guard. The 20-0 shut out in the final two quarters helped seal the 41-31 victory and keep West Virginia alive in the hunt for the Big East title. Cincinnati is still undefeated, but West Virginia will have an opportunity to claim the tiebreaker over the Bearcats in another road test in two weeks. They'll likely need to win out in order to win the conference, but at least they still control their destiny.

LOSER: Gary Nova

When freshman quarterback Gary Nova replaced Chas Dodd as the starting quarterback at Rutgers, he received praise for his maturity despite being a true freshman. But on Saturday Nova showed his age playing against a tough opponent in hostile conditions. As the snowy mix fell from the sky during Rutgers' 41-31 loss to West Virginia, Nova began to lose his control of the ball as the game progressed. Two fumbles under center halted Scarlet Knights' drives during a frustrating second half for Rutgers. With a 10-point halftime lead, it looked as though the Scarlet Knights were poised to pull the upset in the strange playing conditions. But the inability to sustain a drive led to a disappointing finish, as Rutgers was held scoreless through the entire second half.

WINNER: Louisville's offense

It's hard to tell if Louisville's offensive growth is a credit to the changes on the coaching staff or Teddy Bridgewater's development, but either way things are moving in the right direction for the Cardinals. Louisville put up 343 total yards of offense and a season-high 27 points in the victory over Syracuse on Saturday. Teddy Bridgwater was sharp in the pocket, completing 17 of 24 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and - most importantly - no interceptions.

It was a huge win for Charlie Strong's squad, which despite their early season struggles currently sit just one game out of first place in the Big East. All of the sudden, Louisville is looking at the possibilities of another postseason berth under the second-year coach. The improvements to the offense have helped the team settle on their identity, and Saturday was a moment of arrival for the Cardinals.

LOSER: Connecticut's quarterbacks

While Connecticut's quarterback rotation has narrowed to Johnny McEntee as the starter and Scott McCummings as your change-of-pace running threat, the strength of the position has not improved all season. Johnny McEntee looked like a walk-on against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, completing just 17 of 33 passes for 193 yards. He threw no interceptions, though probably should have been picked off 3-4 times by packaging misread passes right into the hands of the Panthers' defense. McEntee looks nervous under pressure, and does not avoid sacks well at all.

Unfortunately for first-year head coach Paul Pasqualoni, there just aren't many options offensively other than to tough it out with what he has. Freshman running back Lyle McCombs has been promising, and notched another 100-yard performance (his fifth of the season) with the 124 yard output against Pittsburgh. It is a frustrating moment to realize that "this is the best you are going to do," but that's exactly what Connecticut fans have with their offense right now.

WINNER: Cincinnati 

Even though the Bearcats were off, Butch Jones and Co. were winners in Week 9. As the rest of the league spent the weekend beating each other up and shuffling the conference standings, the Bearcats remain at their position on top. Undefeated in league play, the Bearcats still control their destiny in terms of the Big East title and a BCS bowl bid. Arguably two of the toughest challenges on the schedule await Cincinnati in the next two weeks with a road trip to Pittsburgh and a home game against West Virginia. Getting the extra week to rest and prepare, while Rutgers and Syracuse (both road games in late November) fell an extra game behind in the standings made Week 9 enjoyable for Cincinnati fans with Big East title hopes.

LOSER: Syracuse's momentum 

Syracuse is one of the least-consistent 5-3 teams in the nation right now. The Orange failed to reach bowl eligibility on Saturday with their 27-10 loss at the hands of Louisville. They looked uninspired, lifeless, and completely different from the squad that knocked off West Virginia 49-23 last weekend. Of course, THAT team looked different than the one that squeaked out a 37-34 win over Tulane. There is no continuity or consistency to the play of Syracuse this season, something that makes them wildly unpredictable and still dangerous in Big East play.

With four conference games left, it would take a meltdown for Doug Marrone not to take Syracuse back to the postseason. Unfortunately picking up their second conference loss likely plays them out of the Big East title race. All of the momentum Syracuse had after the big West Virginia win is gone, and now the Orange will try to get it back next week against Connecticut on the road.


WINNER: Eric LeGrand

We've covered this moment extensively today, but I figured it was worth one last post. The inspiring video of Eric LeGrand re-joining his teammates on the field before Rutgers-West Virginia.



LOSER: Ray Graham


Pittsburgh's offense took a hit on Wednesday night, with star running back Ray Graham suffering a knee injury that will require season-ending surgery. In a roller-coaster season for Pittsburgh's offense, Graham has been the only steady component. The junior running back entered the weekend as the nation's second-leading rusher, averaging 135 yards per game. Graham is the perfect back for head coach Todd Graham's offensive scheme, providing a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield as well. Heading into the Panthers' 35-20 win over Connecticut, Graham accounted for nearly 40% of the Pittsburgh's offensive yards. The one bit of good news was how the rest of the offense responded to the injury. Quarterback Tino Sunseri played his best game of the season, throwing for 419 yards and leading the Panthers in rushing with 40 yards and a touchdown. Pittsburgh (4-4) will need more of that from Sunseri if they plan to be playing football in late December.


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Posted on: October 26, 2011 11:22 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 3:17 pm
 

Pitt RB Graham to undergo season-ending surgery

Posted by Chip Patterson

UPDATE: As feared, Graham will undergo season-ending surgery to repair his injured right knee. The junior running back finishes the season with 958 yards on 164 carries and nine touchdowns. The Panthers will turn to Zach Brown as his full-time replacement. The senior from Royal Palm Beach, Fla. has seen action as a backup for the last four seasons. Brown's most productive season was his freshman campaign in 2007, picking up 568 yards and five touchdowns in relief action. In six games Brown has totaled 129 yards rushing and 136 yards receiving in 2011.




Pittsburgh
may be struggling to get their offense going on Saturdays, but their weeknight primetime showings have been the exact opposite. The Panthers moved the ball easily on the Connecticut defense, on the way to a 35-20 win. Unfortunately, the Panthers may be forced to build on the victory without their star running back.

Ray Graham suffered a right knee injury on the second drive of the first quarter. Replay showed Graham clutching his knee on the way to the ground, and he was taken into the locker room on the medical cart with his knee iced. No further details have been provided, but the outlook is not hopeful for the breakout running back.

Graham entered the game as the nation's second-leading rusher, averaging 135.0 yards per game. In the midst of Tino Sunseri and Trey Anderson both struggling to get the offense going this season, Graham has been the lone highlight for the Panthers. Head coach Todd Graham should be encouraged by Sunseri's reaction to the loss of the team's primary producer. The junior threw for a career-high 419 yards and added 40 yards on the ground in a three touchdown performance.

After a sluggish start, the win puts the Panthers at 2-1 in conference play. If the defense can maintain the level of quarterback pressure they showed on Wednesday, and Sunseri can limit turnovers Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at the Big East title. Cincinnati - the league's only unbeaten team - plays their next game in Pittsburgh. A victory over the Bearcats would move them into at least a tie for first place. But they will likely have to take on that challenge without Ray Graham in the backfield.

Keep here at the Eye on College Football for more on Graham's injury as it develops.

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Posted on: October 9, 2011 3:04 am
Edited on: October 9, 2011 12:02 pm
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 6



Posted by Chip Patterson


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: West Virginia's rushing game

Freshman running back Dustin Garrison broke out a week ago as the Mountaineers best option running the ball, piling up 291 yards against Bowling Green. Because of the option, it was hard to say that West Virginia had done much more than get a start on fixing their one-dimensional offensive problem. However Garrison had a commendable showing once against against Connecticut, picking up 80 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The numbers weren't flashy, but when Geno Smith is carving up the defense for 450 yards it serves as a nice compliment. Connecticut also entered the game as the Big East's second leading rushing defense, so the Mountaineers have to feel good about having a more balanced attack as they proceed in conference play.

LOSER: Louisville

North Carolina did not show up to play offensively, and Louisville had several chances to take advantage of mental lapses by the Tar Heels on defense. But the Cardinals were unable to make the most of the opportunity to steal a win on the road and dropped to 2-3 after the 14-7 loss. The defense sacked North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner four times, and held the usually productive offense scoreless in the first half. The Tar Heels were lucky to escape with a win, and Louisville missed out an opportunity to grab potential confidence booster for the young team.

WINNER: Gary Nova

After taking over for starting quarterback Chas Dodd and leading the Scarlet Knights to a double overtime victory against Syracuse, head coach Greg Schiano made the this week's starter a game time decision. When Nova got the nod, he made the most of the opportunity and led the team to a 34-10 win over Pittsburgh. A huge portion of Rutgers' victory on Saturday is due to the play of the Scarlet Knights defense picking off Pitt quarterbacks four times, but the freshman signal caller did just enough to turn those turnovers into the points needed to push Rutgers to the top of the Big East standings.

LOSER: Tino Sunseri

For the second time this season, Pittsburgh's starting quarterback was replaced by backup Trey Anderson after committing one to many turnovers. No need to bring up the "quarterback controversy" topic, head coach Todd Graham has already said Tino is still the starting quarterback for now. But Sunseri's three interception performance was particularly frustrating for the Panther fans who were singing his praises following the beatdown of USF on national television last Thursday. Sunseri has thrown five touchdowns compared to seven interceptions on the season, and has yet to prove he can throw deep in this new high-octane offense. Ray Graham is still the heart and soul of this offensive unit, but he can't do much to prevent or reverse the Panthers' turnover problem.

WINNER: West Virginia's pass rush

In addition to Geno Smith's high-powered passing attack and a growing ground game, the Mountaineers defense was a nightmare for Connecticut on Saturday. Huskies quarterback Johnny McEntee was sacked five times, including once for a safety, and was on the run all night from West Virginia's pass rush. Once West Virginia began building a lead, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel turned up the pressure and muted any chance for momentum from the Connecticut offense. The Mountaineers held the Huskies to 97 yards of total offense in the second half, keeping drives short while the offense extended the lead. If West Virginia can continue that kind of formula against their other conference opponents, it should result in several more league victories like the one in Morgantown on Saturday.

LOSER: Paul Pasqualoni

When the former Syracuse head coach took the Connecticut job, I am not sure the Huskies' 2-4 start was what he had in mind following a Big East title. The defending league champs got off to a rough start in 2010 before turning the season around in league play, but there has been little to cheer about for the Huskies at this point in the season. Pasqualoni finally solved the quarterback situation, but has no answer for a defense dealing with injuries and inexperience along with a significantly downgraded rushing game. The only UConn victories have been against Fordham and Buffalo, and at this point bowl eligibility is already looking doubtful. Pasqualoni is too far into his career to think of this as a rebuilding opportunity, but his loyalty to his home state makes me think it will take a lot more than one bad season to derail his passion for coaching the Huskies.

WINNER: Syracuse

The Orange are off to a 4-2 start in the 2011 season, thanks to yet another close victory in the final minutes. Syracuse has gone to overtime in three games (2-1) and had every victory decided by seven points or fewer. After the non-victory overtime victory against Toledo, I wrote that the double overtime loss to Rutgers was some weird kind of karma. After Syracuse's 37-34 victory over Tulane on the road, I'm convinced their is voodoo at work.

LOSER: 3,000+ no-shows in Morgantown

The official attendance at Saturday's game was 56,179. After head coach Dana Holgorsen's tirade this past week, all 3,000+ no-shows deserve a stern look from the head coach. NOW DEAL WITH YOUR STERN LOOK.

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Posted on: October 2, 2011 1:42 am
Edited on: October 2, 2011 1:51 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Oct. 1)


Posted by Chip Patterson


1. Either Pittsburgh's better, South Florida's worse, or something. Not entirely sure what it is exactly we can take away from Thursday night's matchup between nationally ranked (probably not for long) South Florida and Pittsburgh. The Bulls are winless in nationally televised Thursday night games, so history wasn't on their side. But this was the same Panthers team that blew fourth quarter leads against Iowa and Notre Dame. The last thing I expected as a 44-17 beatdown in this Big East opener.

But in conference play, sometimes you'll have games that defy football knowledge or logic - and for this we are thankful. In this case, the Bulls are left with plenty of questions. The seemingly potent offense has very different numbers against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame (20 points per game) than they do against Ball State, Florida A&M, and UTEP (53 points per game). The methodical routs of lesser opponents had me thinking this could be South Florida's year to finally finish higher than 3rd in the Big East, but Thursday's loss made me much less certain.

But there are plenty of other factors that help explain Thursday's outcome. Mostly, it was the perfect scenario for Ray Graham to star in Todd Graham's "high-octane" offense. The Panthers had struggled to find consistency in the new system, with quarterback Tino Sunseri looking uncomfortable with the pace early and struggling to get the ball downfield. The scheme is by no means flawless, but Graham's work running the ball and catching out of the backfield helped keep South Florida's defense running all over the field, eventually gassing them for 303 all-purpose yards.

The fact that Pittsburgh had not put together a dominant performance meant there was very little film of the offense working for South Florida to prepare. The short week meant the defense had even less time to prepare. These are not excuses, but the Bulls did not seem ready for Pittsburgh at all. By the time they looked around to see what had happened, the game was already out of hand.

But that's how Todd Graham's system is meant to work. When USF's linebackers were already throwing hands on pads by the third quarter, the Panthers offense smelled blood and went into kill mode rattling off 24 unanswered second half points.

Pittsburgh is definitely improving, and South Florida might not be as flawless as some believed. To what extent both statements are true is yet to be seen, but that discussion will be for another week.

2. Cincinnati might be 2011's dark horse. For a team that was 4-8 a year ago and returns many of the same players, the Bearcats have tied up many of the loose ends that plagued them in 2010. Cincinnati's defense ranked near the bottom of the Big East in most statistical categories a season ago, and virtually the same lineup now is only giving up 12.2 points per game. The level of competition hasn't exactly been top-notch during Cincinnati's 4-1 start, but you have to see results somewhere. The biggest improvement on the defensive end has been the ability to force turnovers and then let the offensive turn them into points. The Bearcats lead the nation with 18 forced turnovers, and there is nothing that all-conference quarterback Zach Collaros likes more than a short field to do work.

Collaros has also rediscovered his rushing game, which took a back seat a year ago after being a weapon in his arsenal as an underclassman. The senior quarterback was the leading rusher against Miami on Saturday, picking up 89 yards on 15 carries in the 27-0 victory over their in-state rivals. Nothing is settled until conference play begins, but if this squad continues to show their improvement in conference play I'd imagine they are top three in the conference with a chance to steal the title in November. By no means the favorite, but definitely a dark horse candidate.

3. West Virginia might have found a ground game. It was a much different caliber of competition, but the Mountaineers delivered with a much-needed rushing performance against Bowling Green in their 55-10 victory. Freshman running back Dustin Garrison led the way with 291 yards and two touchdowns on a bruising 32 carry afternoon. West Virginia entered the game as one of the nation's worst rushing teams. On Saturday they piled up more yards on the ground than they had in the previous four contests combined. The special teams woes from the LSU game continued, but at least they may have found a solution for the unbalanced offense. With teams being forced to respect the rushing attack, quarterback Geno Smith should have plenty of opportunities to stretch opposing defenses and put torment Big East opponents with Holgorsen's offensive system. The rest of the Mountaineers' schedule is made up of their seven Big East conference games. If a return to a BCS bowl is the goal, then the ground game showed up just in time for West Virginia.

4. Syracuse can't avoid karma. The biggest story for Syracuse football in the last week was the win they might not have earned. I completely understand the decision not to overturn the extra point that wasn't, particularly because it wasn't the last play of the game, but the fact remains that the kick was no good. If Toledo can hold on to the ball, Syracuse loses in regulation and the game never goes to overtime.

When the Orange went to their third overtime of 2011 in a game that already featured four field goals, I had a feeling Doug Marrone's squad might not be able to escape this one. After Rutgers (gasp) kicked a field goal to take a 16-13 lead, it was only appropriate that a fumble needed to be reviewed to seal Syracuse's fate. Not trying to hate on Syracuse's team or the Big East's decisions regarding last week's outcome, but Saturday felt like the football gods were doing some self-correction.

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