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Tag:Doug Marrone
Posted on: November 6, 2011 3:06 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 10



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

After dropping their third straight game in a 25-16 losing effort against Cincinnati, few pundits had Louisville on their short list of Big East contenders. But second-year head coach Charlie Strong didn't quite have the pieces in place offensively for the Cardinals to reach their maximum potential. But after naming Shawn Watson the offensive play-caller, Teddy Bridgewater the starting quarterback, and allowing Dominique Brown to settle in as a true tailback; Louisville has found the winning combination.

The timing of Louisville's current three-game win streak also lines up nicely with Strong's lucrative contract extension, which will pay him to coach the Cardinals through 2018. Since the announcement of the new deal, Louisville is 3-0 and now sits alone in second place of the current Big East standings. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the young Cardinals, but as expected the young talent has improved throughout the season and now they are one win away from bowl eligibility for the second year in a row. Louisville hasn't been to bowl games in back-to-back years since Bobby Petrino's tenure, and the offensive growth shown in the 38-35 upset of West Virginia makes that scenario appear likely.

LOSER: West Virginia

Geno Smith's 410 passing yards weren't enough to lead West Virginia to victory on Saturday, and the Mountaineers find themselves on the losing end of a Big East conference matchup for the second time in three weeks. The 5-1 start that had the Mountaineers poised as a conference title contender has evaporated, and now Dana Holgorsen's team will likely need to win out in order to give themselves a chance at a BCS bowl bid. After being one of the nation's most stingy units in 2010, Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense has been picked apart by quarterbacks in recent weeks.

The talent on the field is arguably the best in the conference, but West Virginia's inability to execute has plagued them since league play began. On Saturday it was a blocked/missed field goals and poor red zone defense that allowed Louisville to hang in the game and steal a victory late against the Mountaineers. Now the challenge for Holgorsen will be bouncing back in time for next week's showdown with conference-leading Cincinnati. One more conference loss all but seals West Virginia's destiny for a bowl berth in December. However, knocking off the Bearcats will open the title race up and give the Mountaineers the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. Because of Saturday's loss, the next seven days could determine West Virginia's season.

WINNER: Rutgers' bowl eligibility

After a tough 2010 campaign, Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said that it was "time to get back to playing Rutgers football." Schiano, the most tenured coach in a very young Big East, must have "Rutgers football" defined as "finding ways to win." For the Scarlet Knights won their second overtime game on Saturday, marching back from a 17-3 fourth quarter deficit to win 20-17 against South Florida. It was the fifth game this season decided by one score or less, and once again Rutgers found a way to win despite being out-gained offensively 381-228. Racking 228 yards of total offense is normally an easy way to lose to the likes of BJ Daniels, but the defense came through in the second half and put starter-turned-backup quarterback Chas Dodd in a position to lead the Scarlet Knights to victory. Now at 6-3, Rutgers is bowl eligible for the sixth time in seven years. Greg Schiano may not come to mind as one of the most dominant coaches in the game, but his time at Rutgers has been defined by consistent winning seasons.

LOSER: USF fourth-quarter defense

The four game losing streak that has South Florida in a 0-4 hole for league play is due in large part to the Bulls' performance late in games. In the slide, USF has been outscored 44-14 in the fourth quarter. At times (like the loss to Pittsburgh) the struggles were game-long, but holding a two-score lead against Rutgers and losing is cause for serious concern in the South Florida camp. Before conference play started the Bulls were ranked in the Top 20 and thought (by this author, included) to be one of the new frontrunners for the Big East title. Now mathematically out of the running for the crown, head coach Skip Holtz must rally the team to make the most out of the 2011 season.

Luckily, bowl eligibility is not out of question for the 4-4 Bulls. They will travel to face Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Friday before finishing their schedule (Miami, Louisville, West Virginia) with three games in Tampa. If USF can win two of those contests they could find themselves snagging a bid to the BBVA Compass Bowl (or some similar Big East tie) with a 6-6 record. It would not be anything to hold a parade about, but a turnaround will be necessary if the Bulls want to have anything to build on heading into 2012.

WINNER: Cincinnati's Big East title hopes 

Charlie Strong isn't the only second-year coach making headlines with 2011's unpredicted success. Butch Jones continues to build on his impressive sophomore effort with the Bearcats, improving to 7-1 (3-0 in Big East play) with a 26-23 road victory against Pittsburgh. Already with a victory against Louisville, the Bearcats now have a two-game buffer on the competition for the conference's BCS bowl bid. Unfortunately the road to a BCS invitation will not come easily, with away games against Rutgers and Syracuse following Saturday's meeting with West Virginia. A win over the Mountaineers puts the Bearcats in a great position to win the league title outright. A loss will create a jumble for the title, and then tie-breakers suddenly become the differentiator between the Champs Sports Bowl and a BCS bowl appearance.

LOSER: Pittsburgh's offensive line 

Pittsburgh's offensive line has dealt with injuries and depth issues all season. Head coach Todd Graham's offensive scheme has led to heavy rotation among the five positions, with the Panthers never really settling in on a lineup yet this season. The issues up front have been felt by Pittsburgh's quarterbacks. The Panthers entered the game leading the nation in sacks allowed with 36 in eight games of action.

The offensive line was exploited once again by Cincinnati in the 26-23 loss, but you won't find the proof in the stat sheet. Tino Sunseri was only brought down three times in the losing effort, but the Bearcats brought the heat through the whole second half. Pittsburgh's inability to adjust to the pressure and get something going offensively eventually became their downfall, as they watched a 10 point lead disappear over the last two quarters.


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Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:19 pm
Edited on: October 31, 2011 1:01 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 9



Posted by Bryan Fischer


As much as Saturday's classic battle between Stanford and USC was about Andrew Luck's Heisman hopes and the Cardinal's national title dreams, it was hugely important for the man pacing the home sideline with a laminated playcard.

Yes, USC lost, there's no denying what really matters and what the game will represent in the media guide years for now. But, when combined with the way the Trojans beat Notre Dame last week and their inspired-but-not-quite-good-enough play against Stanford, I think we can finally come to one conclusion about Lane Kiffin that we couldn't beforehand: he can coach. We're still not sure if he can win quite yet, but the question marks about his coaching abilities have been answered.

Given his record, 12-21 with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee, it was easy to be skeptical about Kiffin. His resume had an impressive collection of jobs before he turned 34 but he still couldn't shake the label that he was riding on the coattails of his father Monte and Pete Carroll. The NCAA violations and brash nature while with the Vols only enhanced negativity. Last season's 8-5, 5-4 in the Pac-10, record didn't answer any questions. He was blown out by Oregon at home and lost to a lowly Oregon State team in Corvallis on top of three losses by seven points. His offensive unit was good but struggled at times. Jokes about him firing his father for the Trojans' defensive woes had some truth behind them.

2011 wasn't a make or break year but it was important to Kiffin and the USC program as a whole to take another step back to where they were under Carroll despite being under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. The disrespect was evident when the Trojans were a nine point underdog in South Bend despite the Irish's penchant for turning the ball over in big games.

As celebrated as Brian Kelly was in his first season, he came into the game with a 12-7 record while Kiffin was one game better at 13-6 at USC. The tone was set early last week with an impressive opening drive to quiet the Notre Dame crowd and the Irish were never really back in the game after that.

Afterward, Kiffin was elated in the locker room and was extra happy to ruin a game Kelly had built up to be the Super Bowl for his team. He acknowledged it was the biggest win since he arrived in Los Angeles and he was right, in his second season he finally had a marquee victory.

Coaches and players vehemently dislike the term 'moral victory' because they understand the bottom line: you still lost. Still, there are plenty of positives in defeat and we learned a few about USC this week after the three overtime loss to Luck and the Cardinal.

The defense is not terrible like we thought it was. It's not great by any stretch but the defensive line can put pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers are quick enough to make plays in space and the secondary is young but rounding into form. On offense, Matt Barkley and Robert Woods have something special going on, the offensive line has exceeded expectations and the running game has come into its own the past few weeks.

USC didn't win on Saturday but they came close and that counts for something against a team that had reeled off 10 straight wins by 25 or more points. Luck, the best quarterback in the country by far, looked human at times and the USC offense looked like it was on the cusp of being great.

Lane Kiffin will still be thought of negatively, especially in the South, but he's answered a few of his critics' questions this season. He can coach and he can coach offenses that put up points. Now is the time to win the big, big game that his predecessor was known for. Kiffin's insistence after the game about calling out the referees for the final play of regulation - "They lied to me," he said Sunday - knowing that a reprimand from the Pac-12 was coming was taken by some to be whiny but I saw what some of his players did - that he'd fight for them until the battle could no longer be won, and even a little more. Even in retrospect, his play call of a tunnel screen to Woods doesn't look as terrible as it was when you consider he had two timeouts and the play was designed to go up field.

The last time USC lost a triple overtime game to a Bay area team they went on a historic run. No one is saying the same will happen under Kiffin, especially as the program begins scholarship reductions this season, but it's a good omen.

Last Saturday the Coliseum was rocking, the team was playing well and the coach wasn't a question mark. Kiffin can coach, now it's time to see if he can win big games.

Stat of the week

Via the Associated Press, Texas Tech is second team since 1989 (when the AP Poll expanded to 25), to go from no votes to ranked to no votes in three weeks. The other was Washington after they beat USC in 2009.

Stats of the week

- Five Big 12 teams are ranked 90th or worse in total defense, complete with Kansas being the worst in the country giving up 555 yards and 49.5 points per game. That might explain why three of the top five passers in the country are from the conference. The Jayhawks also only had 46 yards of total offense this week.

- Two candidates for most disappointing team of they year, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, are 110th and 118th respectively in turnover margin.

- Despite running so much, Georgia Tech is a third-down machine. They have the fifth-most third down attempts in the country yet are converting on 57.6% of them, best mark in the country by nearly 2%.

- The much maligned Michigan defense has taken a leap in several categories under Greg Matison but perhaps the most important: they lead the country in red zone defense. The Wolverines have only allowed 13 scores all year from inside the 20.

- If you had to guess who leads the country in time of possession, you'd probably start with a Georgia Tech or an Army. It's actually Texas, who holds onto the ball for over 35 minutes per game.

- After facing Oklahoma State, Baylor's defense dropped from 97th in total defense and 101st in scoring defense to 108th and 115th. Missouri went from 29th and 25th in the two categories to 51st and 46th. Texas went from 24th and 47th to 30th and 56th. Bottom line, your defense won't look too good in the stats after facing the Cowboys.

- Auburn is 289-4 all time when scoring 30-plus points. One reason why Gus Malzahn is being paid $1.3 million a year.

- This is the first time Georgia has beaten Florida and Tennessee in the same year since 1988. There are only three players on the Bulldogs' roster that were born before then. The Gators' four game skid is the first of any kind at the school since 1988 and first in the SEC since 1979, when head coach Will Muschamp was eight.

Yard-by-yard

- It was only a matter of time before the Manhattan Miracle came to an end. Oklahoma had been shocked the week before by Texas Tech and Kansas State was the unwitting opponent they took it out on. Landry Jones threw for a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns, impressive considering the quarterbacks that have been churned out under Bob Stoops recently. His favorite target, Ryan Broyles, also moved into first place on the Big 12 career receiving list. Not all was crimson Saturday however, as running back Dominique Whaley fractured his ankle on the very first play of the game. Though overwhelmingly a passing team, the balance that the running game had with Whaley will be missed unless the Sooners find someone to step up. Kansas State will have to regroup after the Big 12's previously top-ranked defense was shredded by Jones. They rallied in the second quarter but that was about the only time the Wildcats could get something going.

- Say what you want about Oklahoma State's 111th ranked defense but they bottled up Robert Griffin III, shutting Baylor out in the first half and allowing just one score in the red zone all game. The 622 yards allowed is concerning but they allowed a good chuck of the yards when the game was well out of hand. It seemed like the Cowboys were going to be locked in a tough one once the Bears drove down to the one-yard line on their first drive but the defense held and the offense drove 99-yards for a touchdown to set the tone early. After that, it was like Mike Gundy's squad was shot out of a cannon. Particularly impressive was running back Joseph Randle, who had 152 yards and four touchdowns to lead a rushing attack that rolled up over 300 yards for the first time in over two years. It's hard to look at the Cowboys and see anybody but Oklahoma stopping them from booking a trip to New Orleans.

- It seems to happen every game but it does seem concerning that Oregon led Washington State by only five points before taking care of business in the second half in a 43-28 win. The big news was the return of LaMichael James and Darron Thomas, who both started. James ran for 53 yards and wore a brace after dislocating his elbow a few weeks ago. Thomas was a little shakier, tossing two interceptions before being pulled for backup Bryan Bennett. Was it rust? Hard to say but you can't say it wasn't a factor after being limited in practices the week before. There's likely not much of a quarterback controversy but there's no question the Ducks need Thomas at 100% if they want to beat Washington, Stanford or USC. Freshman De'Anthony Thomas was a bright spot, perhaps extra bright in Oregon's yellow "bumblebee" uniforms, taking a kickoff 93-yards for a touchdown and scoring on a 45-yard pass.

- People joke about Case Keenum putting up video game numbers in Houston's offense but that's exactly what he did Thursday, throwing NINE touchdown passes as the Cougars routed Rice 73-34 despite the rainy conditions. It wasn't the start Keenum and the offense wanted, with an interception and having a fumble returned for a touchdown to put themselves in an early hole. But then the rain seemed to lighten up and the record-setting quarterback took over from there. His fifth touchdown toss moved him past former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell to set the FBS-record for career TD passes and he proceeded to throw four more just for good measure. "Those are video game numbers, something we couldn't get stopped," Rice linebacker Justin Allen said. "The rain slowed down a little bit ... I wished it would have rained all game. It stopped, and they got things cranked up. There was no looking back for them." Keenum should set another record next week with 267 yards to become the FBS leader in career passing yards. Undefeated and somewhat untested, it looks like Houston is on their way to a special season. They have serious issues on defense but the offense will continue to put up eye-popping numbers.

- Tom O'Brien's hot seat status is fiery hot right now after losing to Florida State 34-0. The Wolfpack managed only 166 yards on offense and were shutout for the first time in three years. They weren't just beat by FSU, they were pushed around like they were Duke. T.J. Graham, one of the few bright spots for N.C. State this year, was bottled up and held to just 116 all-purpose yards. Given the way he handled the Russell Wilson situation and the way the season has gone, don't be surprised when there's a second coaching search going on in the triangle during the offseason (UNC being the other).

- It's time to give JoePa props for coaching Penn State to an 8-1 record. The defense, of course, is the story and the backbone of the team, shutting out Illinois for three quarters but the Nittany Lions had just enough on offense to get by with a 10-7 win. It was a sloppy affair for both teams but Joe Paterno picked up win No. 409 to move become the winningest coach in Division I. They are the ultimate Rodney Dangerfield "No respect" team right now.

- Is there a team more bipolar than Syracuse? A week after throttling West Virginia at home, the Orangemen looked terrible against Louisville, losing 27-10. They beat Toledo thanks to an officiating error, barely lost to Rutgers and barely beat Tulane, then have alternated between great and horrible the last two weeks. They certainly look like they're going to another bowl game this year but if you're Doug Marrone, you have to be concerned with the lack of consistency. On the other side, Louisville posted back-to-back Big East wins for the first time since 2006 and are still in the thick of things in the muddled conference race. Teddy Bridgewater continues to progress and this young team is making steady progress.

- As a few people joked on Twitter, Missouri proved that an SEC East team can beat an SEC West team with the Tigers 38-31 overtime win against Texas A&M. Any joy Aggie fans have over the move to a new conference is being ruined by their team's play on the field, blowing a 14 point lead at home this time around after doing the same against Arkansas and Oklahoma State. Missouri is better than their .500 record suggests and Henry Josey has been a revelation at the running back spot - so much so that he looks like the all-Big 12 pick at his position. James Franklin still makes a bone-headed play from time to time but the offense is still better than expected with the first-time starter running the show. Still, what once was a season of promise for Texas A&M has been anything but and doesn't get better with a trip to Norman.

- Impressive game by the Blackshirts as Nebraska muzzled Michigan State's offense in a 24-3 win in Lincoln. NU defensive backs turned in their best game of the season, being physical off of the line and forcing Kirk Cousins into missing all but four of his first 16 passes. He finished the day with just 86 yards a week after a 290 yard, three TD performance. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead paced the Cornhuskers' offense and looked like they are finally earning their ranking with a dominating win.

- Iowa, really? Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the country and you lose 22-21? There's not much to explain really. The same goes for Texas Tech, getting trounced at home by Iowa State. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman was in a state of disbelief everytime he checked the score of either game and that pretty much sums up what everybody else was thinking.

- Late in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (which the politically correct will know is Georgia-Florida), SI.com's Andy Staples and I both turned to each other and said that the Bulldog's four point lead would be insurmountable for the Gators offense to overcome. Special teams was another story but the offense? It just couldn't move the ball for their life. The personnel just isn't there to give them any schematic advantage. Hats off to Mark Richt though, who has won six straight and certainly helped his cause.

- Was shocked to see that Texas ended a FIVE game losing streak at home against Kansas this week. It's not saying much against that Jayhawks defense but the Longhorns still rushed for an impressive 441 yards in a game that few people saw on the Longhorn Network.

- Welcome to the Pac-12 win column Utah, who beat Oregon State at home 27-8.

- Clemson finally pulled a Clemson against Georgia Tech. Tevin Washington, after a string of bad games, rushed for 176 yards and was the triggerman for the option offense that jumped out to a 24-3 lead thanks to several Tigers turnovers. It was an impressive showing by Georgia Tech's defense against the explosive Clemson offense, which had come into the game scoring points at will. Considering how shaky the Yellow Jackets had looked on that side of the ball coming in, only a few believed they could pull off the upset which ended any hope of the ACC putting a team in the BCS championship game.

- Go ahead Braxton Miller, take a bow. The true freshman sparked a last-second win that gives Ohio State some life after upsetting Wisconsin. According to reporters after the game, Miller apparently winked at head coach Luke Fickell before the final drive and said "We're all right." That's special. Coming out of high school, Miller showed he had enough talent and moxie that many people compared him to former Heisman winner Troy Smith. The 40 yard pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left had to be the play of the year for a Buckeyes team that had been through so much. One has to wonder if they had held on against Nebraska what our view of this team would be.

Tweet of the week

"How impressive was Texas vs. KU? UT had more total yards (590) than current subscribers to Longhorn Network."

- CBSSports.com Senior Writer Brett McMurphy.

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Video
Fisch's Finest

1. LSU

2. Alabama

3. Oklahoma State

4. Stanford

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Clemson

9. Arkansas

10. Nebraska

Where we'll be this week

Brett McMurphy will be in Stillwater to see BCS contender Oklahoma State host previously undefeated Kansas State. Dennis Dodd and Bruce Feldman will both be in Tuscaloosa for the game of the season, LSU-Alabama.

Leaning this way

Kansas State at Oklahoma State

It's almost unfair for one of the great stories in the first half of the season, Bill Snyder's Wildcats, to face the Big 12's two best teams on back-to-back weeks so all we'll say is good luck trying to stop the Cowboys offense. We have a feeling that Kansas State, which dropped 31 spots in total defense after facing Oklahoma, will struggle unless the offense plays keep away and doesn't turn the ball over.

South Carolina at Arkansas

On paper this is a top 10 match up but in reality both teams a bit overrated. Arkansas' defensive issues, especially in the first half, have contributed to closer than expected wins over Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina has a good defense but the offense has struggled to score for six week outside of the Kentucky game. It's at home so the edge goes to the Hogs unless Alshon Jeffrey (finally) has a breakout game.

LSU at Alabama (CBS, 8 PM ET)

The showdown of the season is what everybody will have their eyes on Saturday night. The strength of both teams is clearly their defenses so this will come down to who can break open a big play on offense or special teams. There are more home run threats on the Tide and it's in Tuscaloosa but anybody picking against LSU has to know that doing so means going against Les Miles. Should be a great one.

Posted on: October 30, 2011 4:21 pm
 

Big East poll reactions, Week 9

Posted by Chip Patterson

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the Big East fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.

(AP/Coaches)

23/22. Cincinnati

Even though the Bearcats did not take the field this weekend, it was another week as the Big East's only unbeaten team in conference play. In order to hold their spot in the standings and rankings, Cincinnati must defeat Pittsburgh on the road and West Virginia at home in the next two weeks.  Second-year head coach Butch Jones already has erased the memory of last year's 4-8 showing, but the 6-1 start has the Cincinnati fan base thinking Big East title. Those dreams will either be reinforced or washed away in the next few weeks, as the Bearcats face arguably the toughest portion of the conference schedule.

24/21. West Virginia

West Virginia entered a difficult situation against Rutgers on Saturday. With the windy, snow-filled conditions, and Eric LeGrand leading the Scarlet Knights on the field it did not seem like the pass-happy Mountaineers had much going for them. But after trailing 31-21 at halftime the Mountaineers defense turned up the pressure on freshman quarterback Gary Nova, shutting out the Scarlet Knights in the second half on the way to a 41-31 win.

Shawne Alston and Dustin Garrison led a suddenly relevant ground attack for the Mountaineers, while Geno Smith used quick passes to Tavon Austin and Brad Starks to move the ball in the unfriendly weather. It was one of the strongest displays of resiliency by Dana Holgorsen's squad since their brief comeback in the LSU game, a great sign after the uninspiring performance against Syracuse.

Others receiving votesNone.  Syracuse was in this position last week, but after their flat performance against Louisville there were no votes givien to Doug Marrone's Orange from either poll.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
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.


Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: October 27, 2011 10:53 am
 

Drug charges dropped against Syracuse WR Sales

Posted by Chip Patterson

After breaking out in Syracuse's dramatic Pinstripe Bowl victory with 172 yards receiving and three touchdowns, Marcus Sales was an early favorite to be one of the primary offensive producers for the Orange in 2011. But Sales has been suspended indefinitely from the football program since a traffic stop led to multiple drug charges against the wide receiver. Those charges were dropped on Wednesday.

"It's good for marcus to have this legal process behind him," head coach Doug Marrone said in response to the news. "As you know, the university has a student judicial process. Until that is complete, I cannot discuss any details."

Sales was driving with his brother Michael, 25, when the pair were pulled over after Marcus ran a red light the night of July 29. Police reported finding an open container of alcohol, several baggies of marijuana, prescription medication, other baggies and digital scales.

The grand jury found enough evidence to accuse Michael Sales Jr. of fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree criminally using drug paraphernalia and unlawful possession of marijuana. But there was not enough evidence that Marcus "knowingly possessed the illegal substances."

A university official confirmed to the Syracuse Post-Standard that Sales was enrolled in school for the fall semester. But the steps left for the wide receiver to return to the football field remain unclear. It is possible that with a year of NCAA eligibility left, Sales would search out options to finish a full season in 2012 or later. But until Sales or Marrone speak on the issue, there is little to report past speculation.

The good news here is that a promising wide receiver was able to clear his name and could possibly return to the football field on day.

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Posted on: October 23, 2011 6:01 pm
 

Big East poll reactions, Week 8

Posted by Chip Patterson

This week's polls have been released. Here's how the Big East fared, from the top of the polls to the bottom, and what it means.

(AP/Coaches)

24/23. Cincinnati

Cincinnati's early success has been discredited by many, either for a lack of competition or fresh memories for a mistake-laden 2010 campaign. But with Week Eight in the books, the Bearcats are the only team still unbeaten in conference play

The improvement from year one to year two under head coach Butch Jones has paid off, and it all starts with turnovers. In 2010 the Bearcats put up big offensive numbers, but sloppy execution and a young defense resulted in finishing the season 119th nationally in turnover margin. Now Cincinnati leads the Big East in the same category, and ranks 3rd nationally behind Oklahoma State and LSU. With West Virginia's loss the door is open for Cincinnati to try make a run for their third Big East title in four years.

25/24. West Virginia

West Virginia was embarrassed and exposed by Syracuse on Friday night, but one poor performance was not enough to completely erase the Mountaineers' body of work in the minds of the voters. Dana Holgorsen's next task as a first-year head coach will be refocusing this group as they make a push for the Big East title down the stretch. If the Mountaineers win out (including a victory over 2-0 Cincinnati on Nov. 12) they can guarantee at least a share of the league championship. But in order to do that they need to find a way to do a better job protecting Geno Smith, and the defense needs to recapture the aggressiveness that defined the unit in 2010.

Others receiving votes:Doug Marrone's Syracuse team got some predictable attention from the voters after the defeat of West Virginia. The Orange schemed well for the primetime showdown, and now the challenge will be turning their strong start into a big finish in Marrone's third year at the helm. Rutgers, despite an embarrassing loss to Louisville on Friday that featured three Gary Nova interceptions, also received votes in both the AP and Coaches poll.

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Posted on: October 23, 2011 12:19 am
Edited on: October 23, 2011 3:14 am
 

Big East Winners and Losers: Week 8



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: The Big East

Entering conference play, I was curious to see how long it would take the league to figure out a way to slow West Virginia. There are plenty of great coaches in the Big East, and the backloaded conference schedule usually allows plenty of preparation material. Syracuse showed the conference how to beat West Virginia, and also opened up the race for the Big East title with their 49-23 win in the Carrier Dome on Friday.

The Syracuse defense sent extra pressure at Geno Smith all night, getting in his face and bringing him to the ground on four different occasions. The extra pressure got to Smith and he began to force throws from the pocket, which led to two big interceptions for the Orange defense. Until the Mountaineers prove they can counter, look for more Big East opponents to bring extra pressure to try and rattle Smith in the coming weeks.

LOSER: The Big East

While Syracuse's victory did show the rest of the league a way to slow down and possibly defeat the Mountaineers, it also eliminated the Big East's best chance of having a team finish high in the final BCS standings. As conferences look towards 2013 and the renewal of the BCS automatic bids, one concern to meet the requirements involves teams ranked in the final BCS standings.

The Big East has struggled in the polls and BCS standings in recent years, and not meeting the requirements for an automatic bid is one reason why the reported "Global Conference" has become an option. Cincinnati would likely have to run the table to finish with a high ranking, and if this weekend showed us anything it is how hard running the table has become in the Big East.

WINNER: Butch Jones

It is fairly difficult to be on the hot seat after just one season, but Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones was pretty close to it after the Bearcats finished 4-8 in 2010. There was no dissension in the program, but many fans were quick to doubt if Jones was the right choice to replace Brian Kelly.

But here in Week 8 of the 2011 season, there is only one unbeaten team left in the Big East - and it is Jones' Bearcats. Pulling Cincinnati back into bowl eligibility this early in the season takes a lot of pressure off Jones' shoulders, as he can now turn his teams' focus towards claiming their third Big East title in four years.

LOSER: South Florida's defense

BJ Daniels threw for 409 yards, three touchdowns, led the Bulls in rushing, and most importantly threw no interceptions. But it wasn't enough to snap South Florida's losing streak. Daniels put together what appeared to be a game-winning drive with 1:27 left when he found Andre Davis for a touchdown to give the Bulls a 34-30 lead.

But the defense could not come up with a stop, allowing Zach Collaros to march 70 yards in seven plays over a 75 second span. A pass interference call in the end zone was the final mistake for South Florida's defense, allowing the Bearcats to set up 1st and Goal from the two yard line. There were plenty of mistakes throughout the game, but the defense's inability to stop Cincinnati in the fourth quarter led to the third straight loss for the Bulls.

WINNER: Syracuse tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens

Part of Syracuse's gameplan for taking down West Virginia involved using the play action to match up the tight ends with the Mountaineers linebackers in coverage. What the Orange revealed to the rest of the conference was a dramatic weakness in this year's version of Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense. Tight ends Nick Provo and David Stevens combined for 95 yards and four touchdowns on eight catches. After biting on the play-fake, Ryan Nassib would roll out and locate a tight end off his release in the perfect soft spot of West Virginia's defense. Provo and Stevens are among the better tight ends in the conference, but the gameplan on Friday set them up for a huge night that Syracuse fans will remember for the rest of the season.

LOSER: Rutgers

There is no way the Scarlet Knights could have known it at the time, but they missed out on a great opportunity to gain a leg up on the Big East title hunt on Friday night. With West Virginia falling to Syracuse, Rutgers could have stepped forward with Cincinnati as the only teams left unbeaten in conference play. Until the 16-14 loss at Louisville, Greg Schiano's squad was putting together an impressive body of work. The defense was rigid, and the offense had been able put together enough plays to lead the Scarlet Knights to victory.

But Gary Nova, who had led the comeback against Navy just a week before, showed his youth against the Cardinals' multiple defensive looks. The three interceptions came at the worst times for Rutgers, who couldn't put together the final push in the fourth quarter to stay undefeated in league play. Rutgers has never won a Big East title, and now that dream is going to be a little tougher with West Virginia and Cincinnati left on the schedule.


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Posted on: October 21, 2011 11:32 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Syracuse 49, No. 11 West Virginia 23

Posted by Chip Patterson

SYRACUSE WON. With an aggressive pass rush and methodical ball control, Syracuse bullied No. 11 West Virginia for four quarters on the way to a 49-23 victory at home on Friday night. Quarterback Ryan Nassib led a efficient, mistake-free Orange offense to 441 total yards of offense one of the Big East's best defensive units. The Orange also won the time of possession, finishing with 35:26 compared to West Virginia's 23:04. Mountaineers' head coach Dana Holgorsen is used to his team starting slow, and not owning the clock; but in most of the cases before Friday it resulted in victories.

HOW SYRACUSE WON: By keeping West Virginia's offense off the field, the Mountaineers were never able to develop a rhythm of establish any kind of continuity. The Orange converted on 12 of 16 third downs, and put up 11+ plays on three different touchdown drives. Inside runs, play action roll outs, and lots of tight end completions kept the Orange chipping away each drive. It wore down West Virginia's defense and combined with Syracuse's pass rush led to the victory for Doug Marrone's squad.

WHEN SYRACUSE WON: On the final play of the third quarter, Geno Smith dropped back and was picked off by Philip Thomas for his second interception of the game. The play came just after Ryan Nassib had completed his third touchdown pass to a wide open tight end (four touchdowns were accounted for by tight ends) to make it 35-16. All of the momentum was swinging Syracuse's way, and the Mountaineers needed a spark to get back into the game. Instead Smith's second interception set the Carrier Dome into a frenzy at the break, and Syracuse ran with the momentum to a victory.

WHAT SYRACUSE WON: A signature win for the Doug Marrone era. Last season's bowl appearance was a huge success for the former Orange offensive lineman, but much was credited to the play of the seniors. In what was considered to be a rebuilding year, Syracuse has jumped out a 5-2 start with a win over arguably the league's most talented team. There were 45,000+ in the Carrier Dome to witness the victory, one of the largest crowds since Marrone took over as head coach.

WHAT WEST VIRGINIA LOST: Their frontrunner status in the Big East, and likely 10+ spots in the polls. In the round-robin conference format with no title game, the only way for West Virginia to control their BCS destiny was to finish undefeated in Big East play. Two games in, that position of power has already been stripped. Only Cincinnati sits undefeated in the Big East standings, and after watching the Mountaineers and Rutgers on Friday night, the Bearcats better be ready to bring their best on Saturday.

THAT WAS CRAZY: As pointed out below, West Virginia has been a slow starting team all season. At the end of the first quarter, there was this observation. But unlike most of the previous games on the schedule, the Mountaineers were not able to climb back from this deficit. In fact, they let it get out of hand rather quickly.



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