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Tag:Connecticut
Posted on: September 29, 2011 11:32 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 11:35 am
 

The unique importance of Big East league play


Posted by Chip Patterson


On Thursday night, Pittsburgh and South Florida will kick off the Big East conference schedule on national television. To the uninformed viewer, I should probably offer a warning.

Big East conference matchups aren't always pretty.

Since the last major conference shift in 2004-2005, the Big East has become the butt of the many jokes in the college football world. What the conference boasts as "parity" often gets translated from the national perspective into "mediocrity."

But I would instead summarize Big East conference play as "unique." Of the six BCS conferences, the current makeup of the Big East makes it so that every team in the league can (and should) feel like they have a shot at a BCS bowl berth.

The way the conference has set up awarding that BCS bid, the only way to help your chances is to treat every single game in league play like the conference championship. So while some will scoff at the idea of intriguing Big East conference play, at least every single game matters.

At the root of the heightened competition is the absence of divisions or a conference title game. In the last eight seasons, there has been a tie for the conference title four times. In that same period, eight different schools have earned at least a share of the top spot in the league. But for the Big East, winning a tie-breaker could be the difference between a BCS bowl bid and the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, NC.

I'm sure we will review the tie-breaker scenarios extensively when they become more relevant in November, but in a division-less eight team league the focus is entirely on head-to-head records. In three-way and four-way ties, Big East rules call for a "mini-conference" to be created, with the head to head records of the teams in question sorting out the order.

In 2010 West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut finished the regular season tied with 5-2 conference records. When the mini-conference was drawn up, the Huskies finished on top with a 2-0 record against the Panthers and Mountaineers. The two victories were a 16-13 overtime win against West Virginia and a 30-28 win against Pittsburgh.

Despite spending the entire regular season unranked (West Virginia and Pittsburgh both spent time in the polls) and having a worse overall record than the Mountaineers, the Huskies earned the league's BCS bid. They earned it thanks to two wins of three points or less in the middle of their conference season.

That makes Big East conference play unique. The round-robin format allows no team to escape with a "easy draw" and a field goal in October could determine who gets a bid to a BCS bowl in January. The Big East has never had a team pick up a BCS at-large bid, and likely will not in 2011.

Like I said, it won't always be pretty. But for the teams involved it will always matter. They are not playing for style points or computer rankings in the Big East. They are fighting against each other for one prize, one game at a time.

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Posted on: September 25, 2011 1:43 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Sept. 24)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1. Resetting the conference order - Saturday was the last week of non-conference match ups for the Big East, with the conference schedule kicking off on Thursday night with South Florida's visit to Pittsburgh. Every team has played three or four games, and there are things we've learned about these teams that have changed my view of the conference landscape.

In August, my projected order of finish looked like this:

1. West Virginia
2. Pittsburgh
3. South Florida
4. Cincinnati
4. Syracuse
6. Connecticut
7. Louisville
8. Rutgers

After four weeks of non-conference competition, my new re-shuffle looks a little like this:

1. West Virginia
2. South Florida
3. Cincinnati
4. Pittsburgh
5. Rutgers
6. Syracuse
7. Louisville
8. Connecticut

2. West Virginia's team got pushed, and they showed fight. The Mountaineers played LSU much closer than the 47-21 score indicates. Turnovers and impossible field position made it difficult for West Virginia to translate their 533 yards of total offense into the points needed to keep up the Bayou Bengals for four quarters. But West Virginia did not back down from the challenge, showing an impressive amount of resilience after trailing LSU by 20 at halftime. The two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter took a gritty tenacity from both the offense and defense. Unfortunately that third unit, special teams, was caught off guard with Morris Claiborne's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. With that special teams play, LSU swung the momentum and the game back in their direction.

But the Mountaineers kept fighting, which is a good sign with conference play staring Oct. 8. The key for Dana Holgorsen's squad will be maintaining this high level of play for the rest of the season. The way the Big East title race has sorted out in recent years, the only way to control your destiny is to avoid two conference losses. At their best, West Virginia should beat four opponents. The final stretch of the Mountaineers' schedule includes Cincinnati, the Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh, and a Thursday night showdown with South Florida on Dec. 1. It is very possible that matchup with the Bulls could be an unofficial Big East title game. But they must maintain their high level of play in order to get there.

3. Pittsburgh has not lived up to their expectations on either side of the ball. Todd Graham's arrival in Pittsburgh was supposedly going to issue in a new ear of offense that would be defined by high tempo, high scores, and lots of excitement for Panther fans. There was absolutely none of those things present at Heinz Field on Saturday in Notre Dame's 15-12 defeat of Pittsburgh. For the second week in a row, Pittsburgh failed to close out an opponent despite being handed several opportunities in the form of turnovers and poorly executed possessions by their opponents. It seemed like Notre Dame was begging Pittsburgh to put them back into their misery, and the Panthers did not display the offensive firepower or defensive intensity to create the points or stops necessary for a single field goal or touchdown in the fourth quarter. The frustrating finish comes just a week after blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead to Iowa. Maybe I'm in the wrong gear, but nothing about Pittsburgh's team seems high-octane right now.

4. Butch Jones appears to have things turned around. During fall camp, the Cincinnati players made several comments about there being a different feeling around the program in Butch Jones' second year at the helm. Normally, phrases like "buying in" throw up huge red-flags for coach-speak and I try to take them with a grain of salt. Cincinnati's defense was criticized as the weak link holding the team back in 2010, and this year the entire unit is back and leading the nation in forced turnovers. The offense hasn't skipped a beat, ranking first in the Big East in points scored with 49.5 points per game. The Bearcats defense still got shredded by Tyler Bray and Tennessee, but it is clear there is a different feeling and focus around the program. In August the players claimed they were buying in to second-year coach Butch Jones. By the end of September I'm buying their story.

5. Syracuse got some help from the stripes on Saturday. Toledo just can't catch any breaks. Two weeks after falling 27-22 against Ohio State, the Rockets took Syracuse to overtime in the Carrier Dome only to lose 33-30.

But the game should have never gone to overtime.

Video evidence shows that Orange kicker Ross Krautman actually MISSED the extra point that tied the game at 30 and caused overtime. The kick was ruled good on the field, and there was not substantial video evidence in the official's review to overturn the call. Some enhanced views of the kick reveal the hooking kick passing in front of left upright, therefore leaving no possibility of it sailing through. The mistake was noticeable enough for the league office to issue a statement on the ruling, and Syracuse should feel damn lucky for getting a much-needed win before conference play begins.

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: September 22, 2011 10:50 am
Edited on: September 22, 2011 1:27 pm
 

CBSSports.com Future Football Power Rankings

Posted by Chip Patterson

In our CBSSports.com realignment crystal ball, Brett McMurphy and the rest of the Eye on College Football team broke down each conference landscape and the division of power after the current wave of realignment settles and the college football ship sails forward. But what about the entire college football landscape? How do the six major conferences stack up against each other when it comes time for the BCS contracts to renew in 2014?

By our best guess, no conferences will implode we will still have six major conferences. There has been some expanding, replacing, and in the case of the Big East even further separation between football and basketball. As a reminder, here are our projections for further conference realignment once this current wave of transition is complete.

Big Ten - remains at 12 teams
Pac-12 - remains at 12 teams
SEC - Adds Texas A&M and Virginia Tech
Big 12 - Adds BYU to replace Texas A&M
ACC - Adds Connecticut, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. Loses Virginia Tech to the SEC
Big East - loses Connecticut, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh. Adds TCU, Houston, UCF, Villanova, Navy, and Air Force as football schools.

Based on these projected movements, here are the CBSSports.com Realigned Football Conference Power Rankings

1. SEC - Based on our projections, the rich get richer. The almighty SEC, holder of the last five national championships, adds the passion and history of Texas A&M along with a Hokies program that has won four ACC titles in the last seven years. Since joining the ACC Virginia Tech has been the most dominant team in the conference, and adding Frank Beamer's squad along with the Aggies is nothing but an upgrade to an already dominant conference.

2. Big Ten - The reason Jim Delany is comfortable with his current membership roster is because he doesn't need any more members to survive. The most important pieces in the makeup of the Big Ten are some of the most storied programs in history, and he only increased that status with the addition of Nebraska. The Big Ten Network pioneered conference-wide television rights, and this conference is till among the best in the nation even after sitting out this last round of realignment.

3. Pac-12 - Larry Scott opts to stay at 12 in this wave of realignment because there is no reason to expand. The possible additions of Texas, Oklahoma, and their in-state counterparts was beginning to look like more of a headache than the conference wanted to deal with at this point. The Pac-12 has annually fielded at least one national title contender, including a top three AP finish in three of the last four seasons. But while the Big 12 can also claim title contenders, the Pac-12 offers depth where the Big 12 does not. Briskly brushing over Washington State, schools like UCLA, Cal, and Arizona State all have the potential to field a competitive team on a yearly basis. The same cannot be said for the likes of Iowa State and Kansas.

4. Big 12 - After being days away from possible implosion, this conference likely survived because Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said "no." With Oklahoma getting the reform they wanted from the conference, and Texas getting to keep the Longhorn Network, all the conference needed to do was replace Texas A&M. BYU doesn't bring enough to the table football-wise to boost their stock over the Pac-12, but tossing the Cougars into the mix isn't too much of a downgrade either. Bronco Mendenhall has delivered six bowl appearances and five Top 25 finishes since taking over as head coach in 2005, and the upgrade from independence will only boost exposure and recruiting.

5. ACC - From a football perspective, this wave of realignment will only add to the national criticism of mediocrity in the ACC. Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Syracuse have only three COMBINED Top 25 finishes in the last decade - all three are Pittsburgh, and none of them is higher than 15. Additionally, losing Virginia Tech to the SEC strips some of their recruiting presence in the Hampton Roads/Virginia Beach area and erases their greatest recent benefactor in the BCS formula. These additions secured the conference's future, but did not boost their overall status among the other BCS conferences.



6. Big East - The addition several non-AQ schools will boost the excitement and intrigue for Big East football. Do not confuse this excitement and intrigue for an upgrade in performance, where you can likely expect a similar situation to the state of the conference since the last ACC raid. TCU and West Virginia will carry the banner for the conference nationally, while come combination of USF, UCF, Louisville and Navy will beat each other up to the result of the occasional national ranking and numerous 8-win seasons. The Big East's current membership boasts their "competitiveness," but after this realignment it will be TCU, West Virginia, and everyone else clawing to 7 wins for bowl eligibility.
Posted on: September 9, 2011 10:49 am
Edited on: September 9, 2011 10:49 am
 

RB Shoemate (ankle) back in lineup for UConn

Posted by Chip Patterson

Connecticut running back D.J. Shoemate has waited a long time to step into the spotlight at the collegiate level. The former five-star recruit was regarded spent time getting shuffled between positions at USC before transferring to Connecticut just in time for Jordan Todman's breakout season. The senior entered the 2011 season penciled in as the starting running back, but missed the opener because of a tweaked ankle. Luckily, head coach Paul Pasqualoni does not penalize players for injury.

"A player here, in our system, does not lose his position because of an injury," Pasqualoni explained on Thursday. "So when that player is 100 percent healthy he comes back, he goes back to where he was when he got hurt."

Shoemate currently shares the No. 1 position on the Huskies' depth chart with redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs. McCombs made the most of his opportunity against Fordham, rushing for 141 yards and four touchdowns. Even considering the opposition, McCombs looked very sharp and comfortable carrying the load at running back. If Shoemate is 100 percent and can offer his projected production, the Huskies will have an opportunity to rely on the rushing game once again.

A good rushing game will be crucial for Connecticut, who still has not named a starting quarterback. Pasqualoni plans to rotate McEntee, McCummings, and Nebrich once again when the Huskies face Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Nashville.
Posted on: September 7, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: September 7, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Four games to watch for undefeated Big East

Posted by Chip Patterson

For the first time since the conference's formation in 1991, every Big East team won on the opening weekend of the college football season. A lot of teams in FBS AQ conferences choose the opening to schedule an FCS or inferior team to ease into the schedule, but rarely can a conference kick off the season undefeated.

A majority of the Big East slate was similar to that formula, but the conference's undefeated record occurred as a result of thrilling victories over an ACC opponent (Wake Forest)and a ranked Notre Dame squad. The conference has been defending themselves against national criticism all offseason after finishing 2010 with no teams ranked in the Top 25. Now heading into Week 2 the Big East's 8-0 conference record will be tested against a much more difficult slate. If Week 1 was a celebration of the Big East's promising future, Week 2 might be more of a reality check.

There are four games on the Big East schedule which will threaten/end the league's undefeated streak:

1) Cincinnati at Tennessee, 3:30 p.m. Saturday - After an embarrassing 4-8 campaign in Butch Jones' first season, the Bearcats put on a show jumping out to a 41-0 halftime lead against Austin Peay. By the time the damage was done Cincinnati had more points than any FBS team, defeating their Ohio Valley Conference opponent 72-10. Traveling to Neyland Stadium to face the Vols will present a very different challenge, and possibly a different outcome for the Bearcats. Cincinnati's secondary was one of the worst in the nation a year ago, and they will quickly get one of their most difficult challenges on the schedule with Tyler Bray and the receiving duo of Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. Don't be surprised to see a shootout in Knoxville here, but unless the Bearcats defense steps up and creates some turnovers I'd guess the Vols emerge victorious.

2) Rutgers at North Carolina, 12:30 p.m. Saturday - Last season the Scarlet Knights had a 10-0 lead over the winless Tar Heels before the Tar Heels battled back and eventually escaped New Jersey with a 17-13 win. But without Tom Savage under center to throw a late game interception, Scarlet Knights fans are hoping that Chas Dodd can exact revenge against their annual non-conference opponent. North Carolina also has a new quarterback this year in sophomore Bryn Renner. Renner set an ACC record in the Tar Heels' opener by completing 22 of his 23 passes, with an interception as his only incompletion. The Tar Heels offensive line kept Renner's jersey clean, and getting into the backfield will be a key for the Rutgers front line. The Scarlet Knights are not favored in this matchup, and a victory would be huge for another team trying to make up for an uncharacteristic 2010 season.

3) Florida International at Louisville, 7:00 p.m. Friday - FIU has been slowly climbing up the ranks of the Sun Belt Conference, and last season joined the perennially dominant Troy at the top of the final standings. All-purpose threat T.Y. Hilton will be a challenge to contain, especially after seeing Louisville give up 143 yards on the ground against Murray State. The Panthers will be hungry for the upset on the national stage Friday night, and the onus will be on the Louisville defense to match that speed and intensity for four quarters. On offense the Cardinals will have an advantage over the Panthers defense, but they cannot afford to turn the ball over four times like they did in the opener. This should be a very competitive game, and I would not be shocked if the Panthers pulled the upset.

4) Connecticut at Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. Saturday - The Huskies still haven't decided on a starting quarterback, or even a two-quarterback rotation. Running back Lyle McCombs looked strong in the absence of projected starter DJ Shoemate, rushing for 141 yards and four touchdowns in the opener against Fordham. But Vanderbilt presents a very different caliber of opposition. That matchup will pit Commodores head coach James Franklin (former Maryland offensive coordinator) against his 2010 Maryland counterpart Don Brown, now the defensive coordinator at Connecticut. Franklin has stated that he's willing to take risks on offense, and Brown has been known for his aggressive blitzing schemes. While it certainly won't be a marquee matchup to steal headlines, this SEC-Big East showdown should at least be interesting for those involved. This game will probably come down until the fourth quarter, but I'm giving Vanderbilt the advantage due to Connecticut's uncertain personnel.
Posted on: September 4, 2011 2:57 am
Edited on: September 4, 2011 3:07 am
 

What I learned from the Big East (Sept. 3)

Posted by Chip Patterson

1) Connecticut finally has an answer at running back. Connecticut does not have a clear-cut answer for quarterback. That was obvious with head coach Paul Pasqualoni's use of Johnny McEntee, Michael Nebrich, and Scott McCummings during the Huskies opener against Fordham. However, the game might have answered the team's concerns about replacing 2010 Big East Player of the Year Jordan Todman. Senior transfer D.J. Shoemate was replaced last minute by redshirt freshman Lyle McCombs because Shoemate got "banged up" in practice late in the week.

The switch could end up having an effect on the Huskies season, because McCombs certainly looked like the best choice possible for starting tailback on Saturday. It was the first collegiate appearance for the Staten Island native, and he made the most of every opportunity. By the time all the damage was done McCombs racked up 141 yards on 24 carries with four touchdowns. Regardless of opponent, those are impressive numbers for anyone's NCAA debut. If McCombs can keep it up, Pasqualoni may have found a great building block for this new chapter of his seasoned career.

2) It's not always pretty, but the Orange get it done. Doug Marrone was celebrated by the Syracuse football community for returning to his alma mater and bringing them back to the postseason. The Orange's 8-win season was considered by many to be a sign of things to come for a once-storied program. However peeling back the shiny reviews of last season reveal a grimy, hard-nosed battle through the regular season. Syracuse simply found ways to win, and most of the time it was not pretty.

With only 20 letterman and over half of his defensive starters gone from that team, the gritty "find a way to win" style appears very much a part of Syracuse football. Wake Forest appeared to have Thursday's game won, and even fans in the Carrier Dome agreed and were heading for the exits as the Orange trailed by 15 points in the 4th quarter. But the fans that stayed got see Ryan Nassib and Antwon Bailey lead the Syracuse offense to 22 straight points in the final quarter + overtime to pull off the win over the visiting Demon Deacons. The Orange may have been slowly reversing the trend of their home struggles, but certainly not the one of winning ugly.

3) USF made a statement to the conference with upset of Notre Dame. Skip Holtz was forced to spend most of his time with the media this past week answering questions about playing at his alma mater and the school where his father spent 11 years as the head coach. But the story of the game ended up being mother nature, with two different delays due to storms in the area. But more than six hours after kickoff, a statement was made with South Florida's 23-20 victory over No. 16 Notre Dame. The Bulls, who have pulled off five straight 8+ win seasons, are ready to compete for a Bit East title.

The Fighting Irish had plenty of internal issues, including a mid-game quarterback switch during one of the delays, but USF showed up unintimidated and prepared. Holtz seemed excited about his defense heading into the season, and Saturday's performance legitimized his sentiments. The Bulls defense forced five Irish turnovers, and found a way to turn them into enough of a lead to secure a huge confidence-booster for a program looking to break through to the elite. Next for the Bulls will be three more non-conference games before kicking off the conference schedule with one of the most difficult challenges on the slate: a road test against Pittsburgh

4.) What the Dana Holgorsen era looks like at West Virginia. We will find this one out Sunday afternoon when the Mountaineers face in-state rival Marshall. Kickoff at 3:30 p.m., check back after the game because this is something we definitely want to learn.
Posted on: August 30, 2011 10:06 am
 

Paul Pasqualoni still not naming a starting QB

Posted by Chip Patterson

Connecticut football fans have spent much of the offseason debating what their team will look like when they take the field on Thursday to kick off the season against Fordham. They'll have a solid defensive line led by Kendall Reyes, Sio Moore will try to lead a young linebacking corps, D.J. Shoemate will try and fill the shoes of the conference's leading rusher Jordan Todman, and the Huskies return three of their top four receivers.

But we still don't know who will throw them the ball.

The Huskies entered fall camp with four quarterbacks competing for the starting job: freshman Michael Nebrich, junior Johnny McEntee, redshirt freshman Scott McCummings, and sophomore Michael Box. Box, the only quarterback with game experience in 2010, decided to transfer recently narrowing the race to three signal callers. When head coach Paul Pasqualoni met with reporters on Monday for his first game week press conference, he revealed no new information.

"What I would say is that we're going to have three quarterbacks ready to play in this game," Pasqualoni said. "Obviously it's a new staff, new system on offense, defense and special teams. Were very very anxious to get a good week in. I think we've had three good days so far this week and we need to have a real good day [Tuesday]. [Tuesday] is kind of our dress rehearsal for Thursday."

Desmond Conner, of The Hartford Courant, reported last week that Nebrich and McEntee had been receiving most of the reps with the first-team offense. But Pasqualoni believes the three quarterbacks remaining are all ready to go, and even has suggested that his decision won't be known "until pre game warm-ups."

The Huskies will kick off against Fordham at 7:30 p.m. at Rentschler Field.
Posted on: August 22, 2011 12:44 pm
Edited on: August 23, 2011 8:41 am
 

Nebrich, McEntee closing in on UConn starting job

Posted by Chip Patterson

Connecticut enters the season returning seven offensive starters from the squad that gave the program its first BCS bowl berth last season. But one huge question mark for the Huskies going into the 2011 season is the quarterback position.

New head coach Paul Pasqualoni did not name a starting quarterback at the end of spring practice, letting freshman Michael Nebrich, walk-on junior Johnny McEntee, sophomore Michael Box, and redshirt freshman Scott McCummings all compete for the job over the summer and into fall camp. With just ten days until the Huskies' season opener against Fordham, it looks like McEntee and Nebrich are starting to separate themselves from the competition.

Desmond Conner, of The Hartford Courant, writes that the two quarterbacks have been the most consistent in camp and - more importantly - have been getting the most reps with the first-team offense. McEntee, known by many as "Trick Shot Johnny" after his impressive YouTube video went viral, is a traditional pocket passer whose accuracy in camp has lived up to his video fame. Nebrich, on the other hand, was a touted dual-threat quarterback out of Virginia who opted to graduate high school a semester early to enroll at Connecticut in January. Conner writes that Pasqualoni has not ruled out the possibility of rotating two quarterbacks, and if he decides to Nebrich and McEntee should compliment each other well.

Just for the heck of it, here's Trick Shot Johnny one more time (over 6 million views and counting)


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com