The Big East keeps on losing. But in Week 4, the conference at least showed some grit. Rutgers, Cincinnati, and West Virginia all lost hard-fought games to very formidable opponents.
In the earliest of the three, Rutgers faced a win-hungry North Carolina. UNC came into the game 0-2, but don’t let that record mislead you. The Tar Heels lost against LSU by one score and had the ball with goal-to-go at the end of the game, but couldn’t get the game-winning touchdown. In their next game, UNC dropped another one-score game to a very good Georgia Tech team. Neither of those losses are anything to be ashamed of.
This past Saturday, Rutgers dropped the matchup with the Tar Heels, 17-13. This game was all about defense. There were five turnovers and 16 tackles-for-loss in the game. Rutgers jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, but North Carlolina scored a touchdown in the second quarter and the score at the half was 10-7, Rutgers. The Heels took a 14-10 lead with a third quarter drive capped by T.J. Yates' TD pass.
Rutgers answered with a field goal, but were answered once again with a UNC field goal, and the Scarlet Knights couldn’t produce another score despite countless opportunities. If not for two red zone interceptions and a missed 38-yard field goal, Rutgers would have won this game.
In the next game, Cincinnati faced No. 8 Oklahoma after getting throttled by NC State, 30-19 (the game was not as close as the score indicates). After an unimpressive first few weeks, the Bearcats finally showed some life against the Sooners.
Cincy got off to a slow start, and, in the third quarter, were down, 24-9. But the Bearcats showed composure and cut the lead to 24-22 with Zach Collaros leading the way. In the end, Cincinnati lost, 31-29, but they did show that they can play with the best of them.
In the West Virginia game, the Mountaineers traveled to Baton Rouge to face No. 15 LSU. The Tigers jumped to a 17-0 lead, but WVU scored an important touchdown right before the half to cut the lead to 17-7. In the third quarter, West Virginia scored an early touchdown to make it a 17-14 game.
The Mountaineer defense was stout, allowing no touchdowns in the second half, though they did let up one field goal. WVU was down, 20-14, and got the ball multiple times in the fourth quarter, but the 12th defender (the LSU crowd) was too much for Geno Smith to handle.
Elsewhere in the Big East, Syracuse looked good offensively in their 42-7 win over Colgate, South Florida limped to a 24-12 victory over lowly Western Kentucky, and Uconn picked it up in the second half against Buffalo to win, 45-21. In the big Thursday night Pitt-Miami matchup, the U trounced the over-matched Panthers, 31-3. The Pitt offense had no answers for the Hurricane defense, as Dion Lewis continued his sophomore slump.
Now, for the latest power rankings:
1. West Virginia: WVU is the only team in the conference with a decent win. They beat Maryland handily. They also narrowly missed beating the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, one of the tougher places to play. With Geno Smith looking like a seasoned veteran and the WVU defense getting better and better, the Mountaineers look like they will run away with the Big East.
2. Rutgers: Rutgers has been struggling on offense this whole season. Tom Savage can’t the ball to his receivers, the running game is not producing, and the the Scarlet Knights are simply not putting points on the board despite ample opportunity. But their defense is as good as ever. They force turnovers and just don’t give up very many points. Against North Carolina, the defense only gave up 17 points, and 10 of those were due to Bruce Carter’s stellar play (an INT and blocked punt that gave UNC great field position). If Rutgers holds teams below 20 points, they will be in each game.
3. Cincinnati: The Bearcats looked straight-up bad against Fresno State and NC State. Zach Collaros was spending more time on the ground than he was throwing the ball. The defense was not helping the cause either. But this past week, the the offense looked great in a near-victory against Oklahoma. The improving offense will carry Cincy to success in the upcoming Big East schedule.
4. Syracuse: The Orange are 3-1, which is the a huge accomplishment considering the recent Syracuse struggles. So why are they not higher? Because their three teams that they have beaten are either FCS squads or Akron. Despite this weak schedule, the offense has been explosive, as Ryan Nassib keeps throwing touchdowns and Delone Carter is becoming a top RB in the Big East.
5. Pittsburgh: The Panthers were supposed to be the pride and joy of the Big East. They certainly have not proven to be that. The Panthers lost a tough one at Utah in overtime, which is excusable. But losing at home, 31-3, albeit against a very talented Miami squad, is definitely not excusable. The dynamic duo of Dion Lewis and Jon Baldwin was supposed to help Pitt put up big scoring numbers, but they have failed to do so. With Geg Romeus still out, I’m getting a little scared for the matchup with pesky Florida International.
6. Louisville: Louisville exited the Big East basement after nearly taking down a good Oregon State football team on the road last week. Charlie Strong is doing something right, as he also nearly beat SEC opponent Kentucky in Week 1. In the weak Big East, don’t be surprised if Louisville out-toughs some better opponents and wins two or three games in-conference.
7. Uconn: Uconn was the Big East’s darling, and dark horse pick to win the conference. Though, they have been unimpressive thus far. They lost to good teams in Michigan and Temple, but the losses came by two scores or more. This defense was supposed to be the Huskies’ bread and butter, but they have given up 27 points per game against FBS schools. The lone bright spot has been Jordan Todman, who has been the best rusher in the Big East to this point.
8. South Florida: The new Big East dungeon inhabitant is the Bulls of South Florida. BJ Daniels has been stagnant against FBS teams, throwing for just one touchdown to five interceptions. If not for a surprisingly stout defense, the Bulls might have lost to Western Kentucky, a team that has not won a game in two years. If B.J. Daniels doesn’t start producing some sort of offense, the Bulls could be in for a long Big East season.