Before I start the article, I would like to tell everyone to keep Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand in their prayers and thoughts and hope for a full recovery from his paralyzing injury.
The Big East conference schedule is in full swing. In Week 6, there were some conference games that were major indicators of how the Big East will play out in the coming weeks.
Some teams, such as Pittsburgh and West Virginia, rose to the occasion, while others, such as South Florida and Syracuse, most certainly did not.
Here's a roundup of this past weekend's games.
West Virginia 20-USF 6
In a Thursday night bout, South Florida proved once again that they are the bottom feeder in this year's Big East. For the second straight week, the Bulls' offense was held touchdown-less (the TD against Syracuse was a kickoff return). Geno Smith was once again steady for West Virginia as they cruised past USF.
The only bright spot for the ailing Bulls was that their defense was surprisingly tough, as it has been this whole year. But with their sputtering offense not producing a score in two weeks, I just don't see any light at the end of the tunnel for South Florida.
As for the Mountaineers, I still have to leave them atop the Big East after this nice win.
Cincinnati 35-Louisville 27
In the Big East game of the week on Friday night, Zach Collaros exploded for five touchdowns as Cincinnati took escaped past Louisville. This game was back and forth, with Louisville leading 24-21 at the half behind a pair of Bilal Powell scores. Powell paced the Cardinals' offense, rushing for a whopping 209 yards on 24 carries for an average of 8.7.
In the second half, both teams struggled to score until Collaros hit D.J. Woods for a 14-yard TD strike with 3:09 left in the third. Louisville would get as close as 28-27, but the Bearcats added another score to win the game 35-27.
Pittsburgh 45-Syracuse 14
This could be considered the surprise game of the week, as struggling Pitt put the hurt on previously 4-1 Syracuse. Tino Sunseri finally had a great game, while Dion Lewis finally produced. The whole offense was clicking for the Panthers.
As for the Orangemen, their defense, which looked to be solid after shutting down South Florida, imploded, yielding six touchdowns to the Pitt offense.
This coming week's game against Rutgers will be a major indicator of whether Pitt is back or if they just beat up on a lousy Syracuse squad.
Rutgers 23-Army 20
This game was a little too close for comfort for the Scarlet Knights. They let up nearly 300 rushing yards to the triple-option Army offense.
Rutgers trailed 17-3 after three quarters, but true freshman QB sensation Chas Dodd rallied the Scarlet Knights to send the game into overtime. In OT, Rutgers held Army to a field goal and converted on their possession for a game-winning touchdown.
The joy of the win was overshadowed by the tragic spinal injury to DT Eric LeGrand, who was later announced as paralyzed below his neck.
In Week 7, we learned some valuable lessons regarding the Big East Conference.
1. Cincy's Offense is Back
In the early weeks, Cincinnati's offense was stagnant, mostly due to the inability of the offensive line to protect Zach Collaros. Fast-forward to Week 7, and the Bearcat offense is back to its high-powered ways. In its past three contests, Cincy has put up 29, 45 and 35 points against Oklahoma, Miami (OH) and Louisville, respectively.
In addition to the outburst by Collaros and the passing game, Isaiah Pead has become a huge threat in the ground game, rushing for 169, 197 and 145 yards in the last three games. With everything in sync on the Cincy offense, this offense is back and better than ever.
2. Louisville Will Come to Play Each Game
Over the past few years, Louisville has been a bottom-dweller in the Big East. This season, under new head coach Charlie Strong, the Cardinals are playing every game tough, regardless of the opponent. Although their record shows 3-3, they are playing very well.
Their three losses have come against Kentucky, who just took down South Carolina, Oregon State, who knocked off then-No. 9 Arizona, and Cincinnati, who nearly slew No. 3 Oklahoma. Those losses each came in the form of hard-fought, one-score affairs.
So what's the reason for the success? Maybe it's the emergence of RB Bilal Powell, who is third in the nation in rushing with 898 yards; or is it the solid play of QB Adam Froman, who has 19 touchdowns to just four INTs? In any case, Strong is doing something right, and his Cardinals will surprise some teams in the Big East.
3. Syracuse Is Not Close to Being a Big East Title Contender
I've been saying it all along, but Syracuse kept on appearing towards the top of the Big East Power Rankings. They had as soft a schedule as possible to start the season, so starting 4-1 was simply average. They also got pounded by Washington, 41-20, so when they faced a real test, they failed miserably.
This week, they showed that they are once again towards the bottom of the Big East, getting ripped to shreds by Pittsburgh, who came in 2-3 with wins over FCS New Hampshire and Sun Belt Florida International. If this was any indication of the rest of the season for the Orangemen, it could be a long rest of the season in Syracuse.
With my weekend roundup complete, it's time for some Power Rankings.
1. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have been the only consistent team in the conference and have been atop the rankings for a while. They have a steady offense behind Geno Smith, and their defense has been very impressive thus far. If Noel Devine can get back to full health, this WVU squad could run the table in the Big East.
This is not the same team that lost to lowly Tulane. With Chas Dodd running the offense, the Scarlet Knights have a good-looking offense to go along with that dominant defense. This weekend will be a big game for Rutgers, as they travel to rejuvenated Pitt. The Scarlet Knights will be sporting the word "Believe" on their helmets in honor of recently paralyzed Eric LeGrand.
It's tough not to put Pitt here after their showing against Syracuse, but I have been impressed by Cincinnati for three straight weeks. Their offense is firing on all cylinders, and they will be able to put up 30-plus points on anyone. If their defense can play decent football, the Bearcats should be major conference title contenders.
I need to see more good from this Pitt team that lost 31-3 at home against Miami. They looked like a great team in their 45-14 rout of Syracuse, but that was the first week that I saw a Big East title contender out of this Panther squad. If they beat Rutgers, then we can put them in the top three in next week's rankings.
I'm buying whatever Charlie Strong is selling down in Louisville. He has this Cardinals squad competing, which is more than their past three teams could have said. Bilal Powell has been immortal on the ground, while the passing game has impressed at times. Look for Louisville to steal three or four games in-conference.
6. Syracuse and UConn: Tie
I'm not willing to pull the trigger on either of these teams to be above the other just yet. Both Syracuse and UConn beat up on the bad teams, but when they faced the big boys, they choked.
Syracuse shut down the pathetic USF offense, while UConn trounced lowly Vanderbilt. When Syracuse played Washington and Pitt, they lost by a combined margin of 52, while UConn lost to Temple, Michigan and Rutgers by a total margin of 37.
As far as I'm concerned, both teams have the same pedigree, so putting one over the other does not make sense.
8. South Florida
Last, and certainly least, South Florida. The Bulls are 3-3, but their wins have come by virtue of Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky and Stony Brook. In their three losses, they have put up a total of 29 points, reaching pay dirt just twice on offense. I know their defense is surprisingly solid, but if B.J. Daniels can't lead any scoring drives, they simply can't come out on top.
Welcome to the Big East dungeon, USF. You better get comfortable, because this will be a long, long stay.
Also, check out this article at Sportshaze.com.
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