Big East Winners and Losers: Week 9
Posted on: October 30, 2011 4:03 am
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.
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
Tags: Big East, Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Chas Dodd, Chip Patterson, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Dana Holgorsen, Doug Marrone, Eric LeGrand, Eric LeGrand Video, Gary Nova, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Jawan Jamison, Johnny McEntee, Louisville, Lyle McCombls, Mark Sanford, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Ray Graham, Ray Graham Knee, Ray Graham Knee injury, Rutgers, Scott McCummings, South Florida, Syracuse, Tavon Austin, Teddy Bridgewater, Todd Graham, West Virginia, Winners and Losers, Winners and Losers, Winners and Losers Week 9