Big East Report: Vortex of Parity
The Panthers' main challenge is to not get sucked into the Big East's ugly parity vortex. Take for example, upcoming opponent Connecticut. The Huskies are 0-3 on the road but 4-0 at home including an upset win over West Virginia aided by seven forced fumbles in a game they were outgained by 136 yards. For whatever reason, this madness is common, and saw its most recent victim in resurgent Syracuse.
The offensively challenged Orange surged to a 3-1 conference mark with shutdown defense and a sharp focus through the duration of each game. With a chance to gain bowl eligibility last week, they bombed. The Orange were gifted a Louisville opponent that limped in after a 20-3 loss to Pittsburgh that saw them lose quarterback Adam Froman and one of the nation's best backs, Bilal Powell. Shutdown City again, right?
The Cardinals' restricted offense controlled the game's tempo and fought a little harder for scoring opportunities in securing the 28-20 upset.
Which sets up perhaps one of the more intriguing conference games of 2010: USF at Louisville on Saturday. Left for dead – read: predicted eighth place conference record – the Cardinals have played solid football all year under coach Charlie Strong. Their lone stinker was a home loss in a shootout against Cincinnati but otherwise they've made life difficult for everyone and inched toward bowl eligibility. Meanwhile, South Florida has surged after an offensive funk saw them tumble to 0-2 in conference play. Quarterback B.J. Daniels shrugged off a pair of rough outings to lead an offense averaging 33 points per game the last two weeks.
There's a worthy prize to the winner here: bowl eligibility.
1. Powell and Froman, Louisville – "No update on Powell and Froman right now," said Strong on Monday's teleconference.
2. Zach Collaros, Cincinnati – "We fully anticipate him playing Saturday. He practiced fully (Sunday)" said Bearcats coach Butch Jones.
3. Noel Devine, West Virginia – "He hasn't been the same since the out-of-bounds hit against LSU," said Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart. "He practiced very hard, but a bone bruise is a bone bruise."
Remember This Name
The redshirt freshman back burst out of nowhere for Louisville, totaling 98 yards in besting Syracuse last week. Subbing for an injured Bilal Powell, Wright contributed two impressive touchdowns -- run on nearly identical pitches from 28 and 12 yards out. Wright also filled in when Powell initially got hurt against Pittsburgh, totaling six carries and 25 yards.
Somehow Wright ended up in Louisville despite a prolific high school career that saw him finish with the second-highest single-season rushing total – 2,707 yards -- in Florida history behind one Emmitt Smith. Somehow he was even left on the bench for a season, redshirting in 2009 as Steve Kragthorpe's final season spiraled into doom.
It will be difficult to ignore him going forward. Powell has been fantastic but he's a senior and he'll depart along with Froman and 80 percent of the Cardinals' impressive offensive line. With uncertainty at quarterback and an undistinguished group of receivers, Wright's emergence needs to be more than a one-game thing if the Cardinals are going to be respectable on offense in 2011.
For the second straight week, Wannstedt raved about defensive end Jabaal Sheard. "For all the attention given Jabaal Sheard, it really is a super, super effort. Every week it's a new challenge, a new adventure how teams are going to block him." Wannstedt praised his commitment to practice and developing as a player in helping him overcome blocking schemes dedicated to stopping him with last year's Big East Defensive Player of the Year, fellow end Greg Romeus, sidelined most of the season with an injury.
He's not one to complain, but Syracuse coach Doug Marrone admitted to a thinning of the ranks for his Orange. "We're running out of bodies. We have to stay healthy and we have to practice, so it's a bit of a catch-22."
Forget Early October
Said USF coach Skip Holtz, "The way you play in November is what it's all about." Things have certainly been rosy for his Bulls since a rough stretch in October that saw the USF offense total just 15 points in winnable games against Syracuse and West Virginia. Last week's sturdy victory over Rutgers was impressive given the circumstances, but the schedule doesn't offer relief. Their November also includes dates with Louisville, Pittsburgh and Miami.
How Big East programs shake out, in our view, after nine weeks of play (Sagarin Predictor national ranking in parentheses)
1. Pittsburgh (27) Holds breath ...
2. Louisville (43) For now
3. Syracuse (46) Not ready for prime time
4. South Florida (63) Late bloomers
5. West Virginia (41) Needs a win
6. Cincinnati (53) Defense?
7. Connecticut (70) Forgotten
8. Rutgers (74) Ignored