Big East Winners and Losers: Week 13
Posted on: November 27, 2011 2:00 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 2:29 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: Charlie Strong
In his first year, Charlie Strong was showered with praise for his ability to pull a veteran group together and give the seniors their first bowl win at Louisville. Expectations were tempered heading into 2011, with the Cardinals having to replace departed veterans up and down the depth chart. With the 34-24 win against South Florida on Friday, Louisville wrapped up their best conference record since Bobby Petrino's final season in 2006. But this success carries with it an extra feeling of accomplishment, bouncing back from early season losses to FIU and Marshall. Strong seemed frustrated at times this season, using phrases like "we just need to teach the game of football" to explain the status of his young team. But the Cardinals improved as the season progressed, and delivered their best performance when it counts in league play. With Strong's momentum and this young roster, it would not be surprising to see Louisville in the mix for the Big East title for the foreseeable future.
LOSER: BCS dreams for Rutgers and Pittsburgh
Rutgers and Pittsburgh fell from contention for a share of the Big East title - and thus a shot at a BCS bowl game - with devastating losses in Week 13. Pittsburgh gave up a 20-7 second half lead on West Virginia and Rutgers turned the ball over six times to help Connecticut run away with a 40-22 win. With the Scarlet Knights and Panthers out of the mix, the Big East title race has narrowed to three contenders: Louisville, Cincinnati, and West Virginia.
Louisville has finished their season with a 5-2 conference record, while the Mountaineers and Bearcats each have one game remaining. Here are the possible scenarios and outcomes in the hunt for a BCS bowl bid.
Cincinnati defeats Connecticut, South Florida defeats West Virginia. RESULT: Cincinnati earns BCS bid
Connecticut defeats Cincinnati, West Virginia defeats South Florida. RESULT: Louisville earns BCS bid
Connecticut defeats Cincinnati, South Florida defeats West Virginia. RESULT: Louisville earns BCS bid
Cincinnati defeats Connecticut, West Virginia defeats South Florida. RESULT: Three-way tie for Big East title. BCS bid determined by highest ranking in BCS standings.
WINNER: The Rebuilt Cincinnati Offense
Most figured that Zach Collaros' absence from the Cincinnati offense would lead to some struggles, but the Bearcats' Big East title hopes looked dim after the first full game without him resulted in just three points. Backup Munchie Legaux looked out-of-rhythm all afternoon in the 20-3 loss to Rutgers, completing just 12 of 31 passes and picking up only 31 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Earlier this week head coach Butch Jones suggested the possibility of using two quarterbacks against Syracuse, giving more snaps to dual-threat sophomore Jordan Luallen. Luallen ended up being the perfect change of pace for the Bearcats' offense, and finished as the team's second-leading rusher with 77 yards.
The pair made the two-QB rotation work at Cincinnati, finally hitting a rhythm and putting together a five scoring drives in the final 35 minutes of play. But the star of the Bearcats' big conference win was not a new face, but an all-too familiar one for Big East opponents. Senior running back Isaiah Pead picked up 80 yards rushing and 112 yards receiving out of the backfield on the way to 246 all-purpose yard performance to lead the Bearcats. Pead has been a force for Cincinnati, and is just 38 rushing yards away from his second-straight 1,000 yard season. The win has put Cincinnati one win away from claiming a share of the Big East title, and the decisive win should help in the BCS rankings for a potential three-team tiebreaker.
LOSER: Pittsburgh RB Zach Brown
The fact that Pittsburgh has been able to stay in contention for a Big East BCS bid even after losing Ray Graham to a season-ending knee injury is astounding. Graham was the nations second-leading rusher at the time of his injury, averaging over 130 yards per game and contributing over 40% of Pittsburgh's total offense. Quarterback Tino Sunseri and backup running back Zach Brown were able to carry the offensive load in a crucial road win at Louisville last week, and appeared to have the Panthers set up for another in Morgantown. Pitt led 17-7 when Brown was injured on a long run in the final moments of the first half. For the remainder of the game, third-stringer Isaac Bennett carried the running back responsibilities almost exclusively. Bennett did finish with 69 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but there was a noticeable drop off in pass protection as Sunseri was sacked 10 times - including four times on the final drive. The entire offense struggled throughout the second half, only producing a Kevin Harper field goal in the early third quarter, and Brown's injury was the most noticeable change. Regardless of the fault, the Panthers are out of the Big East title hunt and now need a win over Syracuse to be bowl eligible.
WINNER: Connecticut's bowl hopes
Needing to win out against Rutgers and Cincinnati seemed like a daunting task for an inconsistent Connecticut team to become bowl eligible, but that campaign received new life in a 40-22 beatdown of the Scarlet Knights on Saturday. The Huskies got it done with big plays from their defense, special teams, and a bruising rushing attack led by freshman Lyle McCombs. Quarterbacks Johnny McEntee and Scott McCummings were given fantastic field position all day, benefiting from six Rutgers turnovers and a couple of big returns by Nick Williams. Once they got the ball close to the goal line, it was up to McCombs and McCummings to McGet the job done. The duo combined for all four of the Huskies' offensive touchdowns, giving the Huskies a 30-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. It's been a rough first season for head coach Paul Pasqualoni, but a .500 record and a bowl berth would be a great finish considering the 2-4 start in East Hartford.
LOSER: Backyard Brawl as a Big East tradition
With Pittsburgh and West Virginia both on the move out of the Big East, Friday's edition of the Backyard Brawl was possibly the last meeting of rivals as conference foes. As of Saturday Pittsburgh is still planning on an arrival in the ACC in 2014, while Oliver Luck and West Virginia have taken the legal route to try and join the Big 12 by next season. The Big East chapter of the West Virginia-Pittsburgh rivalry has been memorable, with the game serving as annual late-season highlight of the conference schedule since the Mountaineers joined in 1995. Four of the last five meetings between the two teams have been decided by one score or less, with the 21-20 West Virginia win being the closest contest since a 31-31 tie in 1989. The rivalry outdates the Big East, so I would guess the two schools will figure a way to keep it going. But Big East football fans have a less certain future when it comes to enjoying this showdown of bitter rivals as part of the conference schedule.
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Tags: Backyard Brawl, Big East, Big East Championship Race, Big East Standings, Big East Tiebreaker Scenarios, Big East Tiebreakers, Big East title race, BJ Daniels, Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Chip Patterson, Cincinnati, Dana Holgorsen, Dominique Brown, Gary Nova, Geno Smith, Greg Schiano, Isaac Bennett, Jawan Jamison, Johnny McEntee, Jordan Luallen, Louisville, Lyle McCombs, Munchie Legaux, Oliver Luck, Paul Pasqualoni, Pittsburgh, Ray Graham, Rutgers, Scott McCummings, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Teddy Bridgewater, Tino Sunseri, Todd Graham, USF, Week 13 Winners and Losers, West Virginia, Winners and Losers, Zach Brown, Zach Collaros