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October 4, 2006

Big East: Week 6 Breakdown

Fox's Big East picks
Rivals.com national writer David Fox's predictions for Week 6 in the Big East.
Friday's game:
Louisville 35, Middle Tennessee State 7
Saturday's games:
West Virginia 28, Mississippi State 10
Pittsburgh 35, Syracuse 21
Cincinnati 21, Akron 17
South Florida 24, Connecticut 10
Last week: 5-0 Season: 30-5

Making a statement: With West Virginia and Louisville off last week, Rutgers was left to carry the banner for the Big East. The Scarlet Knights earned a narrow win at South Florida on national television. This week offers another key game that may determine which team has improved the most since last season. Pittsburgh (4-1) will face Syracuse (3-2) in the Carrier Dome this weekend. The teams were a combined 6-16 in 2005. West Virginia faces one of the tougher non-conference tests on its schedule with a road trip to Mississippi State, whose defense is better than its 1-4 record indicates.

Best matchup: Syracuse's pass rush vs. Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko. The Orange lead the country with five sacks per game, and they will need to keep up the pressure against Pittsburgh. The Panthers are doing a good job of protecting Palko, who is the national leader in passing efficiency. Pittsburgh is also starting a true freshman at right guard, which could spell trouble for Palko at the Carrier Dome.

Worst matchup: Louisville at Middle Tennessee State. In the Blue Raiders' two games against major conference opponents this season, they have been outscored 83-10. Expect more of the same in Louisville's last tuneup before entering the Big East schedule.

The pressure is on: South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe. It's no secret the Bulls are putting a lot on the redshirt freshman's shoulders. He accounts for 75.7 percent of USF's total offense. Heading into a winnable home game against UConn, Grothe and the Bulls can't afford to dwell on their tough losses.

Upset alert: Syracuse has won three consecutive games and took Iowa to overtime in the game prior to the hot streak. The Orange could make it four wins a row with an upset of Pitt at home.

Most to gain: Syracuse. The Orange have already turned around a 1-10 season with three consecutive victories. But those wins have come against Illinois, Miami (Ohio) and Wyoming. A win over a conference foe would be a major boost to the program. It would also establish Syracuse's first four-game win streak since 2001.

Most to lose: Connecticut. The Huskies are walking a tight rope for bowl eligibility after falling to Navy – their second loss of the season. Four more wins will be hard to come by with five of eight remaining games remaining against South Florida, West Virginia, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Louisville. The Huskies will have to pull off a few upsets, starting this week against USF.

Who's hot: The Louisville defense. While the offense gets most of the attention for the Cardinals, it's easy to forget Louisville has allowed only 13 points in its last three games. Along the way, the Cardinals have forced six turnovers and piled up 11 sacks.

Who's not: Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel. Since a solid outing in the opener against North Carolina, Teel has taken a step back with six interceptions and two touchdowns in the last four games. When Rutgers trailed 14-10 with 2:37 left against USF in the first half, coach Greg Schiano elected to run out the clock rather than go for a score. Schiano insisted this had nothing to do with a lack of confidence in Teel.

Must see TV: Pittsburgh at Syracuse, noon (Eastern), ESPN-Plus; Louisville vs. Middle Tennessee State, 8 p.m., Eastern, Friday, ESPN2.

Backup who could have an impact: Pittsburgh will start freshman Joe Thomas at right guard after John Simonitis was lost for the season with a broken ankle. Thomas will have to grow up in a hurry playing in the loud Carrier Dome. Even prior to Simonitis' injury, Pitt's run blocking struggled at times this season.

Louisville also shuffled its offensive line two weeks ago, moving left tackle George Bussey to left guard and backup Breno Giacomini to tackle. Former starting guard Danny Barlowe is the odd man out in the mix.

Key stat: 4. Defensive touchdowns for Pittsburgh through five games. Defensive tackle Gus Mustakas returned a pick 9 yards for a TD. Cornerback Darelle Revis returned two interceptions, and linebacker Clint Session also returned one.

Take the line: South Florida is a 6½-point favorite at home over a Connecticut team that was just dismantled at home by Navy. At home, the Bulls stayed with No. 24 Rutgers and USF played well on the road against Kansas. Look for South Florida to bounce back from two losses and cover the spread against the Huskies. Season: 4-1

They said it: "We start the Big East and we call it the tour of revenge. We didn't win a game in the Big East last year and we definitely have something to prove."-Syracuse cornerback Tanard Jackson

Injury update: Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm is making progress after his thumb injury and could begin throwing this week. He is expected to return before the Nov. 2 game against West Virginia. … Cincinnati defensive tackle Tony Carvitti is likely out for the season with a torn ACL. … Connecticut linebacker Donta Moore could return to his starting role against South Florida despite breaking his arm against Navy. Tight end Dan Murray returned from an ankle injury against Navy but did not catch a pass… Louisville linebacker Abe Brown should return against Middle Tennessee State after missing the Kansas State game with a shoulder injury. … Syracuse wide receiver Rice Moss might play against Pittsburgh despite separating his shoulder last week against Wyoming.

Worth noting: West Virginia hoped scheduling an SEC opponent would bring extra exposure. Not this week. The game against Mississippi State will not be on live television anywhere. … Michigan running back Mister Simpson will transfer to Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Simpson was a three-star prospect when he signed out of Cincinnati's Colerain high school in 2005. … South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe is ninth in the country in total offense. … Syracuse is fifth in the country in turnover margin at +1.6… Navy's 464 rushing yards were the second most against Connecticut behind only Georgia Southern in 1998. Both teams were coached by Paul Johnson. … Pittsburgh true freshman Dorin Dickerson will not redshirt after playing against Toledo. He played mostly special teams, but also ran a 14-yard reverse for a touchdown.

Looking back: Louisville and West Virginia were both off last week, but Rutgers and South Florida made sure the conference had its fair share of excitement. Ray Rice ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns for the Scarlet Knights. A dropped pass on a two-point conversion by USF at the end kept the Bulls from forcing overtime. … Cincinnati showed little signs of a hangover after facing Ohio State and Virginia Tech with a 24-10 win over rival Miami (Ohio). … Connecticut was dealt a serious blow after allowing more than 600 yards of offense at home to Navy.

Freshman who impressed I: Syracuse running back Delone Carter could claim the starting job after carrying the ball 20 times for 129 yards and four touchdowns - including the game-winner in overtime - against Wyoming.

Freshman who impressed II: Connecticut wide receiver Brad Kanuch had a 42-yard reception against Navy for his first career catch. He added another catch for 26 yards.

More Week 6 Conference Previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

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