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October 11, 2006

Big East: Week 7 Breakdown

Fox's Week 7 picks
Rivals.com national writer David Fox's predictions for Week 7 in the Big East.
Thursday's games:
Pittsburgh 31, Central Florida 17
Saturday's games:
West Virginia 38, Syracuse 21
Louisville 35, Cincinnati 17
Rutgers 28, Navy 21
South Florida 27, North Carolina 14
Army 24, Connecticut 21

Last week: 5-0 Season: 35-5

Southern exposure: The week again starts with a Big East team playing on Friday night. Pittsburgh is set to take on Central Florida in Orlando. This is the fourth time in the first seven weeks of the season the Big East has played on Friday night. It also marks the second time it will be in Florida (Rutgers beat South Florida in Tampa on Sept. 29). Too bad all those Florida high school recruits are otherwise occupied on Friday evenings.

Best matchup: Rutgers at Navy. If you like running the ball, this one is for you. Navy throws fewer than 10 passes per game out of its triple option offense. Rutgers throws fewer than 20 passes per game with Ray Rice and Brian Leonard in the backfield. Navy could be trouble for the Scarlet Knights, who were dismantled by the Midshipmen two years ago.

Worst matchup: Syracuse at West Virginia. After a three-game winning streak, the Orange fell apart at home against Pittsburgh. Syracuse lost three fumbles and gained fewer than 3 yards per carry. Things could get ugly in Morgantown, W.Va., against a Mountaineers team that received a stern wake-up call from Rich Rodriguez this week.

The pressure is on: Rutgers. Navy has already embarrassed one Big East opponent, racking up 605 yards in a 41-17 win over UConn. The Midshipmen also put up 613 yards against Rutgers two years ago in a 54-21 rout. This year, the Scarlet Knights - who are 11th in the country in rush defense - have four seniors and two juniors in the front seven.

Upset alert: Watch the games involving service academies. Navy is a slight favorite at home over Rutgers. Army is an underdog at Connecticut. Take the road 'dogs this week.

Most to gain: Rutgers (5-0 vs. Navy) and Pittsburgh (5-1 vs. Central Florida) can both earn bowl eligibility this week with wins on the road.

Most to lose: Connecticut. The Huskies' bowl hopes would likely be finished with a loss to Army. UConn's remaining games are against Big East opponents. Connecticut's two wins are against Rhode Island and Indiana.

Who's hot: Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko. He has been a model of efficiency over the last three games. He has completed 83.9 percent of his passes for 662 yards with six touchdowns over that span. He also has not thrown an interception in his last 67 attempts.

Who's not: West Virginia's secondary. The Mountaineers' pass defense struggled against East Carolina three weeks ago, allowing 276 passing yards to James Pinkney. The defensive backfield was downright awful against a Mississippi State team that hadn't passed on anyone but Tulane this year. The Bulldogs passed for 250 yards and converted six of 13 third downs. Against Mississippi State, redshirt freshman safety Quinton Andrews allowed two long completions and cornerback Antonio Lewis gave the Bulldogs a first down on a holding penalty.

Must see TV: Rutgers at Navy, 1:30 p.m., CSTV

Backup(s) who could have an impact: Running back Anthony Allen and fullback Brock Bolen. Both have contributed to the Louisville running game in the last two weeks when top running backs Kolby Smith and George Stripling have struggled to find a rhythm. Running the ball will get tougher in the coming weeks against conference competition. Look for the running back-by-committee to continue.

Key stat: 5. Players dismissed by Connecticut on Monday. Sophomore wide receiver Nolis Dewar, freshman wide receiver Todd Dorcelus, junior safety Ricky McCollum, junior defensive end Harold Stanback and freshman Carl Teague were kicked off the team, reportedly for bringing beer back to their hotel rooms the night before the Huskies' loss to South Florida.

Take the line: Army is a 6-point underdog at Connecticut. The Cadets have taken Texas A&M to the last minute and Baylor to overtime this year. Given Connecticut's struggles, take the points because Army can win outright. Season 5-1.

They said it: "I've always said, 'As long as we win by one-point, I'll be happy.' Well, I'm a liar. That's nothing against Mississippi State because they played their tails off. They've got some talented athletes. I'm not happy because we made it harder than it needed to be. You all saw that. It's common sense. We made it harder than it needed to be. But I'm happy we won. Yippee."
-West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez following the 42-14 win over Mississippi State.

Injury update: Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, out since Sept. 16 because of thumb surgery, said he is optimistic he could return Saturday against Cincinnati. It was originally predicted he would be out for up to six weeks. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said a decision will be made this week in practice. South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe missed part of the Connecticut game and Monday's practice with sprained ligaments in his foot, but should play this week against North Carolina. West Virginia offensive tackle Damien Crissey, who started in the season opener, returned this week after missing the last five weeks with a sprained ankle. Connecticut offensive tackle William Beatty could miss the remainder of the season after breaking a bone in his right leg against South Florida. He was scheduled to have surgery Tuesday.

Worth noting: Louisville linebacker Lamar Myles, the backup to Nate Harris, took the team lead in tackles with 22 after recording 13 stops against Middle Tennessee State on Friday. West Virginia picked up its first sack of the season against Mississippi State, and it came from defensive back Eric Wicks. The Mountaineers followed that up with five more against the Bulldogs. Despite a loss by No. 2 Auburn, West Virginia remained at No. 4 in the coaches' poll and dropped from No. 4 to No. 5 in the AP poll. Louisville has beaten Cincinnati by a combined score of 116-29 the last two years. Cincinnati quarterback Dustin Grutza has completed 69 percent of his passes in the last four games since being named the starter. He passed for a season-high 230 yards and led the Bearcats with 72 rushing yards against Akron last week. South Florida running back Ben Williams ran for 108 yards against Connecticut for the first 100-yard game since the departure of Andre Hall. Connecticut running back Terry Caulley was held to 38 yards against South Florida after averaging 103.75 yards per game going in. South Florida running back Ricky Ponton, wide receiver Jackie Chambers and Josh Julmiste are eligible to return this week after six-game suspensions.

Looking back: West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez and Louisville's Bobby Petrino both looked to guard against complacency this week by criticizing their teams despite routs against Mississippi State and Middle Tennessee State, respectively. Rodriguez was displeased with a season-high 11 penalties, poor third-down defense and too many big plays allowed to the Bulldogs in the passing game. Louisville had its share of special teams flubs and a tentative offense. Not coincidentally, both teams start conference play this week.

Freshman who impressed: Pittsburgh right guard Joe Thomas. In Thomas' first start of the season, LaRod Stephens-Howling ran for a career-high 221 yards. Syracuse, which had 25 sacks on the season going into the Pitt game, had only one against the Panthers.

Week 7 Conference Previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

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