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October 18, 2006

Big East: Week 8 Breakdown

Fox's Week 8 picks
Rivals.com national writer David Fox's predictions for Week 8 in the Big East.
Friday's game:
West Virginia 38, Connecticut 14
Saturday's games:
Pittsburgh 24, Rutgers 21
Louisville 28, Syracuse 14
Sunday's game:
South Florida 27, Cincinnati 21

Last week: 5-1 Season: 40-6

Big East = Big exposure: For the first time this season, each Big East team will play a conference game - and all but one will be on national television. Rutgers will face Pittsburgh on ESPN2 at 5:45 p.m. Saturday. We'll find out then which team will be the top challenger to West Virginia and Louisville. On Friday night, West Virginia at Connecticut will be on ESPN and Sunday's game between South Florida and Cincinnati will also be on ESPN.

Best matchup: Pittsburgh running back LaRod Stephens-Howling vs. Rutgers run defense.
In the last two games, the sophomore has run for 356 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per carry. The Scarlet Knights are 10th in the country in rush defense, allowing 80.3 yards per game.

Worst matchup: Connecticut's run defense against West Virginia.
The Mountaineers rushing attack has been tough for nearly everyone over the last year and a half, but it could be especially troubling for the Huskies. UConn ranks second to last in the conference, allowing 177.2 yards on the ground. Pat White and Steve Slaton feasted on Syracuse last week for 410 rushing yards.

The pressure is on: Louisville's run game.
Running backs Kolby Smith and George Stripling have tapered off in recent weeks, rushing for 105 yards against Cincinnati. In his first start after his thumb injury, Brian Brohm looked rusty and will need some help from the run game if the Cardinals are to beat West Virginia on Nov. 2.

Upset alert: Cincinnati is a slight favorite at home over South Florida. With Ricky Ponton back on the field, the Bulls should be able to pick up a win on the road. No. 19 Rutgers is also an underdog against Pittsburgh. A Scarlet Knights' win is a definite possibility.

Most to gain: Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel.
The Scarlet Knights sophomore set season highs for completions (15), attempts (26), yards (215) and touchdowns (three) against Navy last week. Rutgers needs another solid day from Teel this week against Pittsburgh to keep defenses honest.

Most to lose: Cincinnati.
No Big East team has had rougher luck the Bearcats. Cincinnati has faced Ohio State and Virginia Tech on the road this year and came within a last-minute possession of beating Louisville on the road. The Bearcats host South Florida this week with a chance to even their record at 4-4. A loss would likely end any bowl hopes.

Who's hot: Connecticut linebacker Ryan Henegan.
The junior has 19 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss in the last two games. He'll be tested against West Virginia's potent ground attack on Friday.

Who's not: West Virginia's defense.
The Mountaineers have been susceptible to the big play this season, allowing 20 plays of 20 or more yards on the year. West Virginia has also allowed opponents to convert 43 percent of third-down chances. Against Syracuse last week, Orange quarterback Perry Patterson was able to complete passes of 47 and 30 yards to set up touchdowns.

Must see TV: No. 19 Rutgers (6-0, 1-0 Big East) at Pittsburgh (6-1, 2-0 Big East), 5:45 p.m., ESPN2

Newcomer who had an impact: South Florida running back Ricky Ponton.
The Bulls sophomore ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns against North Carolina on Saturday in his first game after a six-game suspension to start the season. Ponton will help take the load off redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Grothe, the Bulls' rushing leader.

Backup who could have an impact: Louisville redshirt freshman Michael Adams will step in for injured defensive end Zach Anderson. Adams has two pass break-ups and one sack in limited action.

Key stat: 26-8. The Big East's combined record against Division I-A non-conference opponents.

Key stat II: 84-109. The combined record of those Division I-A non-conference opponents. The main offender: South Florida, whose out-of-conference Division I-A opponents are 6-20. Connecticut has faced the toughest schedule in terms of wins and losses. UConn's I-A non-conference foes have combined to go 18-10.

Take the line: Cincinnati is a one-point favorite over South Florida. Take USF to win outright. Season: 5-2

They said it: "We have to beat Rutgers if we want to be considered a legitimate team."--Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Injury update: Louisville defensive end Zach Anderson could be sidelined for four weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament. Pittsburgh defensive end Chris McKillop left last week's game against Central Florida with a shoulder injury, but should return against Rutgers.

Worth noting: The kickoff of the Pittsburgh-Rutgers game was moved from noon to 5:45 p.m. to allow ESPN2 to televise the game. Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye had a career-high nine tackles and a sack against Cincinnati. Louisville has turned the ball over nine times in the last three games. Randy Edsall, who has already changed quarterbacks this season at Connecticut, could do the same again at kicker. Graig Vicidomino replaced Matt Nuzie against Army last week. Vicidomino missed all three of his field-goal attempts. Edsall re-opened the position for competition this week. The Huskies were no stranger to big plays against Army. Terry Caulley scored on a 98-yard run and Larry Taylor scored on a 72-yard punt return. Rutgers leads the nation in scoring defense. The Scarlet Knights give up an average of 8.3 points per game. Pittsburgh has not allowed a first quarter touchdown this year. Syracuse quarterback Perry Patterson publicly apologized for an obscene gesture made toward West Virginia fans on Saturday. Former Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick also made an obscene gesture toward Mountaineers fans last year.

Looking back: The week ended with West Virginia (No. 4) and Louisville (No. 7) ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, but Rutgers and Pittsburgh are both in position to challenge those teams in conference play. The Cardinals welcomed Brian Brohm back to the field but had to squeak by Cincinnati, 23-17. Oh, at West Virginia quarterback Pat White ran for 247 yards and four touchdowns against Syracuse.

Freshman who impressed: South Florida defensive end Chris Robinson didn't find North Carolina's offensive line hard to handle with a sack and a forced fumble against the Tar Heels.

Week 8 conference previews: ACC | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-10 | SEC

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